The Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Mar 23rd
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Deliberative Democracy FAQ

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What is "deliberation"?

Deliberation is an approach to decision-making in which citizens consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, converse with one another to think critically about options before them and enlarge their perspectives, opinions, and understandings.

What is "deliberative democracy"?

Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. As a result, citizens influence--and can see the result of their influence on--the policy and resource decisions that impact their daily lives and their future.

Why is this approach becoming more common?

At the beginning of the 21st Century, democracy is in the midst of a particularly major shift in its development. All kinds of leaders are realizing that the traditionally distant relationship between citizens and government is inadequate for solving public problems. They are recognizing that the usual formats for decision-making often waste public resources, create unproductive conflict, and fail to tap citizen potential. They are attempting many different civic experiments -- some successful, some not -- to help citizens and governments work together more democratically and more effectively.

Who is involved in this work?

A burgeoning field of practitioners and researchers has formed to encourage, examine, and support this shift. They include public engagement consultants, dialogue specialists, conflict resolution practitioners, and academics from a wide range of disciplines. Though they come from many different vantage points, they all advocate deliberative democracy as an approach to public policy-making and problem-solving. The leaders who are launching these civic experiments are extremely diverse and largely disconnected from one another: they include mayors and city managers, school administrators, neighborhood activists, state and federal officials, and community organizers. They are focused mainly on involving citizens in a particular issue or decision; they may not even think of their work as civic or democratic. And until recently, the civic researchers and practitioners were segregated by their professional backgrounds and their attachments to particular models for deliberation. Overall, the people who are pioneering deliberative democracy are isolated from one another geographically and professionally, making it difficult for them to learn from each other or feel like they are part of a larger change.

Where is deliberation being used?

Deliberation projects -- including both temporary organizing efforts and permanent citizen structures -- are proliferating rapidly in North America, Western Europe, and many other parts of the world. The largest projects are now remarkable in scope, involving tens of thousands of citizens. Some efforts are exploring the enormous capacity of the Internet to distribute information, sustain far-flung networks, and make all kinds of expertise accessible to ordinary people. And while almost all of the projects a decade ago focused on local issues, there are a growing number of examples which have connected citizen voices to regional, state, and federal policy decisions.

Why is deliberation important?

Public deliberation can have many benefits within society. Among the most common claims are that public deliberation results in better policies, superior public education, increased public trust, and reduced conflict when policy moves to implementation.

How does deliberation happen?

There is a growing inventory of methods to bring the public into decision-making processes at all levels around the world--from local goverment to multinational institutions like the World Bank. Working in groups as small as ten or twelve to larger groups of 3,000 or more, deliberative democracy simply requires that representative groups of ordinary citizens have access to balanced and accurate information, sufficient time to explore the intricacies of issues through discussion, and their conculsions are connected to the governing process.



The Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC) is a network of practitioners and researchers representing more than 50 organizations and universities, collaborating to strengthen the field of deliberative democracy. The Consortium seeks to support research activities and to advance practice at all levels of government, in North America and around the world.

[Image: AmericaSpeaks' 21st Century Town Meeting]


JPD logoThe Journal of Public Deliberation is a collaboration between the DDC, the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), and the Center for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University. An online, refereed journal, JPD is the flagship publication in its field, and an important catalyst for the rapid growth of interest in democracy, citizenship, and participation. Find it at


DDC eBulletin

  • Want training in public participation? Choose the courses you want to see at the IAP2 Skills Symposium in late May – Trainers include Matt Leighninger, Tina Nabatchi, Steve Clift, Anne Carroll, Kyle Bozentko, and Marty Rozelle.
  • If we gave citizens more ways to measure democracy, they would have more ways to improve it – @TechPresident
  • Nonprofits that take advantage of new thick and thin forms of engagement can thrive – @GatesSunlight
  • “If forms of government can be likened to operating systems, current variants of democracy are like early, primitive versions of Windows.” “They are neither optimally functional nor user-friendly – they are buggy, susceptible to malware, and lack desired features.”
  • The “People’s Lobby,” which allows people to generate legislation for City Council consideration, and includes a deliberative phase, starts up in Provo, Utah –
  • “Morris Engaged,” which combines education, deliberation, and citizen-led action on climate change in rural Minnesota, has been named a finalist in the Environmental Initiative awards – @JeffersonCtr
  • The National Civic League has announced the finalists for the 2015 All-America City Award – @allamericacity
  • Can we fix voting, a part of democracy, without strengthening the other aspects of democracy? Probably not. And why would we, when the more participatory aspects of democracy offer so many other benefits? Unfortunately, none of those are mentioned in this piece, which is another example of why conflating “democracy” with voting doesn’t help.
  • “Rather than blame our leaders for the dysfunction, we need to change the game.” This article includes some examples of how engaging citizens in participatory ways – and treating democracy as more than just voting – can tackle problems like climate change that seem politically impossible to address.

DDC on social media

For news, resources, and updates on deliberation, participation, and democratic governance around the world, like DDC on Facebook, follow @mattleighninger on Twitter, or connect with mattleighninger on LinkedIn.

The Next Form of Democracy

Beneath the national radar, the relationship between citizens and government is undergoing a dramatic shift. The stories of civic experiments in "The Next Form of Democracy: How Expert Rule Is Giving Way to Shared Governance -- and Why Politics Will Never Be the Same" by DDC Executive Director Matt Leighninger show us the realpolitik of deliberative democracy, and illustrate how the evolution of democracy is already reshaping politics. Learn more...

Deliberative Democracy Handbook

The Deliberative Democracy Handbook is the first book to bring together the best practices and thinkin on deliberative citizen participation processes. Deliberative democracy is the nationwide movement to make citizen participation meaningful and effective. Learn more...

Deliberative Democracy Handbook Cover

Journal of Public Deliberation
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