Institutionalizing Deliberative Democracy
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In the mass democratic polities of today, the role of citizens remains confined largely to that of voting for members of elected legislatures. Beyond that, there is scant opportunity for ‘the public’ to participate in any meaningful sense in most of the tasks that make up the policy-making process. Indeed, influencing that process is typically viewed as the sole prerogative of technocratic experts, organized interests, and elected officials. This presumption is buttressed (and rationalized) by a too-ready acceptance of the platitude that citizens are generally uninformed, unskilled, and uninterested in the work of democratic self-government. We begin with a definition of ‘deliberative democracy’. We then briefly consider its connection to the concept of democracy more generally and argue that the moral authority of the former follows from that of the latter. From both the developing and the developed worlds, we draw several examples of institutionalized deliberative participation. In some, institutionalization has been sustained; in others, it has not been sustained.Reflecting on these examples, we consider the ‘lessons learned’ from these and other cases. We identify costs, difficulties and limitations associated with institutionalizing participatory public deliberation as well as the benefits and advantages thereof. Finally, we briefly outline a proposal for an Australian experiment that might serve as a learning model for subsequent efforts there and elsewhere to ‘institutionalize’ participatory citizen deliberation. Institutionalizing deliberative participation would not replace representative government, but rather would supplement it, enabling democratic governments to reflect and respond better to the values, priorities and aspirations of the people they ostensibly serve. We offer this practice-orientated paper as a discussion paper intended to introduce readers to the idea of institutionalizing participatory public deliberation and to generate constructive debate concerning it. We do not presume to provide a rigorous analysis of the concept or of any of the many issues surrounding it.
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