We aim to give citizens a chance to think through difficult issues under conditions that encourage informed deliberation. To achieve this, we use pollsters to gather a random sample of people, a microcosm of society, but we don’t just ask them to react to sound bites and headlines, as is done in conventional polling.
We start instead with an agenda put together by an advisory committee representing different points of view on an issue. They create briefing materials that strive for a balanced, accessible account of the debate. The people in our sample review these materials, question the competing experts and then deliberate about the best course of action. They offer their views in confidential questionnaires. Once they’ve decided, we compare these considered judgments to the views they had before going through this process.
But this isn’t just some academic exercise or thought experiment. Over the past three decades, I have worked with various collaborators to conduct deliberative polls more than 100 times in 28 countries, and in many cases, the results have had real-world consequences.
If the techniques advocated by Fishkin were employed as a formula for getting more "buy-in" from the public for a government that is actually being administered by those with real power, I am not as enthusiastic as I might otherwise be. In fact, using those "deliberative democracy" techniques in that way might really just be an enabling mechanism for the "delegative democracy" discussed in one of my earlier blog postings. "Deliberative democracy," as Fishkin describes it, is quite different from "delgative democracy," and if it is not, then Fishkin's deliberative democracy might have very little to do with what I would call a genuine democracy.
Just a thought.