The different ways in which stakeholders and citizens are considered, spoken about and involved in decision making were the subject of a recent research workshop co-facilitated by ISF’s Jade Herriman. The workshop was the culmination of a 16 month collaboration between ISF, Twyfords and the University of Alberta in Canada that is investigating the delineation between stakeholder and citizen roles in public deliberation.
The workshop brought eleven community engagement researchers and practitioners from around Australia together with researchers and practitioners in Canada who participated in the workshop via video conferencing. This was the first time many of the participants had used real time video conferencing for workshop groups in two locations, and experiencing the strengths and limitations of connecting in this way was part of the learning from the day.
At the core of deliberative democratic research and practice is the view that representative democracies need to find ways to bring citizens more directly and meaningfully into political decision making.
This research is exploring some of the factors that determine the effectiveness of this process. It looks at the differences between engagement with individual citizens and engagement with organised groups or stakeholders: and some of the reasoning that decision makers use to focus on one or the other. It also explores the complex relationship between the design of deliberations and their outcomes. Whilst the productivity of the deliberations is the main criterion for success, other criteria such fairness, competence and participant satisfaction are also important. Fairness is a measure of equal opportunity for meaningful participation and includes fairness in the selection process as well as the selection of information, expertise and moderation.
The workshop revealed a wide range of uses of terminology relating to stakeholders and citizens, and different ways that distinctions are made, supporting findings from the literature review. Participants were interested not only in devising typologies but in developing tools which would help decision makers (either engagement practitioners or process sponsors in government) think through and document the decisions about who to involve, and why.
Some of the challenges to deliberative democracy include the barriers to forging a common will within a culturally plural setting and the tendency of deliberations to reproduce systematic exclusion of highly marginalised voices.
The workshop discussions will help shape a paper on the research that will be sumitted to The Journal of Public Deliberation.
The research collaboration was seeded at a conference held at the University of Western Sydney in 2011, on ‘Deliberative democracy: connecting research and practice’ and has received funding from the newDemocracy Foundation, in Australia, Alberta Climate Dialogue and an International Collaboration Grant from the Kule Institute for Advanced Research, Canada, as well as in-kind contributions from Twyfords and the Institute for Sustainable Futures.