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October 26, 2005

deliberative democracy in the Wikipedia

Most readers of a blog will know what the Wikipedia is. For those who don't, it's an extraordinary encyclopedia whose entries are written by anyone who wants to participate. There are no editors--just peer editing by the millions of people who visit. The quality is quite high and it's a model of a certain kind of deliberation.

Until this weekend, the Wikipedia's entry on "deliberative democracy" contained this paragraph:

It is usually associated with left-wing politics and often recognizes a conflict of interest between the citizen participating, those affected or victimized by the process being undertaken, and the group-entity that organizes the decision. Thus it usually involves an extensive outreach effort to include marginalized, isolated, ignored groups in decisions, and to extensively document dissent, grounds for dissent, and future predictions of consequences of actions. It focuses as much on the process as the results. In this form it is a complete theory of civics.

The Green Party of the United States refers to its particular proposals for grassroots democracy and electoral reform by this name.

I disagree with this slant on deliberation and consider it potentially damaging. In fact, I've heard of a situation in Oklahoma in which some people were trying to organize a deliberative event and encountered opposition from residents who had Googled "deliberative democracy" and found the paragraphs quoted above about left-wingers and Greens. Therefore, I added the following to the Wiki entry:

On the other hand, many practitioners of deliberative democracy attempt to be as neutral and open-ended as possible, inviting (or even randomly selecting) people who represent a wide range of views and providing them with balanced materials to guide their discussions. Examples include National Issues Forums, Study Circles, Deliberative Polls, and the 21st-Century Town meetings convened by AmericaSPEAKS, among others. In these cases, deliberative democracy is not connected to left-wing politics but is intended to create a conversation among people of different philosophies and beliefs.

This was my first foray into the Wikipedia, and I decided to be respectful of the existing text. If you think the page should be written differently, click over there and edit away.

Posted by peterlevine at October 26, 2005 07:25 AM

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