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January 6, 2004

activism and deliberation

Along with Rose Marie Nierras of LogoLink, I'm applying for a small grant to interview political activists and people who promote public deliberation, to get some sense of the differences between these approaches.

On a simple definition, "deliberation" means convening a diverse group of citizens and asking them to talk, without any expectation or hope that they will reach one conclusion rather than another. The population that is convened, the format, and the informational materials are all supposed to be neutral or balanced. There is an ethic of deference to whatever views may emerge from democratic discussion. Efforts are made to insulate the process from deliberate attempts to manipulate it. In contrast, the simple view of "advocacy" implies an effort to enlist or mobilize citizens toward some end. At their best, advocates are candid about their goals and open to critical suggestions. But they are advocating for something.

To be sure, there are versions of advocacy that incorporate genuine deliberation, just as there are deliberative exercises aimed at policy goals. Nevertheless, there is at least a potential tension between the two approaches. Many advocates for disadvantaged populations explicitly say that deliberation is a waste of their limited resources. And some proponents of deliberation see organized advocacy as a threat to fair and unbiased discussion; hence their efforts to protect deliberative forums from being "manipulated" by groups with an agenda.

Our full proposal is available online, and comments are welcome on a dedicated website.

January 6, 2004 3:58 PM | category: deliberation | Comments


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