Deliberative Democracy

What is deliberative democracy? Deliberative democracy has its roots in the Athenian-style democracy that originated in ancient Greece where decision-making was carried out by large gatherings of citizens, largely without the aid of ‘representatives’. It is based on the idea that authentic discussion between free and equal citizens can enable consensual decision-making which has legitimacy and is much less vulnerable to the distortions that come with party politics. (As David Van Reybrouck accurately observes in his book Against Elections, voting for representatives was introduced by the bourgeois meritocrats as a means of quelling the masses at the time of the American and French revolutions.) There are different forms of deliberative process including citizen’s juries, panels and assemblies but most are underpinned by a series of principles which can be summarised as follows:
  • Debate should be informed and informative, enabling people to explore issues from a range of perspectives based on sound argument rather than personality.
  • Participants should be willing to talk and to listen with civility and respect.
  • Participants should represent a range of backgrounds and perspectives from across the general population.
[Adapted from the work of James Fishkin] Some forms of deliberative democracy adhere to quite strict rules or processes to ensure such principles are implemented in practice and many rely on particular processes of selection or recruitment of participants, sometimes known as ‘sortition’, to ensure the broad representativeness and legitimacy of those taking part.