Can the market help the forum? Negotiating the commercialization of deliberative democracy

Hendriks, C & Carson L (2008)

Policy Sciences, Vol. 41, No. 4, December, pp. 293-313

Deliberative ideals have become commercial goods bought and sold in an expanding consultancy market. In this market, demand is generated by government and advocacy groups seeking innovative ways to engage with the public. On the supply side are a growing number of commercial organizations selling deliberative goods and services such as process design, facilitation and evaluation. This paper characterizes the nature of this deliberative market, and considers its implications for democracy and contemporary governance.

An analysis of deliberative consultants finds that their professional world is more akin to a ‘community of practice’ rather than a marketplace. But the development of this community of deliberative practitioners could go in opposing directions. On the one hand consultants could become the entrepreneurs of deliberative democracy, promoting and demonstrating its benefits for policy making. On the other hand, if the motivations for deepening democracy are fully replaced by business imperatives and competition, then the deliberative project would be severely undermined. Rather than predict the future, the paper identifies some of the opportunities and challenges for democratic governance as elements of deliberative democracy are commodified.

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