Research Notes

NewDemocracy is an independent, non-partisan research and development organisation. We aim to discover, develop, demonstrate, and popularise complementary alternatives which will restore trust in public decision making. These R&D notes are discoveries and reflections that we are documenting in order to share what we learn and stimulate further research and development.

Lyn Carson  Research Director, The newDemocracy Foundation

What is the question?

How can participants in mini-publics critically and effectively, hear and learn from expert witnesses in a way that ensures they understand the challenges being considered?

NB: This R&D Note is focused on human experts in the decision-making space and not on published or online material which has its own set of challenges.

 

What are the usual answers?

Experts may be self-defined or may have obtained relevant credentials. They claim to know or do know a great deal about their specific area of expertise. These experts could be scientists, academics, government employees, special interest groups, community activists, and more. For many of them, the ‘banking model’ of learning persists: that learners are empty vessels into which knowledge can be deposited and later withdrawn (Freire, 1976). Experts need only provide a persuasive presentation or a fact-based lecture and their job is done.

View full text

Lyn Carson  Research Director, The newDemocracy Foundation

What is deliberation and how does it differ from usual political discussion?

Deliberation foregrounds a very important difference in the way political discussions can occur. This note describes that difference while highlighting its importance. This note describes that difference. Here, we are speaking about public deliberation, not the internal deliberation that we each do during contemplation. In order to explain the difference between public deliberation in, say, a citizens’ jury, and what might occur in a parliamentary assembly, it’s useful to start with what it’s not (see table below).

 

Distinguishing between debate, dialogue and deliberation

Typically, political discussion is debate. The aim is to persuade others, and ultimately the majority, to one’s own position. It’s a win/lose situation where participants are inclined to maintain their original view. It can be angry, adversarial and swift. It can also be rational and drawn out. Dialogue can help to cut through some of the weaknesses of debate through slower civil exchange, sharing understandings by listening well, and building relationships. The emphasis with dialogue is not on decision making so much as on a respectful, clarifying exchange. These distinctions were defined by Hodge et al.

View full text

Lyn Carson  Research Director, The newDemocracy Foundation

What is the question?

How can we enhance the ability of randomly-selected citizens in mini-publics (such as citizens’ juries) to understand and evaluate expert evidence?

 

What are the usual answers?

It is sometimes assumed that we have an innate capacity to think critically. Some people are born with it, some are not. A common assumption by decision makers is that a randomly-selected group will be unable to understand or evaluate expert evidence. A further assumption is that it takes a combination of natural ability and years of experience. Citizens are assumed not to have this skill, whereas experts and politicians do.

It’s true that citizens only rarely encounter the practice of critical thinking or even the term critical thinking, unless they have studied in an institute of higher learning. Even then it is likely designed to enhance the critical thinking capacities of individuals, doing solitary thinking, learning to think for themselves, whereas in a mini-public, participants are part of a collective consideration of expert knowledge.

Read more ...