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The Experience of the National Issues Forums

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Abstract

It is not often that the framework and assertions made in any book are tested repeatedly over a period of twenty-eight years, in hundreds of different settings. Yet that is what has happened in the case of Dan Yankelovich's seminal book of 1991, Coming to Public Judgment. In many ways, the ideas in his book-its critique of the limitations of public opinion, its instructions about public deliberation, and the argument it makes about why deliberation is a key element in moving to public judgment about critical issues-were formative influences in shaping the National Issues Forums (NIF), a popular nationwide network that began in the early 1980s and continues to th is day.

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... Advocates of deliberation, particularly dialogic deliberation, argue that it promises a number of benefits. For example, deliberation ideally promotes inclusion and equality, fosters changes in perceptions of people with whom individuals disagree, and facilitates the formation of a conceptualization of a common good (Cohen, 1997;DeTurk, 2006;Hicks, 2002;Melville & Kingston, 2010;Thomas, 2010). Deliberation also can foster greater learning about issues, better democratic skills, better decision-making, and better problem-solving (Carcasson, 2009). ...
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Grounded in participatory democracy principles, deliberation is designed to foster collaborative and thoughtful decision-making communication. On college campuses, deliberation can lead to a number of individual and organizational consequences, particularly for students, who may not believe that they have a significant voice in decision-making. Although deliberation ostensibly enables students to make their voices heard, the factors that shape students’ interest in participation in such deliberation remain unclear. This study explored how communication and campus factors influence students’ interest in and perceived helpfulness of dialogic deliberation participation. This manuscript concludes with recommendations for the development of campus-based and community-oriented deliberation programs.
... Consequently, this approach jeopardises the potential for reaching a post-normal, clumsy solution, i.e. an outcome based on the complementarities of contending forms of knowledge. Fatalistic components, such as random selection of participants, have not been included, and this omission may explain one of the major challenges of these events ( Melville et al., 2005: 53): "Because NIF forums are typically small and because participants are not normally representative as a whole, many elected officials at local and national levels have tended not to take NIF forums or their outcomes seriously." Random selection of participants might be of help in overcoming this challenge. ...
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Thesis
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In deliberative-democratic theory, some authors have referred to a type of information—which is especially relevant to the interests, values, and personal characteristics of citizens—that when introduced into citizens’ policy discussions can foster democratic deliberation and beneficial outcomes of such deliberation. In this dissertation, that type of information, labeled “intersubjectively relevant information” (IRI), is conceptualized. The dissertation then presents a theoretical framework that posits explanations for IRI’s role in fostering deliberation among citizens in the context of ballot-initiative elections, as well as desirable changes in those citizens’ knowledge, attitudes, policy choices, and political efficacy. Then the empirical basis of the concept of IRI in the United States is established through a series of studies. These studies examine government lawyers’ practices for communicating about the legal aspects of proposed laws to official lawmakers who are not lawyers, citizens’ communication practices when deliberating about proposed ballot initiatives, and undergraduates’ categorizations of statements by those citizens about legal aspects of ballot initiatives. Next, the extent to which IRI is actually used by governments in direct-democratic processes is assessed through an empirical analysis of official summaries of U.S. statewide ballot initiatives from 2000 through 2012. Finally, the effects of exposing citizens to IRI that has been incorporated into official summaries of ballot initiatives are examined in two controlled experiments. The dissertation concludes by summarizing results of the empirical studies, detailing a revised empirical model of the role of IRI in citizen deliberation, discussing avenues for further research on the role of information in democratic deliberation, and proposing reforms to ballot-initiative election procedures suggested by the results of the research.
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The idea that ‘wicked’ environmental and social problems can be resolved with ‘clumsy’ solutions has been increasingly supported by empirical evidence. Clumsy solutions emerge from a new type of dialogue-based problem-solving strategy, derived from what Funtowicz and Ravetz call ‘post-normal science’. How, then, can such dialogues best be organised? We offer an answer by combining the framework from which the notion of clumsy solutions was derived – namely Mary Douglas’ cultural theory – with the many decision-making procedures for addressing wicked problems proposed in policy and organisational studies. Employing the former theory, we explore 17 widely applied decision-making processes. The analysis identifies six methods most likely and seven methods least likely to successfully initiate post-normal dialogue. Moreover, the analysis suggests four processes that ‘almost’ fulfil the criteria for generating clumsy solutions. The paper then explores and suggests ways of extending and augmenting these ‘almost’ cases to enable post-normal dialogues and clumsy solutions.
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