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Deliberative Democracy

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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > D, E > Deliberative Democracy

Deliberative Democracy 

The notion that that political representation is not enough and active participation by citizens is as important as having their interests represented by third parties.


(Laforest, Rachel and Susan Phillips. 2007. "Citizen Engagement: Rewiring the Policy Process." In Critical Policy Studies, edited by Michael Orsini and Miriam Smith, 67-91. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, pp. 71-72.)




Direct participation in the policy process is seen as both empowering and enabling.  Without voice however, individuals may find it hard to truly exercise influence or have any real sense that participation makes a difference.

The model of deliberative democracy that emerged in the 1990s starts from the premise that political representation is not enough: active participation by citizens is as important as having their interests represented by third parties. In this way, deliberative democracy could be seen as a variant - imbued with very prescriptive requirements for process - of the notions of participatory democracy that have been around since the 1970s. By focusing on citizens who participate as individuals rather than as group representatives and by embracing the value of genuine two-way dialogue, rather than merely a one-way transmission of information from citizens to governments, notions of deliberative democracy prompted a self-conscious and purposeful attempt in the late 1990s to recast and rename public participation or public consultation as citizen engagement (Phillips with Orsini 2002, 3).

Conceptual approaches to deliberative democracy lay out several essential requirements for process (see Bohman 1996; Cohen 1997; Gutman and Thompson 1996; Macedo 1999). First, it must involve reciprocity that is, free and open deliberation and dialogue, not merely the declaration of preferences or claims. In this sense, it must be dialogical; not merely discursive (Bohman 1996). A second requirement is that there be public reasoning in which citizens and officials justify their claims to one another and are accountable to each other; people must be treated as equals in the process. The underlying assumption is that people have a responsibility to come to the process willing to be moved by reason. Third, the process rests on publicity by which the reasons that citizens and officials give to justify their actions be made public and the process itself transparent (Gutman and Thompson 1996, 95). A final aspect of a deliberative process is that all citizens have an equal opportunity to participate and that those affected by the resulting decisions are included in the discussion - a criteria that is compelling in theory but hard to pull off in practice (Young 2000, 23). Although deliberative theorists have been consumed with process and, in particular, with outlining the nature of public reasoning, deliberation is by no means intended to be divorced from decision making. Indeed, as Ioshua Cohen (1997, 99) argues, deliberative democracy is tied to the principle of accountability: “Not simply a form of politics, democracy, in the deliberative view is a framework of social and institutional conditions that facilitates free discussion among equal citizens - by providing favourable conditions for participation, association, and expression - and ties the authorization to exercise public power (and the exercise itself) to such discussion”.


Bohman, James. 1996. "Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity and Democracy." Metaphilosophy 29 (3): 223-228.

Gutmann, Amy and Dennis Thompson. 1996. Democracy and Disagreement. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Macedo, Stephen, ed. 1999. Deliberative Politics: Essays on Democracy and Disagreement. New York: Oxford University Press.

Phillips, Susan and Michael Orsini. 2002. "Mapping the Links: Citizen Involvement in Policy Processes." CPRN Discussion Paper no. F 21. Ottawa: CPRN.

Young, Iris Marion. 2000. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.


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