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What is deliberative engagement?


What is deliberative engagement?

Deliberative engagement, sometimes referred to as deliberative democracy, puts customers and community members at the core of the decision-making process.

Deliberative engagement enhances the quality of decisions by ensuring they are grounded in the context of broader issues and potential solutions. It fosters trust and collaboration between the decision-maker and the community, as all voices are heard and valued.

Deliberative engagement contributes to more inclusive and equitable outcomes because, with good representation, it reflects the broader needs and perspectives of the community. In addition, deliberative engagement can act as a stepping stone to broader civic engagement and democratic participation. It enables a better understanding of the dilemmas facing the sponsoring organisation, as well as more meaningful contributions to decision-making.

So, what is deliberative engagement, and what does it entail?

Principles of deliberative engagement

While the term deliberative engagement is relatively new, its origins trace back to age-old traditions of public discourse and reasoned debate, evolving from ancient Greek assemblies to contemporary theories of democratic participation. At its core, it embodies the belief that well-informed and inclusive dialogue can result in decisions that are both more effective and legitimate.

Deliberative engagement is a structured approach to decision-making that prioritises informed discussion and reasoned debate among representative customers or community members. It goes beyond consultation or information-sharing. Deliberative engagements tend to include the following key characteristics:

  • Informed –  Participants engage with relevant information and hear from diverse perspectives. This ensures decisions are grounded in knowledge and understanding, not personal opinions.
  • Value-based – The point of deliberative engagement is to discuss “what is” and figure out “what should be”. This means identifying and weighing up personal values, justifying them to others, and prioritising them in light of the issue at hand. It’s about finding common ground and navigating differences in a meaningful way.
  • Transformative – People collaborate in their decision-making. They learn from each other through respectful exchanges, gain new perspectives, and may even challenge their own beliefs.

What are deliberative methods of engagement?

Deliberative engagement methods should give careful consideration to creating an environment that is conducive to sharing, listening and accurately answering the problem statement (sometimes referred to as the remit). Outlined below are some of the methods that can be used during deliberative engagement. These can be used as standalone methodologies (for example, deliberate workshops) or together (for example, using polling during a deliberative workshop).

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Deliberative polling

This hybrid of polling and deliberation involves a representative group of citizens who receive information, engage in facilitated discussions, and then vote on a specific issue. This method tracks changes in opinion based on information and deliberation. The emphasis is put on learning and understanding before taking a stance.

Deliberative workshops

These intensive sessions unite diverse stakeholders for focused discussions on a particular issue. Experts present information, participants debate various viewpoints, and facilitated group work encourages consensus-building. Dividing the larger group into smaller groups ensures all members participate and provide their views.

Deliberative mapping

This method visually depicts the landscape of an issue, with participants identifying key concerns, options, and trade-offs. It allows for a clear comparison of different perspectives and fosters a shared understanding of the complexities.

Consensus conferences

Similar to deliberative workshops, these sessions gather community members for in-depth discussions on a specific topic. However, the goal here is not necessarily to reach a complete consensus but to explore all angles and arrive at a set of recommendations representing the diverse viewpoints.

Citizen juries

Modelled after legal juries, these groups hear evidence from experts and witnesses on a specific issue. Participants deliberate, weigh arguments, and ultimately reach a verdict or recommendation, offering valuable insights from an informed perspective.

Citizen summits

These large-scale events bring together community members, policymakers, and stakeholders to discuss pressing issues. Through interactive sessions, expert presentations, and facilitated dialogues, citizens’ summits aim to raise awareness, inform public discourse, and influence policy decisions.

When and why might you use deliberative engagement?

Deliberative engagement is a versatile approach that can be strategically applied throughout the various stages of organisational decision-making. To determine if deliberative engagement is the ‘right’ form of engagement we recommend reviewing our deliberative engagement checklist to help you get started with your planning process. Our checklist can be used to assess your engagement goals, circumstances, and potential next steps.

Key elements for a successful deliberative engagement

Deliberative engagement is a powerful tool for putting people at the heart of your decision-making. All successful deliberative engagement processes include these key elements.

Key elements of deliberative engagement | Insync | Community Engagement

Ensure there is sufficient time

Engagement processes should allow ample time for participants to learn, explore the depth of the issues, weigh up the evidence, provide different views, and make informed recommendations. Participants need time to familiarise themselves with the issue, research relevant information, and formulate informed opinions.

Create space for critical thinking

The space for participants to engage in critical thinking is crucial. Without critical thinking, participants may readily accept and support each other’s claims and opinions, even if they lack strong evidence or merit. This can create a false sense of consensus while masking underlying disagreements and hindering productive debate.

Have a good representation of the community

Another challenge is the exclusion of crucial perspectives from the deliberation table. Without enough representation or diversity of thought, the deliberation can become an echo chamber, which can lead to blind spots and incomplete understanding of the issue. A group that isn’t representative can favour certain voices and stifle others, leading to a one-sided monologue instead of a vibrant exchange of ideas.

Develop a clear problem statement

The problem statement provides a focus and reference point for all discussions. A clearly defined problem statement benefits the sponsoring organisation, the facilitation team, and most importantly, the deliberating group. Without a clear purpose in the form of a ‘problem statement’ there can be uncertainty about what the remit of the deliberative group is, and what exactly their feedback can influence.

Demonstrate how views have been considered

A great deliberative process has a clear purpose and can demonstrate how diverse views have been considered. Failing to share an outcome report or closing the loop at the end of the process can diminish the integrity of the decisions made. The sponsoring organisation may be perceived to be hiding what was discussed, what the outcomes were, and how the deliberating group’s recommendations will be used.

Engage Insync for deliberative engagement

Our dedicated team of research and engagement experts, skilled in quantitative and qualitative methods, offers a comprehensive suite of services. Whether you need large-scale surveys, insightful benchmarking, expert facilitation, or robust community and stakeholder engagement, we partner with you to design and execute tailored solutions.

Contact us today, and an Insync team member will reach out to schedule a free strategy session. This personalised session allows us to understand your project goals, answer your questions, and collaboratively scope out the ideal approach. Then, we will deliver a customised proposal outlining our recommendations and expected outcomes.

Tony Matthews

Principal - Government & Utilities

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Eleanor Howe

Senior Manager - Government & Utilities

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Jane Tyquin

Manager - Government & Utilities

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CTA Deliberative Engagement Strategy Session-01

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