Deliberative Democracy

James Fishkin

 M. Peck Chair in International Communication and Director of Center for Deliberative Democracy, Stanford University

All democracy is a matter of institutional design. I argue that there are designs that hark back to ancient Athens, deliberating random samples of a population, that can make an important contribution to modern policy making. Deliberative Polling is a modern version that has been proven in 27 countries in more than 100 projects in both the developed and the developing world. The design responds to the key question: what would the people think under good conditions for thinking about the issue? The combination of small group discussion, balanced briefing materials, questions to competing experts and confidential questionnaires before and after deliberation define the process of Deliberative Polling. Various applications will be discussed, including the first application of the recent “Law on Deliberative Polling” in Mongolia which was used in April for proposed constitutional amendments. Why would governments use such a process to make important decisions? Why would people participate? Are the people competent to be involved in complex decisions? These are some of the questions I will focus on.

Yves Sintomer

Senior fellow at the French University Institute (IUF), professor of political science and member of the “bureau” (president’s advisory council) of Paris 8 University

Democracy is confronted to a huge transformation, both in the Global North and in the Global South. It has to face new challenges: a globalized world that gives always more power to private corporations and technocratic international organizations, growing levels of inequalities, the ecological crisis, new modes of socialization linked with Internet, the decay of mass political parties… Deliberative democracy, as far as it enables lay citizens to discuss in good conditions, is a powerful tool that could help to face these challenges. However, it cannot rest only on top-down mini-publics, as it has mostly been the case until now. Deliberative should be part of a much broader social and political change. This cannot be achieved only through deliberative democracy. Social movements and grassroots democracy are necessary in order to make it possible. Deliberative democracy has to spread in real politics, instead of being confined in artificial bodies. Deliberative mini-publics should be part of a broader democratic movement. Following this path, deliberative democracy could influence street politics, NGOs and political organizations, and multilateral international bodies such as the Conference of Parties (COP) on Climate Change. Recent experiments have shown that this is a “real utopia”.

Stephen Boucher

Managing Director of


Go Okui

Intern within the secretariat of the MOST programme in UNESCO, as a part of the credited PhD course work at Graduate School of Advanced Integrated Studies of Human Survivability of Kyoto University 

Following discussions surrounding issues that were addressed between successions of development policies devised by an international community, from structural adjustment policies to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it would be hard to dismiss an overall gradual shift of the focus from the one on mere economic development to the one embracing a more comprehensive development. It is made explicit in SDGs where the interdependence between environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and economic development are well noted. In fact, in “the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability” which was reviewed in Rio+20 in 2012 and preceded the drafting process of SDGs, a vision of “a new political economy” was proposed, urging they international community to recognize market failure and externalities with regard to various social and environmental issues. The tone and the vocabulary of such argument implies a decisive departure from neoliberal perspective to the one familiar to the field of welfare and public economics. However, even if such shift of language is to be adopted in the policy-makings, the problem remains as to by whom and how such policy can be legitimized and said to be better than the others. Should we leave it up to well-educated elites to devise policies according to their specialized knowledge? Isn’t it enough for citizens to continue the business as usual and only intervene periodically through voting to entrust certain people to implement the right policies for them? At least from a theoretical perspective with regard to social choice theory and its impossibility theorems, we know that democratic governance which only relies solely on preferential voting as a method of decision making is inherently unstable, not to mention the actual political stalemates that are observed in a number of democratic societies where the language of interest dominates political discussions. In this respect, David Miller (1992) and Dryzek and List (2003) inform us that deliberative democracy is theoretically able to provide solution in this lieu. In this sense, deliberative democracy is seen as a political system which can facilitate a community to reach an agreement on social choice whether by consensus through deliberation or deliberation in combination with majority voting. However, in consensus oriented discussions on deliberative democracy, it seems that the possibility of the value judgement of individuals being affected in the process of deliberation tends to be  overlooked though it may be worthwhile to consider.  In this juncture, I would like to think about the role of philosophy with respect to deliberative democracy by highlighting the contribution of Hannah Arendt on the theory of political judgement. I would like to conclude my speech with respect to the implications of UNESCO’s initiatives of philosophy in relation to deliberative democracy and SDGs.