Making Deliberative Democracy Practical

James S. Fishkin, Stanford University


All over the world there are efforts to consult the public about decisions that affect their lives, their communities, their countries. But most people, most of the time are not engaged in thinking about the details of public issues. They are not well-informed about the tradeoffs affecting key choices. On any issue of importance there are also widespread efforts to manipulate and mislead public opinion by interest groups, political candidates and parties.


Is it possible to have a more “deliberative democracy” where the people think in depth about policies and come to a considered judgment? Where the people on one side of an issue actually listen to the concerns and arguments of people on the other side?


Deliberative democracy can be a practical concept. This talk draws on applications of a simple method “Deliberative Polling” that has been applied in 27 countries to help resolve hard choices. Applications come from the most developed countries as well as developing countries, at the local and national level and even at the EU wide level. Countries will range from the United States to Japan, China, Mongolia, Bulgaria, Uganda, Ghana, and Brazil. Collectively, the public is very capable of dealing with complex issues. With the right method the people can be empowered rather than manipulated. Their deliberations can provide buy-in to difficult choices leading to the solution of public problems. Topics will include pension reform, energy choices, disaster relief, issues affecting the condition of women in developing countries, ethnic conflict and more.