Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS' sumary and recommendations on using deliberative methods and organising deliberative events.
The 21st century offers many opportunities for the state to consult citizens on its preferred policies. Traditional forms – such as engagement through political parties or NGOs, referendums, petitions – as well as new, internet-based methods are useful for involving citizens more fully. One relatively new trend in modern democracies is so-called deliberative methods. Their use in different countries to consult on, for example, major infrastructure projects, environmental protection, social issues, has become so common that democracy scholars have even begun to talk of a “deliberative wave” .
What are these methods and why might they be relevant in Latvia? Deliberative events have two important characteristics that, taken together, distinguish them from other events such as conferences, brainstorming sessions, workshops:
- The range of participants is a mini-population of the society (e.g. municipality, region or country) – i.e. a deliberate selection of participants who are similar to the society as a whole. Ideally, they are selected at random so that every member of the community has had (even a theoretical) opportunity to participate in the event. Representativeness is important because in every society there are groups of people who rarely use conventional forms of participation. In Latvia, for example, such groups include socially disadvantaged people, non-citizens, people with poor Latvian language skills, and people living in regions far from Riga. The demand for representativeness of deliberative events requires organisers to find ways to involve these groups in the event, including their experiences and opinions.
- Deliberative events are highly structured and sequential processes, where participants have a clear task (e.g. to develop recommendations to the City Council on how to improve air quality) and where time and space is provided for participants to familiarise themselves with the topic, reflect on it, work with each other on solutions, seek compromises and finally complete the task at hand. In this way, the format of these events is somewhat reminiscent of idea development workshops, innovation labs or hackathons.
These events are usually remembered as particularly meaningful and valuable events in the lives of people who have never participated in a public consultation before. For example, here are some participant responses to the deliberative event co-organised by the Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS and the Ministry of Health on December 4, 2021 on reducing informal payments in the healthcare sector:
“I enjoyed the event, it was nice to feel that my opinion was being listened to, but at the same time I had to accept that there are other opinions that need to be listened to. ” (comment in Latvian)
“Thank you for the opportunity to further my knowledge and express my views. I will be very grateful and happy to take part in other projects because I feel responsible for my country. ” (comment in Latvian)
“There was productive work and there were conflicts, for example on the subject of language. I liked the potential of the group to solve different issues, but not all topics were collaborative” (comment in Russian)
“The opinion of ordinary citizens – not affiliated to political parties, from different regions, from different social groups, nationalities – should have a positive influence on decision-making” (comment in Russian)
“I believe that such events should be held as often as possible, because we are a smart people and we live ‘on the ground’. Many people up there don’t see and don’t know how we live.” (comment in Russian)
“High level of organisation, it was very nice to talk in a friendly atmosphere.” (comment in Russian)
PROVIDUS has extensive experience in organising such events – in this briefing we generalise and share this experience so that other organisations and institutions know what to expect when organising deliberative events. Here you will find answers to the following questions:
- What are deliberative methods?
- How to select participants?
- How to set up a programme for a deliberative event?
- Event logistics: what are the key elements?
- What are the most typical budget categories for deliberative measures?
We are very grateful to the British Council Latvia for their support in preparing this information material and for organising the seminar on 31 March 2022, which helped us to understand what kind of information on deliberative action would be useful for other organisations!
What are deliberative methods?
Deliberative methods can be described as a hybrid format between consultation and research. They engage ‘average citizens’ in an organised process to learn, discuss and develop collective solutions to complex policy problems. Deliberative processes give participants the opportunity to learn more about the problem at hand, to consider possible solutions and to discuss them with other participants before presenting their views.
A successful deliberative process is representative and inclusive of society, potentially allowing any member of society to become a participant. It is also worth highlighting that deliberative events allow participants to learn and better understand the policy issues at stake, and it provides participants with meaningful and sufficient information to understand the topic, facilitating evidence-based discussions. Consequently, deliberative events offer a solution to common problems, such as lack of representativeness, that are inherent in more traditional formats of public participation.
Deliberative methods and events have a high added value in helping to shape better policies. Public consultations provide citizens with reasoned and in-depth assessments and recommendations for policy makers (on the specific topic(s) of the consultation) and give policy makers more legitimacy when taking difficult and controversial decisions. And of course it is also important to highlight that most decision-making processes are not representative of society, i.e. the decision-makers do not resemble the average voter (and most are not designed to be representative at all). By contrast, public participation processes with stratified selection of participants (which is the most representative way of selecting participants) tend to include consciously/unconsciously marginalised and/or excluded groups, including young people, single parents, non-citizens, etc.
The OECD classifies representative deliberative processes into four categories according to the purpose they are intended to achieve:
- Informed citizens’ recommendations on policy issues (Citizens’ Assemblies, citizens’ juries, consensus conferences, planning cells);
- Citizens’ views on policy issues; (G1000 model, citizens’ councils, citizens’ dialogue, WWViews);
- Deliberative polls; (Deliberative polls);
- Permanent representative deliberative measures (East Belgian model, urban observatory).
Some of the most popular formats for deliberative processes are citizens’ assemblies, citizens’ juries, consensus conferences, citizens’ councils, deliberative polls, planning cells and the G1000 model for policy planning:
- Citizens’ Assemblies are held to address issues and changes at institutional and constitutional level. This model has also been used to address controversial, long-standing issues in society, such as same-sex marriage and the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.
- Citizens’ Jury as an event format can be used to address a wide range of policy issues, but is most commonly used for infrastructure, health, urban planning, environment and public administration. The framework of the citizens’ jury model is the same as the citizens’ assembly model, but the citizens’ jury model is implemented in a more focused format.
- Citizens’ Council is a representative model of the consultation process, most often used at local and regional level (in Austria) to address a wide range of policy issues, mainly environmental problems/issues. The model is designed to address community problems quickly and cheaply and to strengthen the social capital of the community.
- Deliberative polls are a process that aims to find out how people’s views on policy issues have changed before and after they have taken part in organised discussions and consultations on the policy issues in question. Citizens vote at the beginning and at the end of the process, which allows for an assessment of the change in opinion as a result of the deliberative process.
- Consensus Conference is a method that gives citizens the opportunity to address specific policy issues in depth, to get immediate expert input and support, and to take ownership of the agenda and the key issues to be put on the agenda. The Consensus Conference is based on three criteria: impact, representativeness, deliberation. The method is mainly used in Denmark.
- Planning cells is a method in which randomly selected, diverse group of participants collaborate to develop solutions to a specific problem and report their recommendations to the relevant decision-makers.
- The G1000 is suitable for discussing and deciding on large, strategic issues for the future. The G1000 model randomly selects a representative group of ~1000 people to meet in consultations, workshops and moderated working groups. The participants themselves decide on the format within which the responses to the terms of reference are generated. During the event, participants have access to advice from experts and administrative staff.
While different formats of deliberative action can be identified, they all share some common elements:
- Selection of participants with the aim of creating a group of participants that is as representative as possible of the society or section of society whose needs and wishes need to be identified.
- Moderating the event and discussions to ensure an organised event.
- A clear event agenda that is clearly known and transparent to both participants and organisers.
- Dialogue between different stakeholders to ensure knowledge and evidence-based discussions to achieve the objectives of the event.
While deliberative action offers a solution to the shortcomings of more traditional methods of participation by ensuring deeper and more meaningful public involvement, it is also important to identify where deliberative processes are unsuitable:
- urgent issues and/or problems
- when it comes to questions in the final stages, where, as a consequence, the role of actors is limited or theoretical;
- deciding on matters of national security
- deciding on binary issues (only two opposing answers are possible);
- Thinking about an inclusive state and collective decision-making (this needs to be addressed more broadly, including through the extension of voting rights in society).
How to select participants?
A defining characteristic of deliberative action is that the composition of participants is similar to that of society as a whole in terms of certain demographic characteristics (e.g. age, gender, socio-economic status). Participants in a deliberative event should, as far as possible, be a micro-model, a micropublic, of the society in question (e.g. municipality, country, region). It is the event organisers who decide what kind of representativeness is important.
- Regional breakdown;
- Family language;
- Socio-economic situation;
- Level of education;
- Philosophical/political views (e.g. Euro-optimism and Euroscepticism).
It should be remembered that the more such parameters, the more difficult and expensive it will be to select participants.
The number of participants in a deliberative event can vary from around twelve to several hundred. This depends mostly on the task to be carried out, the time available and the budget of the event. Typically, deliberative events have around 25 to 60 participants.
There are several methods to arrive at this composition of participants, each with its own advantages and disadvantages:
- Entrust the selection of participants to an opinion polling company. The advantage is that such companies carry out opinion polls professionally on a daily basis, so they will be able to correctly identify the parameters of the public they want to target and they also have the resources (e.g. face-to-face interviewers, telephone interviewers, web panel) to select the participants. Drawback of the method: such companies are almost always traders, so they will be expensive to recruit.
- Try to create a representative mini-public with your own resources (e.g. calling randomly generated mobile phone numbers, sending letters to the addresses listed in the Population Register). The advantage of this method is that it can be a good method if the organiser has a list of contacts in their community (e.g. city residents). Disadvantage of the method – it requires the organiser to commit resources to such an identification and arrangement exercise. Often there is no guarantee of the representativeness of a mini-public gathered in this way.
- Announce the event publicly, indicating that only some participants will be accepted. Then select or draw from those who have applied on the basis of certain parameters (e.g. gender, age). The method has the advantage of being relatively inexpensive. The disadvantage of the method is that its application will almost always mean that the representativeness of the selected mini-public will be questionable.
If a deliberative event is held in person and participants incur significant costs to get to the venue (e.g. inter-city transport, need to stay overnight), the organisers should make financial provision to cover these costs. To avoid a high “drop-out” rate and to encourage people who do not participate in public events on a daily basis to take part, deliberative events often also provide rewards for participants in the form of gift cards or a small honorarium. You should also remember to pay personal income tax on such rewards.
How to set up a programme for a deliberative event?
Deliberative action planning starts from the mandate given to citizens. This informs the entire design of the event. This task could be, for example:
- making specific recommendations (e.g. recommendations to improve air quality in a specific city)
- agreement on a rough vision (e.g. Latvia’s vision for the future)
- Creating a public statement (e.g. 90% of participants can agree – e.g. a compromise between motorists and cyclists in a particular area).
The wording of the terms of reference depends on what the institution or organisation is trying to achieve with the measure, what its objective is.
The programme of an event is designed in such a way that the event fulfils this objective – i.e. that the elements of the event lead in sequence to the relevant outcome (recommendations, vision, public statement). The organisers of a deliberative event must design and manage the event so that it has an outcome – they cannot rely on the participants to come up with the best format and organise themselves to achieve it. For example, if participants are tasked with developing recommendations for a particular city to improve air quality, the event organisers do not and cannot know exactly what those recommendations will be, but they must design the process so that they end up with recommendations of that content.
The time spent on deliberative action depends on the complexity of the task and the number of people involved. A typical number of days per deliberative action is 3-6 days. Sometimes it can be as long as a year (e.g. when participants meet every two weeks on weekends) and sometimes it is justified to organise only a one-day event. Large numbers of days are required for complex tasks (e.g. when participants are asked to look seriously into a problem) and large tasks (e.g. the task of developing recommendations on ten topics that are not interlinked). Fewer days are required to develop rough visions or recommendations in areas that participants are likely to have already encountered.
Typical elements of deliberative action (in rough order):
- Participants explain the purpose and agenda of the event.
- Participants get to know each other – usually in smaller groups.
- Participants learn about the topic – for example, by listening to presentations by officials or experts, asking questions.
- First attempts to generate ideas in smaller groups, to formulate broader visions.
- So-called “rotations”, where groups are introduced to other colleagues’ ideas and go off to share their own.
- Initial selection of the most promising avenues – usually a method has been devised for all participants to take part in this selection.
- Opportunity to hear experts’ views on the plans or ask additional questions;
- Formulating visions, recommendations – usually organised in smaller groups.
- Prioritising the most promising visions, recommendations.
- Polishing the wording of specific recommendations.
- Vote on the proposals to determine the level of support for them from all participants.
- Getting and listening to feedback from officials who need to follow up on results.
In deliberative activities, it is important to allow for sufficiently long breaks as the work is intense and participants rarely have previous experience of similar engagement, so they get tired quickly. If the event is face-to-face, it is advisable to include some additional socialising elements (e.g. a shared dinner or attendance at a joint performance, cultural event) so that participants get to know each other better.
Event logistics: what are the key elements?
The organisation of deliberative events can be divided into three broad streams: coordination of content, administrative work with participants, technical support for the event. These streams should not exist in isolation from each other, i.e. the event should have a “core team” that communicates regularly and as needed so that everyone knows who is responsible for each element, understands the overall plan and progress of the event, and quickly identifies and solves problems.
For small deliberative events, a WhatsApp group is usually set up to deal with operational issues, and for larger ones, a dedicated Slack environment.
The core team of the event organisers is responsible for ensuring that the three streams of the deliberative event are coordinated.
Key elements of the content flow:
- Development of the event programme;
- Selection of experts and facilitators;
- Writing instructions for facilitators (so that the groups work according to a common formula), training and rehearsing facilitators;
- Handing over instructions to the experts (so they know what they can and cannot do during the event);
- Creation of handouts for participants (on the content of the event);
- In the framework of the event, supervision of the work of the facilitators, execution of the script, flexible solutions to content-related problems and dilemmas;
- Writing the final report of the event, based on the recommendations made by the participants.
Key elements for working with participants:
- Selection of participants (mini-publics representative of society);
- Instructing participants on how to technically participate in the event (in person or digitally);
- Monitoring that participants actually attend the event, contacting them if someone has not turned up (usually more participants are selected to take account of “drop-outs”);
- Administration of participants’ transport, hotels, shared meals;
- Issues related to data protection of participants;
- Translation of administrative information if participants do not speak the same language;
- Administration of payments related to participants (e.g. gift cards, transport reimbursements).
The technical flow of the event:
- Ensuring suitable spaces for all participants to work together and in groups;
- Signposts and/or staff to help you find your way around the building or buildings.
- Meals and directions;
- Equipment (round tables, projectors, computers, sticky notes, voting machines, etc.);
- If the event is in several languages, interpreters and translation devices;
- Photography and/or video recording.
The nuances of deliberative action in a digital environment:
- A digital platform with the possibility to create smaller groups (e.g. ZOOM, Interactio) is needed;
- It is necessary to check in good time whether participants will know how to use the platform and to send them clear instructions;
- A digital whiteboard is needed to collect and aggregate ideas (from simple spreadsheets to specific idea-gathering software – e.g. Jamboard, Miro, Mural);
- Need a voting tool (e.g. Zoom polls or Google forms);
- If you need to organise an event in more than two languages, Interactio is the right solution.
It is also possible to organise deliberative events in hybrid mode: with some participants in person and others online, but this is particularly complex. Group work then requires projectors and screens so that people who are in person can see those who are digitally connected, and group work rooms must have cameras and amplified sound. It also means more technical support for facilitators.
Typical budget categories for deliberative measures
Deliberative events are expensive compared to ordinary discussion events. The reason is that they require much more time than other events and involve a larger team.
|Typical cost category for a deliberative measure||Why is this necessary?|
|Selection of participants to ensure that the event constitutes a mini-public of the society concerned.
|The representativeness of the participants in deliberative events, i.e. their relevance to the society concerned, is one of the greatest added values of such events – otherwise, only the most active part of society would participate in such events.|
|Payment to participants for their participation in the event or, at least, reimbursement of expenses (transport, hotels)
|Without this element, there is a high probability that a representative mini-public will not be selected, and that participants who have agreed to participate will “drop out” before or during the event.|
|Technical support. If face-to-face, rooms (with sufficient capacity for group work), catering, projectors, ideation devices, ideation equipment, possibly a photographer. If internet, a platform for discussion, idea generation, voting, technical assistance and (if necessary) live broadcasts.
|Deliberative events are something in between conferences and brainstorming sessions. In addition, they have an element of voting and prioritisation of ideas.|
|Creation of the content of the event: creation of a detailed event programme, selection of experts and facilitators, detailed guidelines for event leaders, facilitators, experts, handouts for participants, creation of the final report
|Deliberative actions are significantly more time-consuming to develop than other actions.|
|Organisational coordination – working with participants
|In deliberative events, someone has to communicate with the participants to ensure that there is no drop-out on the days of the event, take care of their hotels, transport and catering (in the case of a face-to-face event) or know how to use the internet platforms and technical support if they fail to do so (in the case of a digital event).|
|Organisational coordination – working with technical support||Deliberative events always have elements of content in which all participants take part, and elements of content in which participants work in groups (or even groups visit each other). Technical coordinators must ensure that all equipment is available and working.|
|Organisational coordination – working with content||There should be one or more people within the event who coordinate the content of the event, e.g. to make sure that all the experts are present, to deal promptly with problems identified by the facilitators (e.g. if a problem arises that has not been discussed before), to correct the facilitators if their group deviates from the programme or instructions, to count the ballots correctly, etc.|
|Event leader or leaders
|There should be someone to lead the parts of the deliberative process where all participants work together (rather than in separate groups). The event leader should also allow time to attend pre-event training and rehearsals.|
|Facilitators and their support persons||Facilitators are the representatives of the organisers who lead the work in the groups. They should help the participants to complete the task – for example, to develop recommendations. At the same time, facilitators must not express their personal opinions, steer participants towards a particular solution or discourage them from doing so. Usually, each working group has its own facilitator. Facilitators are trained and have to attend rehearsals before the event.
Sometimes, in addition to facilitators who lead group discussions, deliberative events also include rapporteurs, or note-takers, who write down participants’ ideas and drafts of recommendations. Sometimes the facilitators themselves perform this function.
Sometimes in more complex events (e.g. when parallel group work is carried out in several languages, or simultaneously in person and digitally), facilitators also have support persons who solve technical problems or pass on messages from content coordinators (usually one to several facilitators) to the facilitators.
|Experts and fact-checkers||Participants in deliberative processes have rarely given serious thought to the task they have been given (e.g. developing recommendations to improve air quality). They therefore need to have experts at their disposal who specialise in the relevant issues. Experts are sometimes willing to give their time to the event as part of their job responsibilities or the mission of the organisation (for example, if they are government employees), but academic or civic experts are usually compensated for their time or paid an honorarium, especially if they are asked to prepare presentations or to be available for longer periods for questions from participants.
Sometimes deliberative actions also include one or more fact-checkers, who can be approached by participants or facilitators to verify some factual information.
|Accounting and legal support
|Deliberative events usually involve a lot of invoices and other paperwork.|
|Interpreters and translation devices
|If a representative mini-public of a given society is unable to communicate in one language, translation should be provided. If the event is held over the internet and in more than two languages, the cost of using Interactio must also be taken into account. If the event is held in person, translation facilities should be provided.|
 See the OECD 2020 study “Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions. Catching the Deliberative Wave.”
 Source: Smith, C., & Rowe, G. (2016). Deliberative Processes in Practice. In Dodds, S., & Ankeny, R. A. (Eds.). Big Picture Bioethics: Developing Democratic Policy in Contested Domains. Pages 59-70. Springer.S2e8PgX5gP4BT1w/edit (page 4)
 Source : https://participedia.net/case/485