Deliberative technology: creating a lens for deliberation

Growing uses of deliberation as a mode of governance calls for ways to observe its success. ‘Deliberative technology’ offers a lens to ensure this process.

Deliberative processes can have positive or negative results. Yet, their success – or failure – isn’t attributed to a single dimension, but produced through a mix of factors. Kathryn Quick and Jodi Sandfort present a framework to understand how participants, facilitators, techniques and contexts interact to influence outcomes in ‘Deliberative Technology: A Holistic Lens for Interpreting Resources and Dynamics in Deliberation’.

Practitioners face the challenge of designing adaptive, productive processes without the benefit of a ‘master recipe’. However, the growing adoption of deliberation as a mode of governance calls for effective and efficient ways to understand the dynamics of its many elements – in addition to the need for practical guidance on creating and running successful deliberations.

Quick and Sandfort offer the concept of ‘deliberative technology’ as a lens for observation, understanding and constructive intervention through which practitioners can responsively design and manage deliberative processes. Describing the concept, they draw from the concept of organizational technology; that is, how organizations turn inputs into outputs through operational processes and resources. The concept reveals how facilitator-participant equations, resources, methods and policy contexts work together to co-produce the results of deliberation.

Quick and Sandfort propose three broad groups of resources brought to deliberative processes:

  • engagement techniques – polls, juries, dialogue circles, etc.
  • material objects – physical settings, products or supplies used to enable and document interactions
  • conceptual frameworks – approaches, stances, tactics to structure or interpret group work      

As a holistic approach, they write, deliberative technology addresses:

  • deliberative design – the selection and sequencing of methods
  • skills and training – applying practitioner knowledge and judgement for use or adaptation of different methods
  • emergence and complexity – co-production of dynamics of deliberative processes    

The authors apply the deliberative technology lens in three case studies from Minnesota. Here, shared resources, settings, and goals – with different outcomes – illustrate how deliberative resources and relationships work together within diverse contexts to produce results.

Kathryn S. Quick is Associate Professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Jodi Sandfort is Professor and Chair of the Leadership & Management Area at the University of Minnesota.

Photo: Michael Cardus/Flickr/cc

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