#5PAPERS – Week 3 Day 1

by Nivek K Thompson

  1. Reference to the Article 

Lee, C. W., McNulty, K., & Shaffer, S. (2015). Civic-izing Markets: Selling Social Profits and Public Deliberation. In C. W. Lee, M. McQuarrie, & E. T. Walker (Eds.), Democratizing Inequalities: Dilemmas of the New Public Participation (pp. 27-45). New York: New York University Press.

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

This chapter looks specifically at the role of consultants in the delivery of deliberative processes. In my research I will be interviewing facilitators of deliberative processes I expect this chapter to provide me with some insights and different perspectives on these roles as well as potentially assisting me in the finalisation of my interview protocol for this category of informant.

  1. What is it about? (Problem / Purpose / Research Questions)

The authors are explicitly challenging the notion that all deliberation is “morally good” through looking at the role of consultants in the development and delivery of deliberative processes, with (to a lesser extent) consideration of whether deliberation itself is dis-empowering by focusing on individual responsibility rather than collective action.

They describe their study as investigating ‘a market for the idealized political “good” of deliberative democracy, in order to understand the ways in which moral values associated with politics, particularly ambivalence about the relationship of politics to markets, affect the practical production of political processes.’ p.30

  1. Where does this come from? (Literature / Theoretical Framework)

Lee et al note that most research into deliberation focuses on the process side of these events and in some cases larger outcomes are considered irrelevant.

Nonetheless they do find other researchers who have considered this area of practice noting the range of views from those who see ‘deliberation as inherently resistant to the market, [to] those who believe the market is destructive claim that deliberative and market values are antithetical.’ p.30

They use Hirschman’s typology of markets: feeble, civilising or destructive, adding their own ‘civic-izing’ to these perspectives to consider the impact of markets on deliberation. In addition, they use economic sociologists’ approach of looking at how markets are ‘moralized’ to consider the market for deliberative processes.

  1. What did they do? (Methodology & Method)

Their empirical work ethnographic, based around participant observation at ‘pubic’ discussions of deliberative process consultants at meetings, conferences and through listserv discussions as well as informal interviews and non-random online survey and document review.

In addition they provide an overview of the development of the public deliberation field (of consultants) predominately in North America.

  1. What did they learn? (Results / Discussion)

Lee et al discuss how practitioners see themselves as a ‘community of practice’ and often share resources freely whilst also being alert to the need to ‘market’ these processes, as ‘products’ to their clients (both government and business). They identify how consultants package their services as being both based on democratic theory and being tailored to the needs of particular clients (and communities). And whilst the outcomes may be couched in terms that are intangible there is also a move to use evaluation tools to deliver measurable outcomes for clients.

The authors suggest that ‘the particular manner in which public deliberation is civic-ized contributes to its utility as one form of quiet regulation for sponsors.’ p.28 They make a call to researchers to move beyond looking at how to make deliberation ‘work’ to ‘imagine more ambitious opportunities for the “systems change” that deliberation repeatedly offers, and rarely delivers – even, and especially, when it works as promised.’ p.42

  1. What did I learn?

I was surprised at the figure, from a 2007 survey, that 18% of Americans say they had been involved in face-to-face or online deliberative problem solving with others in the last year – I wonder how people interpreted these terms and what the result would be in Australia?

I agree with Lee et al that ‘The protective halo reserved for deliberation as a ‘real utopian’ political activity has kept deliberation from being considered alongside other forms of stakeholder management and public relations, except as an idealized alternative.’ p.41. Although I note that this is changing, not just in this volume (see Democratic Illusions by Johnson, 2015)

I would also agree there has been undue emphasis by scholars on evaluating the process side of deliberative events and I note there has been a growth in broader evaluative frameworks e.g. Hartz-Karp and Carson (2005), Smith (2009), and Böker and Elstub (2015). I think some of the criteria established in these frameworks could support more critical perspectives on deliberative processes, although they could also be applied in a fairly uncritical manner assuming deliberation is always a ‘good’ thing.

I support their call to look beyond individual initiatives to systems change, although I’m not convinced that the new deliberative systems approach, the focus of much attention from deliberative democracy scholars, really addresses the type of system change these authors are referring to.

It was nice to see the work of Australian academics (two of my supervisors) cited in this chapter.