Balancing Harmony & Contestation in a 'Citizens' Parliament'
The authors examine the types of deliberation used at the Australian 'Citizens' Parliament' in 2009.
On 6-9 February 2009, 150 randomly-selected citizens convened as Australia's first Citizen Parliament (CP) in Canberra. Their aim was to 'change the way people talk about politics and make political decisions'.
The authors examine the impact of the decision to emphasis a mode of deliberation known as 'appreciative inquiry' in the CP.
Appreciative inquiry emphasises the constructive and positive aspects of deliberation – building on what is already working within a system. It is meant as an alternative to more contestatory forms of deliberation and traditional problem-solving centred around what is broken and how to fix it. When it is effective, appreciative inquiry should generate openness, inclusion and 'large amounts of positive affect and social bonding'.
An analysis of the results of the CP showed 'remarkable' outcomes in the desired goal of generating camaraderie and having the participants feel positive about their experience.
However, the authors also discovered that the emphasis on appreciative inquiry came at the expense of sufficient deliberation of critiques of the existing system and assessing competing ideas. They argue that the CP would have benefited from an approach that better balanced appreciative and contestatory forms of deliberation. They believe an opportunity was missed to use the 'currency' of goodwill built through the appreciative deliberation to discuss more contentious and difficult issues.