A Model for Citizen Policy Deliberations



Bridging Normative Democratic Theory and Internet Technologies: A Proposal for Scaling Citizen Policy Deliberations
Policy & Internet
Page numbers: 


The authors have developed an experimental model for citizen deliberation and participation called the Social Web for Inclusive and Transparent Democracy (SOWIT).

Their SOWIT model includes three stages:

  1. Collaboration Stage: an online space for 'open communication and knowledge sharing by citizens, elected representatives, and officials'. Key objectives are broad inclusion and learning through exposure to alternative viewpoints. Key outputs are 'public discourses' – statements on the issues that matter most to the public – and the identification of individuals to speak on those issues.
  2. Deliberation Stage: face-to-face meetings, where selected 'discourse speakers', elected representatives and other officials work towards the development of an inclusive policy proposal. It aims to create a 'problem-solving public' that seeks political cooperation and innovative outcomes. Findings from this stage can also be fed back into the Collaboration Stage.
  3. Policy Development: the relevant governing body considers the policy proposal from the Deliberation Stage. Content analysis of the debate and the final policy is used to measure the impact of the public deliberation on the final outcome.

The article begins with a summary of the current state of deliberative theory, highlighting recent evolutions that attempt to expand on the Habermasian ideals of rationality, impartiality and the reaching of consensus for the 'common good' in public deliberation. Researchers and thinkers in this area have sought innovative ways to improve inclusion, include non-linguistic modes of knowledge transmission, and to expand the scale and scope of public discourse.

Building on the theoretical work of Dryzek, Niemeyer, Stephenson and others, the authors present a mixed online/offline deliberative system that 'enables the practical integration of citizen deliberations on an ongoing basis into political decision-making'.


Thumbnail image: smannion/Flickr


Vanessa Liston

Trinity College Dublin

Clodagh Harris

University College Cork

Mark O'Toole

Kilkenny County Council

Published Date
December 1, 2013