The Unfulfilled Promise of Online Deliberation
The authors, with experience as both researchers and practitioners of deliberative democracy, note that online deliberation initiatives have 'not lived up to expectations of delivering more inclusive, legitimate, implementable decisions.' They argue that the internet's inherent disadvantages of self-selection bias, passive audience participation and imbalances in access, skills, and interest have to date outweighed its cost and scalability advantages.
In practice, Hartz-Karp and Sullivan have found that attempts at online deliberation are likely to produce highly skewed results that lack representative legitimacy.
In response to these outcomes, they propose reorienting the purpose of online deliberation from a large-scale replacement for facilitated face-to-face deliberation to the fostering of shared forums of like-minded individuals and groups. These forums would enable the development, through the shared efforts of advocates and other engaged parties, of positions and proposals that could influence decision-makers and/or the broader public.
Organisers would be responsible for disseminating each group's outputs and for attracting 'broad public involvement in reviewing and voting' on them. The aim of this approach would be to create a vibrant functioning 'public square' that combines both online and face-to-face deliberation.
Thumbnail image: Camilo Rueda López/Flickr.