Hello Friends of Deliberative Democracy–

Happy New Year to you and yours! 2019 seems to have sneaked up fast, and here we are nearly into February. There are so many interesting new developments that I couldn’t possibly include them all. So below, please find a smattering. Plus some DDC news—a new membership structure, an upcoming gathering! (I apologize in advance for the length, but read to the end because there is good stuff all the way along.)

Special Issue of Journal of Public Deliberation
The Journal of Public Deliberation has just released a brand-new special issue focused on Deliberative Democracy in an Era of Authoritarianism. In their introductory essay, editors Laura Black and Tim Shaffer write: “[A] central theme put forward in this special issue is how deliberative democrats—scholars, practitioners, and citizens—can offer an alternative to the (seemingly) attractive appeal of authoritarianism. “

And speaking of alternatives . . . 

Deliberative Democracy as Counterweight to Populism
In response to ongoing conflict over Brexit, several commentators (See here, here and here)  have suggested that a deliberative approach might be key to the U.K. reaching a more considered and resilient outcome. Many of these writers look to the Irish citizens assembly and referendum as a model. Fintan O’Toole, writing for The Guardian, contends: “If the Brexit referendum had been preceded by such a respectful, dignified and humble exercise in listening and thinking, it would surely have been a radically different experience.”

Here is a more detailed description of the Irish Citizens Assembly that preceded the referendum on changes to abortion law. Oliver Escobar (Edinburgh University) on the Irish experience: “It’s quite a milestone in the field of democratic innovations. This is the first time this has been part of everyday politics. . . Elements of representative, deliberative and direct democracy came together via parliament, the citizens’ assembly and referendum. . . .When these things are combined, you have a democratic system that’s more powerful.”

Ron Levy, of the Australian National University, makes a similar argument in the context of populism more broadly, contending that the combined model that makes up a “deliberative referendum” can help “harness the populist trend and turn it in a more useful direction: deliberative democracy.”

Devolving power to localities
Scholars in several countries are making the case that the devolution of power to local governments—or at least to smaller units—can lead to a more deliberative and citizen-centered culture.

The Centre for Public Impact (U.K.) recently released a report about the “enablement mindset” in government, which moves decision-making authority to the smallest and most local unit possible. Using the Netherlands concept of buurtzorg (neighborhood care) as an example, the Centre concludes that government systems can become more deliberative, effective, and trust-worthy at a smaller scale. As they put it: “Around the world, people have far greater trust in government bodies that are closer to them, because they have shorter accountability loops and can develop more locally appropriate solutions. In addition to representative democratic mechanisms, participatory mechanisms that open up deliberation and decision-making, can also flourish far more easily at the local level.”

Similarly, Jawad Haddadin argues in the Jordan Times that the decentralization and municipal laws passed in 2015 offer local governments the opportunity to build legitimacy by creating structured and responsive deliberative practices.

And finally, Andy Smarick argued in the last days of The Weekly Standard that a conservative United States Supreme Court might well limit the role of the court in public decision-making, thus devolving power back to state and local governments and returning citizens to their rightful place in a deliberative democracy.

Democracy, the Big Picture
Here are two big new reports on global democracy:

There is the 2018 Democracy Index from The Economist. One of the big findings is an increase in political participation in many countries, with much of the increase being fueled by the participation of women.

And this one—Democracy for All: Beyond a Crisis of Imagination—from Civicus, which also argues that democracy requires a shift to local priorities and aspirations (see above). 

More on Civility
In the last Bulletin, I wrote a bit about the ongoing debates about civility. Well, we’re still talking about it. Here’s this piece from the New York Times about columnists from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum who forged a friendship.  Many people sent it to me when it came out, but I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed by it as an actual political strategy.

I did, however, find this TED Talk (and presumably the book that underlies it) to be helpful and provocative. Teresa Bejan argues for “mere civility,” which she contends “allows us to disagree, to disagree fundamentally, but to do so without denying or destroying the possibility of a common life tomorrow with the people that we think are standing in our way today.” Mere civility, she argues, is the civic virtue that makes “un-murderous coexistence” possible.

The Journal of Public Deliberation has a new editorial team.  Please join me in welcoming Andrè Bächtiger, Professor Institute of Social Sciences and ZIRIUS Deliberation and Participation Lab, Universität Stuttgart (Germany);  Nicole Curato, Senior Research Fellow Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, University of Canberra (Australia); and Kim Strandberg, Academy of Finland Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Political Science Social Science Research Institute, Åbo Akademi (Finland). Andrè, Nicole, and Kim have big plans for JPD, so keep an eye open.

Please also join me in thanking Laura Black, Nancy Thomas, and Tim Shaffer. They have done a tremendous job with the journal, and we wish them well in their future endeavors!

DDC has a new membership structure! There are new ways for individuals and organizations to get involved in the future of deliberative democracy. The steering committee and I are very excited to welcome new members, so check it out.

DDC Convening
Please join us at an inter-disciplinary convening at Tufts University on June 19-20, 2019 immediately  followed by Frontiers of Democracy.

What is it?  An interdisciplinary research and practice convening to explore the promises and limitations of deliberative democracy, the cultural forces affecting a robust deliberative democracy, and the relevance (or not) of deliberative democracy to other fields and disciplines both now and in the future.

Who should come? Deliberative democracy practitioners and scholars, as well as people involved in the fields of neuroscience, civic education, civic tech, behavioral and traditional economics, journalism, cross-cultural communication, linguistics, theology, political science, public administration, public policy, social psychology, sociology, history, literature, fine arts, community organizing, storytelling, mediation, peace studies, science literacy, human-centered design, etc., etc.

What will come out of it? Here are some possibilities: an edited volume; future convenings; an action plan; a statement of shared values; promising partnerships; etc.

*Watch for details and invite your friends and colleagues. 

New Book
And finally, some personal (and professional) news. My next book, These are Strange Times, My Dear will be released on February 5. Instead of vouching for it myself, this is what Kirkus Reviews has to say: “Her best essays combine rigor with sensory observation, ranging widely among varied interests . . . A compassionate, measured voice that serves as an antidote to strident pontificating.” Pre-orders here and let me know if you would like to host a reading.

See you soon–
Stay in touch. Send notes and tidbits. Remember, if you are interested in becoming a member of DDC, contact me at wendywddc@gmail.com.
Thank you for all your work out there,