The deliberative systems approach to deliberative democracy emphasises a simple point: a single event can feature deliberation of some kind or another, but at anything above the very small scale, democracy can only be a multiple act, multiple stage, and multiple actor drama. The deliberative elements are only one, salient part of a democracy; it requires much else besides.
How democracy takes on a specifically deliberative quality is one of the main questions currently facing deliberative theorists and empirical researchers alike. It might be that ‘deliberativeness’ is injected into a system by very specific kinds of institution, or it might be that it is a distributed quality that emerges from the complex interplay of various parts — I call these the ‘additive’ and ‘summative’ approaches to deliberative systems.
The project was launched with a conference in York in June 2009, Democracy and the Deliberative Society, featuring James Bohman, Simone Chambers, John Dryzek, Jane Mansbridge, Mark Warren and many others.
A book sparked by the 2009 conference is Deliberative Systems: deliberative democracy at the large scale, edited by Jane Mansbridge and me, with contributions from James Bohman, Simone Chambers, Thomas Christiano, Archon Fung, Michael Kenneth MacKenzie, Yannis Papadopoulos, Dennis Thompson and Mark Warren. The book, especially its multi-author ‘manifesto’ chapter, is setting the agenda for a major shift in deliberative research.
The next book in the series is out now. Called Mapping and Measuring Deliberation, and co-authored with André Bächtiger of the University of Stuttgart, it reviews 30 years of positive empirical political science on deliberation and claims that it largely examines micro-scale processes using meso- and macro-level tools, and vice versa. It argues that we need to think of deliberation as distributed, performative, and richly contextualised; provides a ‘memetic’ account of meaning-making in deliberation; expands on the additive and summative distinction; and suggests new research tools and strategies that can successfully engage with mainstream political science.
On 30 October 2015 the Australian Research Council announced that I had won a Discovery Grant to map and compare two deliberative systems: those centred around the independence referendum in Scotland, 2012-2014; and ongoing efforts to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution. More details are here. With colleagues in the UK and Australia I am developing cutting-edge, electronic methods to show where particular systems are strong in sharing information and debate, and where there are important gaps and isolated enclaves. This will result in a book with Núria Franco-Guillén called Deliberative systems in action, under contract with Oxford University Press and expected in 2020.
Other papers on deliberative systems are available via my researchgate.net page; or click on ‘deliberative systems’ on the category cloud of my homepage.