Deliberative Systems

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On 30 October 2015 the Australian Research Council announced that I have won a Discovery Grant to map and compare three deliberative systems: those centred around the independence referendum in Scotland, 2007-2014; the debate around Obamacare in the US in 2009; and ongoing efforts to recognise indigenous Australians in the constitution. More details are here.

The grant is the latest development in a project called The Deliberative Society that I have been running in various forms since 2009. Its aim is to theorise and map deliberative democracy at the large scale, well beyond deliberative minipublics. With colleagues in the UK, Australia and Germany 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.

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.

DS JacketA book sparked by the 2009 conference is out with Cambridge University Press. Called Deliberative Systems: deliberative democracy at the large scale, it is 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. It is setting the agenda for a major shift in deliberative research.

Paperback and KIndle editions are also available.

André Bächtiger of the University of Stuttgart and I have a contract with Oxford University Press for a book called Mapping and Measuring Deliberation. It will systematically review empirical evidence on the quality and extent of deliberation in both small and large-scale settings, and recommend new methodologies for face-to-face and highly dispersed, even online deliberation. The MS is nearly finished, and will be published in 2016.  The proposal is available to download (PDF).

Democracy and Public Space

Democracy and Public Space asks whether physical space is needed to make democracy work, and if so, what kinds? It was funded byparkinson_visual.jpg-for-web-small the British Academy Small Grants Scheme and a book is now out with Oxford University Press — click on the cover for details, including a sample chapter.

Kindle edition is available too from Amazon: click here.

Other papers from the project include:

Media coverage

An August, 2012 piece in The Atlantic Cities sums up the key ideas, especially with reference to Washington, DC, while the Canberra Times has an article on the Australian results. There’s also a 2008 article in The Guardian which quotes me on the subject of the redesign of Parliament Square in London.

Deliberative Democracy and Legitimacy

978-0-19-929111-3This body of work looks at issues in the theory and practice of deliberative democracy. The overarching theme is how one creates links between the ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in any deliberative decision making moment, and thus how we share arguments around a democratic society.

The work includes my book, Deliberating in the Real World, published by Oxford University Press in 2006: click on the cover below left to go to the OUP website, or go to Amazon for a Kindle version, or download some of the papers, below.



I have worked on referendums for more than ten years, and in 2010-11 served as Specialist Advisor to the House of Lords Constitution Committee’s inquiry into referendums in the UK. Their report is available here.Minarett-verbot poster

My early work evaluated referendums against a set of deliberative democratic criteria, and found them seriously wanting. The first results include:

  • 2001. ‘Who knows best: the creation of citizen-initiated referendums in New Zealand.’ Government and Opposition 32(3): 403-421.
  • 2001. ‘Deliberative democracy and referendums.’ In K Dowding, J Hughes and H Margetts, eds. Challenges to democracy: ideas, involvement and institutions. London: Palgrave, pp.131-52

Sincce then my views have shifted a little. If we think of referendums as tools in a wider democratic system, then there are some roles they can perform uniquely well. There is an unpublished conference paper exploring this:

Contact me

Professor John Parkinson
Centre for Governance and Public Policy
Glyn Davis Building (N72)
Griffith University
170 Kessels Road
Nathan, QLD 4111

john.parkinson [at]
john [at]

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