Book Club Week 2: Three Models of Democratic Deliberation

Below is the chapter summary by Juli Fellows of Noelle McAfee’s chapter of our summer book club book, Democratizing Deliberation. Read over the summary and add your own reflections and questions below — and check out last week’s great discussion here if you missed it.

Hi, everyone! This is Juli Fellows, from Austin. I’m an independent facilitator and mediator who’s been an NCDD member for five or six years. I was on the 2008 NCDD conference team and also the planning group for the 2010 Austin regional conference.

I use and teach dialogue skills in my practice in several ways. I’ve been a dialogue skills coach for the Leadership Austin Essential class since 2007. I’ve collaborated with, and led workshops for, the innovative University of Texas at Austin Difficult Dialogues program. I also regularly use dialogue as a tool in my facilitation work. Since I’ve had very limited hands-on experience with deliberation, I asked Sandy if I could summarize Noelle’s McAfee’s very approachable chapter, Three Models of Democratic Deliberation.

Noelle, who very kindly reviewed my work and gave me wise advice, differentiates three models of deliberation – the preference-based model, the rational proceduralist model and what she calls the integrative model. She says her thinking about these models came out of her experience working at their intersection. She states clearly that these models aren’t mutually exclusive and are often combined in actual practice.

Noelle initially points out that “those who take part in deliberative experiments (a lovely choice of words, I think) have rather different ideas of what deliberation means, even though we use the word as if everyone agrees on what it means… The differences are not merely semantic…” I see her chapter as an exploration of the underlying differences in meaning and an exploration, not of what is right or best, but what models might help us accomplish what ends.

I’m a very visual person, so what immediately came to my mind as I began reading the chapter was a table, comparing the three models. (I also considered creating a mind map, but I liked the side-by-side nature of a table.) Interestingly enough, when I shared my table with Noelle, she told me she had created something very similar before writing her chapter! So here’s my take (with Noelle’s input) on some of the qualities and factors that Noelle examines, illuminated for each model.

In closing, Noelle says that “My concern in this paper has been that deliberative polling has been too informed by a preference-based model of democratic deliberation and not informed (nor, as a result, formed) enough by an integrative model. In its concern to help individuals deliberate and refine their opinions, it has overlooked the public task of politics.” She goes on to describe how often in deliberative polling, after the announcement of how much people’s opinions have changed through the process, she often finds the participants comparing notes, trying to piece together all the moving and conflicting parts, to answer the question “now what shall we do? In these rooms the people know that, in politics, at the end of the day, our task is not to decide what each of us wants, but to decide what we as a polity should do.”

Here are a few discussion questions to start us off. I look forward to hearing from you!

  1. In your own deliberation experience, have you perceived differences in approaches that would fit these three models? What differences do you perceive?
  2. What values do you believe underlie each of the models?
  3. What do you think about Noelle’s closing statement that “at the end of the day, our task is not to decide what each of us wants, but to decide what we as a polity should do”?
  4. How might Noelle’s explication of the three models help advance your practice or the field of democratic deliberation?

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