ISSN: 2162-9161
Cover Image

Deliberation: An Introduction

John J. Theis, Jose Vela


The Center for Civic Engagement at Lone Star College has taken up the task of building democratic skills through meaningful dialogue.  Working with the National Issues Forum and the Kettering Foundation, we have initiated a deliberative dialogue program that seeks to teach students, faculty, staff, and community members the skills that are necessary to discuss and understand complex issues.  These dialogues give citizens the opportunity to join together to deliberate, to make choices with others about ways to approach difficult issues, and to work toward creating reasoned public judgment. Deliberative dialogues build on the theory that democracy requires citizens to engage in ongoing deliberation on public matters. The program builds on the idea that it is our communities and discourse that are the foundations for civic renewal. 

Deliberation is an essential public skill; it is the discursive process through which differences are negotiated and group decisions are made.  Deliberation is always oriented toward reaching common ground or taking action; it is not the practice of discussion for the sake of discussion. If you are serious about working with and through diversity, deliberation is an excellent process to negotiate and incorporate differences. In some cases, different people will view problems in totally different ways, while others will disagree on whether a particular problem is a problem at all. Deliberation should be inclusive and democratic. It is important to discuss both the purpose of and some of the guiding principles for democratic deliberation. (Harringer, 2007)

Deliberative dialogues use issue books framed by the National Issues Forum Institute to examine issues from at least three basic perspectives.  We encourage active listening and an examination of the assumptions that people bring to their opinions.  By laying out a set of ground rules and then discussion each perspective in sequence, if leads participants to see opposing and diverse perspectives with an eye on areas of agreement and disagreement.  Groups finish the exercise by reflecting on these themes and looking for next steps.  A deliberation concludes with each group reporting out their thoughts to the larger gathering. 

We have used deliberation to examine issues such as Immigration and disillusionment with our political system, the purpose of higher education and the changing world of work, and Campus Carry legislation that was being debated in the Texas Legislature.  Participants in deliberative dialogues consistently report positive experiences and research shows that the Deliberative experience helps to shape student perceptions of politics in positive ways (cite Kettering reference, cite eJournal specific reference).   

What do these dialogues look and sound like? This video feature excerpts from actual conversations to establish a reference and framework for experimenting with deliberate dialogues in your own classrooms, campuses, and community contexts.


deliberation; dialogue; community engagement; civic education; service learning

Full Text: PDF

DOI: 10.21768/ejopa.v6i1.147