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Why I’m supporting deliberative consultations17.01.2010 // by Stephen Whitehead
For many people in Britain today, consultation has become a dirty word.
And it's easy to see why. When the idea of more consultations was discussed at the Power 2010 deliberative poll, one of the participants told me that he'd been involved in a consultation about closing his local hospital. "Two hundred people said they didn't want it kept it closed. And they shut it anyway. Next time I don't think I'll bother."
Using consultations to add a veneer of legitimacy to a decision that's already been makes a mockery of the whole exercise.
But this doesn't mean the answer is getting rid of consultations. On the contrary the answer is stronger, better and above all more meaningful consultations. And that's what the proposal I'm supporting is all about.
It may sound innocuous, but "public consultation through a deliberative process" is hiding a revolution in UK government behind its unassuming name.
This proposal calls for government to be legally bound to give citizens a real say in decision-making through a process of ‘deliberative democracy' and to listen to the outcome.
Deliberation - getting together and talking about issues - is a powerful tool to produce wise, well-informed decisions.
Whilst critics of citizen involvement worry that the public will produce reactionary, conservative or discriminatory decisions, evidence suggests that talking through issues with people from different backgrounds moves people to views which are generous, tolerant and sometimes even imaginative.
Deliberation offers an alternative to the tiresome tug-of-war between proponents of representative and direct democracy.
Rather than trusting in political elites to make decisions on our behalf on the basis of a tenuous mandate, or investing power in populist schemes like referenda which can be vulnerable to kneejerk reactions, deliberative democracy aims to create the conditions where the public can bring their wisdom, experience and empathy to decision-making. And who could argue with that?
Stephen Whitehead is a POWER2010 volunteer and was a facilitator at the Deliberative Poll.
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