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Deliberation can be refer to either a micro-process (something you can build into part of a session or engagement process) or a full deliberative democracy process (such as a citizens’ jury).   

Deliberative engagement has a lot of potential benefits - these processes can lead to new solutions to challenging problems, improve policy outcomes and engender trust between citizens and decision makers.

So, is deliberation always the right answer/process? The short answer is no. 



As any good facilitator or engagement practitioner knows, quality engagement is tailored engagement - and your approach or process needs to fit the situation.  This means assessing where the participants are at, the history or context of the issue, and the aims of engagement.

We find that deliberative qualities can be integrated into nearly every process that we deliver.   For example, activities that enable people to have dialogue with each other, weigh up different facets of an issue or come to some level of shared decision-making are all consistent with deliberative principles.

However bigger (full) deliberative processes (such as a citizens’ jury) should only be used when the conditions are right.



A full deliberative engagement process is appropriate when:

  • there are polarised opinions across the broader community you are engaging with (i.e. issues where everyone has a view and, in many cases, they are different)

  • the issue is complex, ‘wicked’, or difficult to resolve (i.e. there is no ONE right answer)

  • the organisation can’t easily identify the best option, or where there will be strong opposition to any options available

  • the topic is data-rich or technical (i.e. where there are budgets, reports and nuances)

  • solutions will likely fail the ‘headline test’ if announced in the usual way (public trust will increase if everyday people explain a hard trade-off decision to other citizens ‘just like them)

  • the decision maker is open to any answer to the given problem

  • decision-making (i.e. recommendations) are needed.



There are many wicked and complex problems facing communities and governments,and deliberative democracy processes have a genuine role to play. 

However, there are also other problems that require different tools and approaches, where the skills of the facilitator are utilised to build collective community action, transform conflict or explore ideas (Source: Engagement Streams of Practice - NCDD Resource Guide on Public Engagement 2010). 

In these cases full deliberative democracy processes are not needed and the facilitator moves their approach to meet the moment.

Full deliberative processes might not be the answer when:

  • there are large levels of outrage (where there are high levels of outrage, this needs to be addressed in a different way before a deliberative process can begin)

  • the sponsoring organisation (decision maker) already has the answer and is not providing the deliberating group with any influence

  • the sponsoring organisation does not allocate sufficient time and resources to support a deliberative process.


The following organisations’ websites contain a whole host of interesting and useful resources related to deliberative engagement:


Join us for our 2019 Deliberation Ready training experience. This exclusive, one-day opportunity is designed for project managers, engagement specialists, leaders and decision makers in the government and public sector.

Prepare yourself and your organisation to enter the world of deliberative engagement and:

  • have all your burning questions and biggest dilemmas about deliberative engagement addressed,

  • learn how to overcome the challenges, avoid the pitfalls and embrace the opportunities associated with deliberative processes,

  • get clear on the steps you need to take to ensure you and your organisation is ready to get the most from a deliberative experience. 



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