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When the People Speak

This weekend, James S. Fishkin, Professor of Communication and Political Science at Stanford University and Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy, will conduct a Deliberative Poll® in Michigan. A 9780199572106scientific sample of 200+ people will convene in Lansing to deliberate about the state’s economic future, and in the end, the poll will reveal what the public thinks about these issues, both before and after it has had a chance to become informed.

Fishkin’s most recent book, When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation, explains this method of polling. It combines a new theory of democracy with actual practice, and has demonstrated how an idea that harks back to ancient Athens can be used to revive modern democracies. Fishkin and his collaborators have already conducted deliberative democracy projects in the United States, China, Britain, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Bulgaria, Northern Ireland, and in the entire European Union. These projects have resulted in the massive expansion of wind power in Texas, the building of sewage treatment plants in China, and greater mutual understanding between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

When the People Speak is accompanied by a DVD of “Europe in One Room” by Emmy Award-winning documentary makers Paladin Invision. The film recounts one of the most challenging deliberative democracy efforts with a scientific sample from 27 countries speaking 21 languages. Watch the trailer after the jump.

Courtesy of the Center for Deliberative Democracy

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  3. O.B. Ron Quixote

    Fishkin’s “deliberative polling” model has two fundamental flaws:

    1) how “representative” groups are chosen – selecting group participants on the basis of superficial criteria such as population demographics or political identity. He does not take into account personality traits (e.g. the Big Five Traits) or first and second derivative criteria such as how the participants learn, work, and socialize. If one places several introverted, empathetic persons sharing one ideology in group settings with a select few who are manipulative extroverts of the opposite ideology, it is no wonder the “results” of such a group process are skewed towards the ideology of the manipulative extroverts.

    2) how individual opinions and decisions are affected by a group process – in an uncontrolled environment, people form opinions in a variety of ways, from unfettered individual introspection to group conformism. By enforcing group interaction with consensus goals, people who would otherwise reach one opinion or decision in a free and unfettered environment can be coerced into an opinion opposite to an otherwise considered and educated perspective.

    In Fishkin’s drive for an “educated” populace with egalitarian ideals, he either sorely neglects clear lessons of group dynamics or simply chooses to use them for his own devices. Which is it, Dr. Fishkin?

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