Making consultations more deliberative

A deliberative approach to consultation would focus on being inclusive, equitable, and characterised by mutual respect among participants during discussions and negotiations

The principle of deliberation guided our approach to this project, particularly how we worked with participants and facilitated their interactions with each other, but also the basis for our assumption that the legitimacy of consultations is improved if they are deliberative.

Deliberation is defined as: ‘mutual communication that involves weighing and reflecting on preferences, values, and interests regarding matters of common concern’ (Bächtiger, Dryzek, Mansbridge, & Warren, 2018, p. 2). A deliberative approach to consultation would focus on being inclusive, equitable, and characterised by mutual respect among participants during discussions and negotiations. All participants are well-informed and have enough information on which to base their decisions.

Deliberation helps to achieve accountability because participants have to justify their positions and policy-makers need to explain how the deliberation relates to outcomes. In other words, the four principles (inclusive, well-informed, equitable, accountable) that emerged from our stakeholder discussions incorporate deliberative principles.  

Many of the solutions proposed by our participants reflect a desire to improve the deliberative character of consultations. For example, solutions for the problem of unequal access included holding town hall meetings. These kinds of meetings bring together a representative group of stakeholders for a day-long or weekend-long discussion about the topic of the consultation. In small groups, they are given specific tasks to work through and decisions to make. The outcomes of their discussions are collated and shared across the whole group, which then votes on different options for resolving the problems they are discussing (Lukensmeyer & Brigham, 2002).  

Providing information to stakeholders in advance of face-to-face meetings also contributes to deliberative quality because it ensures that expectations about the meetings are set, roles are clear, and all participants have enough information to deliberate effectively. By delivering information in a variety of formats and not only relying on text, this kind of solution could also enhance inclusivity. 

Using creative tools for engagement also enhances deliberation, because tools like games and trade-off scales demand discussion from participants as they reflect on different options, weigh up advantages and disadvantages and find a balanced solution. These kinds of tools could be particularly useful in more open consultations, where the basic direction of policy is reviewed (e.g. how should we balance increasing public access to creative work with increasing limitations to protect creators’ rights).

Deliberation is also present in the idea of informal meetings among stakeholders, focused on sharing different perspectives on aspects of copyright policy so that stakeholders and government develop a better understanding of the overall debate. They would also be a place where the deliberative principle of taking a range of views and information into account is reinforced. Held once or twice a year, these meetings would have a beneficial effect on the deliberative quality of engagement during formal consultations, by creating a stronger foundation of mutual understanding and helping to set expectations about the need for compromise.