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“Designing Deliberative Democracy: Practices and Experiments” international symposium event report

Organized by the Center for Positive/Empirical Analysis of Political Economy and the Japan Mini-Public Research Forum, the international symposium “Designing Deliberative Democracy: Practices and Experiments” was held on February 18 and 19, 2020. This symposium was supported by funding from Waseda’s International Affairs Division.

Programme of the symposium

Profiles of symposium speakers

More than 50 participants engaged in a discussion regarding practices and experiments in deliberative democracy, which is a form of democracy where citizens discuss and deliberate on a topic of importance at any level of governance – be it local or national. In recent years, deliberative democracy has been implemented through various ‘practices’ such as citizens’ deliberative meetings where participants are selected at random from the citizenry, while many ‘experiments’ have been conducted in various countries to understand the effects of deliberation format, composition, and theme. Based on the findings of such experiments, Professors Kimmo Grönlund of Åbo Akademi University and André Bächtiger of Stuttgart University delivered keynote speeches at the symposium.Professor Grönlund founded the Standing Group on Democratic Innovations with Professor Brigitte Geissel (Goethe-University Frankfurt) in 2010, one of the largest standing groups in the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), Europe’s largest political science association. In more recent years Professor Bächtiger convened the Standing Group with Professor Grönlund. Both are leading academics in the empirical research of deliberative democracy.

There were two main objectives of this symposium. The first was for the two prominent professors to present the latest research from Europe, where the empirical research of deliberative democracy is most developed, and for researchers in Japan to learn from their recent work. While Japan also has rich experience of empirical studies of deliberative democracy, these are mostly based on Deliberative Polling®. In Europe, discussions by randomly selected citizens with balanced information are called “mini-publics”, and various studies have been conducted to examine which forms of discussion should be adopted to enhance the quality of deliberation (in which context, Deliberative Polling® can be considered to be one form of mini-public).

Professor Grönlund, one of the first scholars to rigorously test the effects of deliberation format, shared with the audience his rich and long-term expertise of running deliberative experiments in his keynote lecture, “Designing Deliberative Mini-publics as Experiments, Experiences from Finland”. Among the five deliberative experiments introduced in the lecture, Professor Grönlund presented an intriguing study comparing two decision-making styles – secret ballot or group consensus after a discussion – where the group assigned to make a collective decision by consensus was shown to have gained more knowledge on the issue of nuclear energy in Finland. In another experiment that compared deliberations in a group of like-minded people with those among a mixed group of people with various opinions, Professor Grönlund’s team found that the like-minded group did not necessarily embrace more extreme attitudes if the participants were given deliberative norms by disciplined facilitators (for which his team received the 2020 Meisel-Laponce Award of the International Political Science Association).

While Professor Grönlund laid out nuts and bolts of designing deliberative experiments, Professor Bächtiger, one of the renowned scholars who established the well-known Discourse Quality Index (DQI), talked us through another important aspect of studies on deliberations and deliberative experiments – the question of what constitutes a good and high-quality deliberation. In his keynote lecture “Democratizing Deliberative Democracy: A Critical Appraisal of Empirical Research on Deliberation”, based on his recent co-authored book (Mapping and Measuring Deliberation: Towards a New Deliberative Quality, Oxford University Press, 2019) and a co-authored article in Science, Professor Bächtiger gave extensive and stimulating discussions on various aspects and the multifaceted nature of deliberation. Going beyond the original DQI and shedding light on the role of empathy in storytelling with an application to the Europolis, a transnational deliberative poll conducted in Brussels, Professor Bächtiger also stressed the challenges ahead for empirical research of deliberative democracy, providing a wealth of conceptual clarity on the need to distinguish additive and summative judgements and to take the goals and contexts of deliberation into consideration.

The other objective of this symposium was to discuss practices and experiments of deliberative democracy in Japan as part of a dialogue with the two distinguished guests from Europe. Professor Emeritus Yasunori Sone of Keio University and Professor Tatsuro Sakano of Tokyo Institute of Technology, both of whom have led research on Deliberative Polling® and mini-publics in Japan, spoke about their projects which adopted Deliberative Polling® for various topics such as social pensions and nuclear power plants. They also talked about various practices of deliberative democracy in Japan, including citizens’ deliberation meetings that have been held more than 500 times to discuss budgetary issues and long-term planning at municipal level. On the second day of the symposium, Motoki Nagano, Associate Professor of Tokyo Metropolitan University, reported on the details of these citizens’ deliberation meetings and presented a case study of Shinjuku Ward, where Waseda University is located.

The first day of the symposium ended with a roundtable, “Prospects and Challenges in Designing Deliberative Democracy,” featuring the two guest professors from Europe and two senior professors from Japan, moderated by Waseda University’s Professor Airo Hino. The panelists deliberated on various topics, including i) what a good deliberation actually is and what kinds of measures one could rely on to empirically evaluate the quality of deliberation; ii) what can be done to enhance both internal validity and external validity of deliberation experiments and whether ‘experiments’ (which tend to focus more on internal validity) and ‘practices’ (which tend to focus more on external validity) can ever be compatible to each other; iii) how opinions formed in deliberative processes can be reflected in public opinion in society at large; iv) if there is any cultural and institutional difference in practicing deliberations across countries and regions; and v) whether deliberations and mini-publics can be a possible panacea for recent challenges arising from the global phenomena of populism and the ‘illiberal’ turn of democracies.

On the second day of the symposium, early-career researchers had the opportunity to present their research in front of the two guest professors and receive feedback. The presentations ranged widely over the theory and empirics of deliberative democracy, including recent mini-publics experiments conducted in Japan. Takashi Nakazawa, Associate Professor of Shizuoka University, reported on a study comparing face-to-face and online (partly conducted in text by an AI facilitator) mini-publics on the issue of nuclear power plants in Shizuoka Prefecture. From Waseda University, Hun Chung, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, gave a talk on the formal theory of deliberative democracy, which proved that constructive discussions and debates where preferences are manifest are desirable deliberation styles (based on a paper recently published in American Political Science Review). Also, Airo Hino, Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics; Tomoya Yokoyama, Associate Professor of Kanazawa University; Kohei Tabei, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Political Science; and Kento Hara, a senior-year undergraduate student in the School of Political Science and Economics presented results from a large-scale project on mini-publics on the issue of foreign labour held in 2016 in Shizuoka Prefecture (headed by the Principal Investigator Aiji Tanaka, the President of Waseda University and the former President of International Political Science Association). Professors Grönlund and Bächtiger kindly read the papers and presentation materials in advance and gave a great deal of valuable feedback and suggestions for each of the presentations.


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