Defined expansively as the exchange of politically relevant justifications, political deliberation occurs at many sites in the democratic system. It is also performed by several different types of actors. Here, we review political deliberation based on who is deliberating and what role these deliberations play in making binding decisions. First, ordinary citizens frequently deliberate in informal settings. While these discussions often fail to live up to the standards outlined by deliberative theorists, they typically correlate with other democratic goods, such as increased political participation. Second, there have been several attempts in recent years to construct the conditions necessary for quality deliberation among citizens by organizing small-group discussions in semi-formal settings. Proponents of such discussions argue that they promote a variety of democratic goods, such as political knowledge and better-justified political decisions, and as such should be incorporated into the formal policymaking process. However, critics of these procedural innovations hold that a more deliberative society is unrealistic or, alternatively, that deliberation is not without drawbacks on its own terms. Third, in a limited number of cases, citizens’ deliberations are formally embedded in democratic institutions, serving to advise voters and politicians or directly leading to binding decisions. Finally, political elites deliberate frequently. Opinion leaders attempt to and often succeed in shaping the discourse around issues, while elected officials, bureaucrats, and judges formally deliberate before making almost every binding decision. Surprisingly, though these deliberations happen frequently and likely have substantial effects on policy, they are probably the least studied in the political system, though recent breakthroughs in text analysis offer a path forward to analyzing deliberation among elites more systematically.
Jon Green, Jonathon Kingzette, and Michael Neblo
Transparency is one of the keywords of contemporary governance. It is often associated with democratic accountability, but it also carries connotations of market efficiency. Though transparency is a key concept for economics and politics, its ideational roots lie in access to government information. Transparency holds promises for increased democratization and economic performance, but these may also stand in contradiction. Coinciding with the rise of transparency as a token of responsible governance, we have witnessed rapid global diffusion of information access laws. In debates on public accountability, transparency appears as an element of both deliberation and performance, which is peculiar as these are often seen as complementary types of accountability. Moreover, increased transparency is often assumed to lead to increased citizen trust in government, but the relation of trust and transparency is more complex. Transparency also implies access to public information, which can consist of various types of documents and registries. Through digitalization, public information has become a pressing topic of interest, including as raw material for a knowledge-based economy. Public administration also manages significant amounts of personal data of citizens, raising additional concerns for privacy. While transparency and privacy are not antonyms, there is a trade-off between them. Nevertheless, transparency also appears as a means for holding government accountable for its use of registry data. Finally, transparency has become a measured element of governance indicators that are themselves an instance of transparency. As a key concept of public administration, transparency is relevant for both democracy and efficiency of governance, but it is ambiguous and even paradoxical by nature.
Leaderless group decision-making denotes the idea that political decisions from a non-hierarchical discussion structure can be more legitimate and effective than those from a hierarchical structure. Since the latter half of the 20th century, such decision-making has been practiced widely in community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), “deliberation” forums, as well as in the business and management settings. While one may argue its origins go back to Athenian direct democracy, it was the zeal of the 1960s participatory democracy movement in the United States that produced the more sophisticated principles, philosophies, and mechanics of leaderless group decision-making. The progressive social movement activists at that time considered non-hierarchical groups as ethically appropriate to their causes. Since then, this tradition of leaderless group decision-making processes has been adopted in many grassroots social movements. Debates and controversies abound concerning leaderless group decision-making. It has been a normative imperative for many social activists to adopt decision-making in a leaderless manner. Research to date, however, has produced no conclusive evidence that leaderless group discussion results in better or more effective decisions. Proponents argue that members of a leaderless group would develop greater capacities for self-governance because in such a setting they can take more personal and egalitarian initiatives to organize activities of the group. This, in turn, would lead to better group dynamics and discussion, and, eventually, better decisions. Critics suggest that leaderless groups are slow and inflexible in decision-making and that the supposedly leaderless groups usually end up with leaders because of the social dynamics and human nature present in group interactions. Regardless of its potential benefits and problems, the ideals of deliberative and participatory democracy are strongly propelling this egalitarian, discourse-based form of group decision-making. Researchers will gain a great deal of insight from literature in deliberation concerning the functions, problems, and future directions of leaderless groups. In addition, there is a need to study leaderless groups in a more multi-faceted way, as research to date has been dominated by psychology-based quantitative assessment of groups. Qualitative and ethnographic approaches will be helpful to further assess the dynamics of leaderless group decision-making.