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Decision Structure and the Problem of Scale in Deliberation


  • Raymond J. Pingree

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Madison, WI 53706
      Raymond J. Pingree; e-mail:
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Raymond J. Pingree; e-mail:


Deliberation has been limited to small groups because coherence seems to require full reception, meaning that all participants receive all messages sent. Assuming that full reception actually leads to coherence ignores fundamental limits of human memory and group processes. Full reception is also not the only route to coherence because the forms of coherence desired in deliberation are decision specific and because all deliberations at least implicitly contain a structure of subdecisions. Coherent deliberation is plausible at large scales, without full reception, via a theoretical model called decision-structured deliberation. This model allows coherent contributions by participants who are unaware of large parts of the discussion and may reduce negative effects of limits of memory and group processes on the quality of deliberation.

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