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Reaching Out to Overcome Political Apathy: Building Participatory Capacity through Deliberative Engagement


  • Acknowledgements: There are many individuals who have contributed to the development of this study, not least being the 150 participants who gave up their time to participate in the Australian Citizens' Parliament (ACP), along with the volunteers and researchers who helped to make the event happen. The ACP was funded jointly by the Australian Research Council (LP0882714) and newDemocracy. Special thanks are owed to John Gastil for access to survey data that he and his team collected during the ACP and carefully compiled after the event. Thanks also to Ron Lubensky for access to information about the recruitment process for the ACP. We also thank John Dryzek for his comments on earlier drafts and Luisa Batalha for providing support in data analysis. This article is also greatly improved following the feedback from four anonymous reviewers.


A common objection against deliberative democracy relates to the impression that citizens, in general, are unwilling to participate in democratic politics. We contribute to the growing literature that challenges this impression by analyzing the discursive profile of citizens that participate in deliberation. By discursive profile, we refer to participants' own perceived role in the democratic process and their articulated motivations for joining a deliberative forum. We find that those who turned up in face-to-face deliberation tend to be less cynical toward politics. Moreover, based on their expressed motivations for participating, it can be inferred that linking the deliberative forum to decision makers provided an initial hook to participants. However, this changed as participants completed the process. At the end of deliberations, appreciation for the process itself ended up being the most resonant sentiment. These findings are based on both quantitative and qualitative analyses of data gathered from Australia's First Citizens' Parliament.

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McBeth, Mark K., Donna L. Lybecker, and Kacee A. Garner. 2010. “The Story of Good Citizenship: Framing Public Policy in the Context of Duty-Based versus Engaged Citizenship.” Politics & Policy 38 (1): 1-23.

Crowley, Kate. 2009. “Can Deliberative Democracy Be Practiced? A Subnational Policy Pathway.” Politics & Policy 37 (5): 995-1021.

Stephan, Mark. 2004. “Citizens as Representatives: Bridging the Democratic Theory Divides.” Politics & Policy 32 (1): 118-135.

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Film: Citizens' Parliament. 2009. NewDemocracy. Canberra. February.

Data and Discussion

Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance. 2013. Australian National University.


Una objeción común en contra de la democracia deliberativa es que los ciudadanos parecen estar indispuestos a participar en la política democrática. En este artículo contribuimos a la creciente literatura que cuestiona tal impresión mediante un análisis del perfil discursivo de los ciudadanos que participan en procesos de deliberación. Entendemos por perfil discusivo, la percepción que tienen los ciudadanos de su propio papel como participantes en el proceso democrático y sus motivaciones para sumarse a un foro deliberativo. Encontramos que aquellos que deliberan cara a cara tienden a ser menos cínicos hacia la política. Más aún, basados en las motivaciones para participar que han expresado los deliberantes, inferimos que la vinculación del foro deliberativo con los tomadores de decisiones sirvió inicialmente para enganchar el interés de los participantes. No obstante, en nuestras observaciones, este nivel de involucramiento cambió en la medida que los participantes completaron el proceso. Al culminar sus deliberaciones los participantes expresaron aprecio por el proceso mismo, siendo éste el sentimiento más relevante en nuestro estudio. Estos hallazgos están basados en un análisis cuantitativo y cualitativo de los datos disponibles del Primer Parlamento Ciudadano de Australia.