Democracy: It's All Deliberative

I spent the morning down at New York Regional Association of Grantmakers (NYRAG) for a program called “Deliberative Democracy: The Next Form of American Governance?” The event was co-sponsored by the affinity group Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement.

I have to admit, I went to the program because I wasn’t sure I necessarily understood what the term “Deliberative Democracy” meant. But after listening
Matt Leighninger, the Executive Director of The Deliberative Democracy Consortium, I began to understand that deliberative democracy is the attempt to strengthen the voices of citizens in governance issues by including people of all races, classes and ages in an attempt to directly affect public decisions. The importance is placed on citizens influencing policy and resources decisions in ways that impact their own lives and their future. It’s particularly interesting to talk about these issues in light of new technology platforms and its ability to bring people together. Although admittedly, the digital divide itself is a serious barrier to many of the communities that would benefit most from its use.

As a funder, it’s important to see the tenets of deliberative democracy play out amongst the projects we support. The ideas of community building and grassroots organizing are important no matter what the bigger programmatic goals of a foundation are.

In addition to hearing several case studies on how deliberative democracy has worked in several different communities, the group came up with some good questions that we need to think about further. How do you actively engage citizens beyond simply voting? How do you work across racial and socio-economic barriers to bring people together? What are the barriers to working with local communities?

Although these questions have no easy answers, judging by the amount of people in the room, there is a growing recognition of the need for citizen input, coalition building and moving forward with the notion of a small “d” democracy.