Online deliberation

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The term online deliberation describes the emerging field of practice and research related to the design, implementation and study of deliberative processes that rely on the use of electronic information and communications technologies (ICT).

Online deliberation is a relatively new field.[1]

Online deliberation is very interdisciplinary, and includes practices such as online consultation, e-participation, e-governmen[2]t,[3] Citizen-to-Citizen (C2C),[2][3] online deliberative polling, crowdsourcing, online facilitation, online research communities, interactive e-learning, civic dialogue in Internet forums and online chat, and group decision making that utilizes collaborative software and other forms of computer-mediated communication. Work in all these endeavors is tied together by the challenge of using electronic media in a way that deepens thinking and improves mutual understanding.

Open international conferences on online deliberation have been held at Carnegie Mellon University in 2003, Stanford University in 2005, and the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. The most recent conference was held at the University of Leeds, June 30 – July 2, 2010. Attendees of the 2005 conference voted to create an international society for online deliberation, but no formal organization has yet been established. Other events of interest have been sponsored by the Online Deliberative Democracy Consortium.[4]


Over the past few decades, scholars across research traditions and areas have commonly identified at least two aspects in their definitions of deliberation: (1) a form of communication characterized by "the performance of a set of communicative behaviors that promote thorough group discussion";[5] and (2) the idea that individuals involved in this process of communication carefully weigh arguments and reasons for and against some propositions posed by others in the group.[6][7] To be considered deliberative discussion, argue scholars, the communication and the involved interactants' behavior has to meet criteria established by the principles of political equality and egalitarian reciprocity.[5][8][3]

According to Habermas,[9] deliberation is "an interchange of rational–critical arguments among a group of individuals, triggered by a common or public problem, whose main focus or topic of discussion is to find a solution acceptable to all who have a stake in the issue".[3] Halpern and Gibbs define deliberation as "a particular sort of discussion between at least two individuals in which (1) the form of communication emphasizes the use of logic and reasoning instead of power or coercion, (2) this reasoned engagement focuses on a social or political issue through which participants are able to identify solutions to a common problem, and (3) individuals are open to opinions and ideas expressed by others, and at the same time the communication between them is governed by rules of equality, symmetry and civility".[3] Stroud and colleagues noted that many definitions of deliberation "share the basic idea that deliberation involves people exchanging views on a matter of public importance in a respectful manner, reasoning through their claims, and listening to the perspectives of others".[10]

The advent of the Internet and subsequently Web 2.0-based applications and especially social media have fostered discursive participation and deliberation online through computer-mediated communication.[3]

Implications for democracy[edit]


Political deliberation is critical to societal consensus-building.[11] Online deliberation can have positive implications for the democracy. Research has found that social media can enhance civic participation and democratic decision-making.[12][13] First, online spaces allow for more equal and decentralized communication as numerous users from diverse backgrounds connect. Participants have equal opportunities to express opinions, raise questions, and exchange information.[14] Secondly, online tools constitute a more favorable channel for users to engage in rational-critical debate than traditional synchronous channels because users are able to compose messages at their own pace and will.[15] Thirdly, the written and asynchronous features of online deliberation enable more reflexive, rational and argumentative conversations.[16]


Researchers have questioned the utility of online deliberation as an extension of the public sphere, declining the idea that online deliberation is no less beneficial than face-to-face interaction.[3] Computer-mediated discourse is deemed impersonal, and is found to encourage online incivility.[17] Furthermore, users who participate in online discussions about politics are found to make comments only in groups that agree with their own views,[18] indicating the possibility that online deliberation mainly promotes motivated reasoning and reinforces preexisting attitudes.

Quality of Online Deliberation[edit]

Deliberative Norms[edit]

In the context of new media environment, researchers have evaluated the quality of online discourse based on criteria such as the presence of civility,[19] relevance,[16] genuine questions, and evidence to determine if the discourse meets the deliberative norms.[10][20]

Factors Influencing online deliberation[edit]

In the context of comments posted to online news sites, the presence of a recognizable journalist engaging with commenters has been found to be associated with improved quality of deliberation with reduced incivility and increased evidence-based discourse, as compared with when no one engages with commenters or when an unidentified staff member from the news organization engages with commenters.[10] Discussions surrounding news of health or abortion topics are more relevant but with fewer genuine questions posed than news of topics on education, crimes or guns, and economy. News of education topics has less uncivil and more relevant comments than the other news topics. People provide less evidence in their discourse when discussing news of economy topics as compared to the other news topics.[10]

Group size, volume of communication, interactivity between participants, message characteristics, and social media characteristics have also been found to impact online deliberation.[21][3]

Online Political Deliberation[edit]

Deliberation can be defined as being the "act of thinking about or discussing something and deciding carefully" by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In an online political setting, however, it is more complicated than only reaching a decision. Members need to contribute material with an intent for it to be discussed and responded to by others. Participants of online deliberation need to diligently analyze, review, and present the sources of their findings before any decisions can be made. A consensus has to be reached among members of which material to use based on relevancy and quality, and ability to accurately resolve the issue of which they are trying to find a solution to.

Generally, participation in online deliberation forums has been low. This is an issue because representativity is poor and can be swayed towards meeting the wishes of those that participate, consisting of those who are well-educated, and so forth. There is also the possibility that the issues wouldn't even be considered if turnout remains so low. Low levels of influence not only repel legislative bodies, but also potential participants. However, large participation levels present the chance that members are beginning to solely chat on topics, not fully read and evaluate others' inputs. If a forum is deliberate and goal-oriented, and those who participate are forced to have to go through processes to get their opinions out, those who wish to simply chatter will be filtered out, and the forums will be left only with those seriously interested and involved in finding a solution, as explored by Cyril Velikanov in his "Mass Online Deliberation" paper.[22]

Participatory Factors[edit]

Online deliberation Internet forums require participants to be able to work together comfortably in order to make the best possible deliberations. In order to do that, as Beth Noveck has put it, forums need to establish "physics" for groups, or rules and regulations have to follow in order for members to feel comfortable with one another.[23] Once comfort is achieved, the environment groups are now in are their "culture," and healthy conversations can now be made. Since participants do not communicate face-to-face, visual queues often make groups more self-aware. For instance, green and red lights can be implemented for when members speak, and therefore the group can visualize if a member isn't participating or involved, or if a member is too involved. This way, imbalances in groups can be avoided, such as gridlocked situations or communication flaws.

Work Management[edit]

Systems of "chunking work," or, members self-selecting roles to play in their groups, help to keep work high quality and manageable.[23] Collaboration becomes easier when people choose the way they want to work in whatever way suits them. When members select the method of working that is comfortable to them, they are more likely to remain interested in their subject and produce quality content for their group. If Internet forums can find a way to divide work in a way that members are most comfortable, their outcomes will be better produced.

Rating Systems[edit]

Rating systems are valuable to Internet forums because they police both participants and the content they produce to ensure quality material. If members can rate each other based on their collaboration or work produced, then they can more easily trust those who have high ratings to have quality product. The forums themselves can also see these ratings and be able to filter out inappropriate, irrelevant, or low-quality content. Members policing each other forces the members to be cautious and aware about the information they put out. Ratings help to regulate and organize the sites on a large scale, making it easier to sift through content even if there are large amounts of it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davies, Todd & Chandler, Reid (2012). "Chapter 6: Online Deliberation Design". Democracy in Motion. Oxford University Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-19-989928-9. Online deliberation is a relatively new field. Although the concept of public deliberation via electronic means was discussed as early as the 1970s,25 and there was some early empirical work on deliberation online in the 1980s and 1990s,26 studies of structured or public online deliberation appear to have begun with work by Stephen Coleman and colleagues,27 Lincoln Dahlberg,28 and Vincent Price29 around a decade ago.
  2. ^ a b Yildiz, Mete. "E-government research: Reviewing the literature, limitations, and ways forward". Government Information Quarterly. 24 (3): 646–665. doi:10.1016/j.giq.2007.01.002.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Halpern, Daniel; Gibbs, Jennifer (2013-05-01). "Social media as a catalyst for online deliberation? Exploring the affordances of Facebook and YouTube for political expression". Computers in Human Behavior. 29 (3): 1159–1168. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.10.008. ISSN 0747-5632.
  4. ^ Online Deliberative Democracy Consortium
  5. ^ a b Burkhalter, Stephanie; Gastil, John; Kelshaw, Todd (2002-11-01). "A Conceptual Definition and Theoretical Model of Public Deliberation in Small Face?to?Face Groups". Communication Theory. 12 (4): 398–422. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2002.tb00276.x. ISSN 1050-3293.
  6. ^ Gastil, John (2000). "Is face-to-face citizen deliberation a luxury or a necessity?". Political Communication. 17: 357–361.
  7. ^ Schudson, Michael (1997). "Why conversation is not the soul of democracy". Critical Studies in Mass Communication. 14: 297–309.
  8. ^ S., Fishkin, James (1991). Democracy and deliberation : new directions for democratic reform. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300051636. OCLC 24067411.
  9. ^ Jürgen,, Habermas,. The structural transformation of the public sphere : an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Cambridge, Mass. ISBN 9780262081801. OCLC 18327374.
  10. ^ a b c d Stroud, Natalie Jomini; Scacco, Joshua M.; Muddiman, Ashley; Curry, Alexander L. (2015-03-01). "Changing Deliberative Norms on News Organizations' Facebook Sites". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 20 (2): 188–203. doi:10.1111/jcc4.12104.
  11. ^ Scheufele, Dietram; Nisbet, Matthew (2002). "Being a citizen online: New opportunities and dead ends". The International Journal of Press/Politics. 7: 55–75.
  12. ^ Lerman, K. (November 2007). "User Participation in Social Media: Digg Study". 2007 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conferences on Web Intelligence and Intelligent Agent Technology - Workshops: 255–258. arXiv:0708.2414. doi:10.1109/wi-iatw.2007.68.
  13. ^ Macintosh, A. (January 2004). "Characterizing e-participation in policy-making". 37th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2004. Proceedings of the: 10 pp.–. doi:10.1109/hicss.2004.1265300.
  14. ^ Janssen, Davy; Kies, Raphaël (2005-09-01). "Online Forums and Deliberative Democracy". Acta Politica. 40 (3): 317–335. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ap.5500115. ISSN 0001-6810.
  15. ^ Dahlberg, Lincoln (2001-10-01). "Computer-Mediated Communication and The Public Sphere: A Critical Analysis". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 7 (1): 0–0. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2001.tb00137.x.
  16. ^ a b Stromer-Galley, Jennifer; Wichowski, Alexis (2011). Consalvo, Mia; Ess, Charles, eds. The Handbook of Internet Studies. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 168–187. doi:10.1002/9781444314861.ch8. ISBN 9781444314861.
  17. ^ Kiesler, Sara; Siegel, Jane; McGuire, Timothy W. "Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication". American Psychologist. 39 (10): 1123–1134. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.39.10.1123.
  18. ^ 1955-, Davis, Richard, (1999). The web of politics : the internet's impact on the American political system. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195114841. OCLC 38879177.
  19. ^ Papacharissi, Zizi (2004). "Democracy online: Civility, politeness, and the democratic potential of online political discussion groups". New Media & Society. 6: 259–283.
  20. ^ Ruiz, Carlos; Domingo, David; Lluís Micó, Josep; Díaz-Noci, Javier; Meso, Koldo; Masip, Pere (2011). "Public Sphere 2.0? The Democratic Qualities of Citizen Debates in Online Newspapers". The International Journal of Press/Politics. 16: 463–487.
  21. ^ Eveland, William P; Hively, Myiah Hutchens (2009-06-01). "Political Discussion Frequency, Network Size, and "Heterogeneity" of Discussion as Predictors of Political Knowledge and Participation". Journal of Communication. 59 (2): 205–224. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01412.x. ISSN 0021-9916.
  22. ^ Velikanov, Cyril. "Mass Online Deliberation".
  23. ^ a b Noveck, Beth (2009). Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful. Brookings Institution Press.

External links[edit]

"Online Deliberation: A Review of The Literature." Bang The Table, 7 Aug. 2017, "Online Deliberation." Online Deliberation | Participedia, Esau, Katharina, et al. "Design Matters! An Empirical Analysis of Online Deliberation on Different News Platforms." Policy & Internet, Wiley-Blackwell, 4 Aug. 2017,