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On Measuring Mass Deliberative Quality: Preliminary Results of a Novel, Electronic Comparative Project

Democracy
Political Participation
Big Data
Nuria Franco-Guillen
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Nuria Franco-Guillen
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
John Parkinson
Maastricht Universiteit

Abstract

Deliberative systems theory conceives of deliberative norms as being diffuse qualities of democratic systems, and thus makes system-level judgements about the degree to which an inclusive range of public claims are raised and heard, connected with evidence or narratives of experience, weighed against each other and translated into acts of governance in a publicly-visible way. Given a topic of high salience, these qualities are mirrored in digital spaces, which serve as ‘resonators’ of face-to-face discussions. Research on them can reveal a surprising amount of detail about the dynamics of live political debate over time, especially when supplemented by in-depth qualitative work. In this paper we present preliminary results of novel, electronic argument and issue mapping techniques to measure large-scale deliberative quality thus conceived. The results are from two starkly-different cases: the Scottish independence debate of 2014, and ongoing efforts to launch a referendum on the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution. While there are peculiarities about the cases that make comparative lesson-drawing difficult, the preliminary results of the research suggest that the Scottish, decentralised approach was much more effective at engaging large numbers of people in the detail of public policy than the Australian, top-down, control-oriented approach.