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Deepening Public Discussion

In all it does, IF tries to both widen and deepen democratic discussion.  Widening discussion seems pretty straightforward.  But what does “deepening” democratic discussion mean?  —The short answer is that it means aiming at real learning and, from there, to enhanced discussion skills and changed behaviors.  In short, “deepening” discussion means producing outcomes in three areas: cognition, communication, and citizenship.  Don’t let the neat alliteration of the “3 C’s” fool you—these interpenetrate and interact in many ways (and in different ways depending on which of IF’s three activity areas you might be looking at).  But they’re a handy starting point for explaining just how much yardage we expect to gain from our discussions.

Cognition. Exploratory discussion requires taking on a range of broad and contrasting perspectives.  This leads to learning of various kinds.  Only infrequently would we expect it to lead anyone to “change their mind”; but we do expect it to regularly, even predictably, lead people to enrich their thinking, both about the topic under discussion and, to a lesser extent, about public policy concerns in general.

Communication. Exploratory discussion features an openness to new ideas and to other people and perspectives.  This openness, when reciprocated, often encourages creativity, sometimes something more like genuine emancipation.  Some people are good listeners, others good speakers.  Exploratory discussion tends to help both because both speaking and listening are stimulated and rewarded.

Citizenship. Exploratory public discussions are themselves an act of citizenship.  However, we expect them to be energizing in many ways, leading to increased attention to and involvement in many aspects of the democratic process (including democratic discussion).  IF founder Jay Stern conceived of the IF Discussion Process as a way to encourage thoughtful democratic choices.  It may turn out that the most enduring of those choices turns out to be greater engagement in democracy itself, a product of the Process’s seriousness of purpose on the one hand, and the satisfaction and social connections it produces, on the other.