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Embedding Deliberation in Professional Practice

It almost goes without saying that many professionals could be more helpful to the cause of citizen discussion.  Educators, lawyers, social workers, communicators, planners, and administrators throughout the profit, non-profit, and public sectors could all make positive contributions to discussions that enlarge discourse and help society as a whole make democratic choices.  Many of these professionals think that they already are doing those things (and some are), but few think about the training and subsequent practical experience that would build meaningful skills.

There are circumstances where organizations find it helpful to engage experienced professional facilitators. Yet it is often the case that the need for deliberative discussion is ongoing and is needed at many different levels of organizations and the broader society. Previous perspectives have addressed the general issue of the “ethical dimensions of deliberation”. A case can be made that our professional sectors, particularly our regulated ones, are a pivotal area for embedding useful deliberative habits and skills.

Key professions could be enlisted in the service of improved public discussion through combinations of the following:

  • Starting at the earliest levels of undergraduate introduction to a discipline, instill a sense of exploration of the main public issues at stake in that field and encourage thinking in terms of a range of possibilities dealing with them.
  • Introduce those same students to the techniques of discussion facilitation and give them ample opportunities to practice those techniques.
  • At the graduate level intensify those discussion skill-building opportunities, along with community-based internships in discussion programs, and classes that model discussion-based approaches.
  • In those professions where graduates are almost certain to benefit from discussion skills as they move into the work world, create course and community service requirements toward that end.
  • In certified professions that deal with policy and administration, use continuing education requirements to reinforce discussion skills.
  • Encourage such professions to enlarge their sense of deliberation and public discussion to include obligations for public service, responsible organizational management, and leadership development, and include such obligations in their professional codes.

IF has been exploring some of the initial higher education aspects of public discussion with faculty on campuses throughout the U.S.  What remains to be seen is how such discussion-based approaches might become a routine part of professional training and certification.