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Front-End Deliberation

One of the benefits of ongoing citizen conversation is the ability to talk about issues that might impact individuals and communities long before they become controversial or partisan. This type of citizen re-imagining was once part of our approach to governance.

Most of us like the idea of more deliberation in our development of governmental and other institutional policy. We want actions and ongoing administration to be thoughtful and responsive to conditions. We want our policymakers to have looked widely and deeply at the emerging issues in our society.

Yet it often seems like something is missing from the governance practices of even bright and well-intentioned policy-makers. Their deliberations are often under time constraints: election and budgetary cycles, crisis management, and media deadlines. Add to those time constraints the pressures of interest groups and partisan jockeying and we have a formula for bi-polar framing of discussion: Option A and Option B and possibility the compromise between A and B.

In some sense this narrowing at the final decision point of policy-making ( the back-end of deliberation ) might be inevitable. But often it is the only type of deliberation that occurs in even significant policy decisions.

What if citizen conversation was consciously organized to develop the “front-end of deliberation” in the following ways:

  • Most societal issues were approached in open-ended ways that were rarely bound by things as they have been and were explored in terms of how they might be.
  • Citizens and experts were encouraged to identify emerging concerns and develop their understandings of what is at stake for themselves and society.
  • Citizens and experts were supported in exploration of the variety and questions and answers that could be developed about their emerging concerns and were not restricted in their development of differing preliminary responses.
  • Possibilities produced by such citizen and expert deliberations would receive wider public discussion and study by policy-makers.

Would more emphasis on the front-end of deliberation make a difference in policy-making? Would it lead to better and more thoughtful decisions? Would it lead to more understanding of issues of concern and participation in our democratic processes?