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Evaluating Substantial Quality of Deliberation.
Results from Three Citizens' Juries
Paper for the Research Conference “Civil Society and Democracy”
AUSTRIAN RESEARCH ASSOCIATION –WORKING GROUP ON DEMOCRACY
VIENNA, NOVEMBER 9-10, 2012
Gianfranco Pomatto (email@example.com)
Department of Cultures, Politics and Society
According to Habermasian ideal types deliberative processes should produce unanimous
decisions through a reformulation of beginning preferences of actors along a discussion in
which what is relevant is the force of arguments. Nevertheless empirical research has
largely highlighted that real deliberative processes are hardly able to completely adhere to
the ideals of deliberative theory and that the change of opinion of participants during the
In order to understand when preference change derives from process that presents a
poor level of substantial quality of deliberation this paper proposes an evaluation approach
focused on two aspects: the discussion between participants and the ways preferences are
influenced at a micro level. It has been applied on three citizens’ juries: two juries about the
federal reform of Italian state that took place during a cultural event in Turin and a juries
about a waste pyro-gasifier that was carried out in 2011 in Tuscany.
The study shows that proposed approach is useful for identifying in empirically well-
founded terms those processes that distance themselves for the most part from a sound
deliberation. Moreover it suggest that direct observation is invaluable and is hard to replace
in order to really open the black box of deliberative processes.
The consultative practices that are inspired by the paradigm of deliberative democracy
(Habermas, 1986; Dryzek, 1990; Bohman, 1996; Elster, 1998; Dryzek & Niemeyer, 2008;
Cooke, 2000) have been widely circulating in recent years. When they are actually
implemented, however, these experiences tend to stray from the deliberative ideal: it proves
extremely difficult for the inclusion of different voices to lead to a perfectly balanced
debate between the different discourse (Revel et al. 2007; Pomatto & Ravazzi, 2012); the
dialogic interaction oriented at the common good tends to hybridize with the negotiation
between the interests (Holzinger, 2000; Ward et al., 2003; Lavelle, 2007; Silver et al., 2010;
Mansbridge et al., 2010; McAlister, 2011; Olson, 2011; Pomatto, 2011); the same change
of the preferences of the participants, which at times is observed, doesn't always turn out to
be the result of a profound cognitive process caused by an activity of reflective thinking
(Dewey, 1938; Schön, 1983; Lanzara, 2005) – and, that is, of a sound deliberative process
from the substantial viewpoint – but may derive from simplifying heuristics and forms of
social influencing, which have very little to do with deliberation (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986;
This paper explores this last issue through the comparative analysis of three citizens'
juries, in which a number of participants changed opinion in wake of their involvement.
More specifically, the aim of this paper is to contribute towards answering this question: in
what way is it possible to understand when the change of preferences derives from a
process that presents a poor level of substantial quality of the deliberation?
In the three cases the selection and facilitation of the participants were managed by the
same entities1, whereas issues discussed were very different. Two of juries concerned the
federalist reform of the Italian state and were promoted as part of a cultural event, the 2011
Biennale Democrazia [Democracy Biennial] in Turin. The third jury was part of a real
decision-making process on the matter of building a waste pyro-gasifier in the Municipality
The following paragraph takes stock of the existing literature on the change of
preferences in relation to deliberative processes. The second part of this paper develops the
case analysis and the third part provides the conclusion.
2. Preference Change and Deliberation
Whereas, in the ideal-typical definitions of deliberation, the aim that is pursued is the
unanimity that stems from significant changes in the participants' preferences, in more
pragmatic interpretation what is deemed satisfactory is the reaching of creative
compromises favoured by establishing some form of common ground (Elstub, 2010). In
this second meaning the deliberative thinking can therefore be evaluated positively where,
1 CIRCaP, Siena, and Avventura Urbana srl, Turin, respectively.
even in the absence of changes of preferences, processes of reciprocal recognition, forms of
metaconsensus and problem solving take shape (Niemeyer & Dryzek, 2007; Kadklec,
2008). Such outcomes, for that matter, can actually inspire positive opinions in the
participants about the deliberation and a greater tendency towards noticeable dialogue even
over a space of time (Doheny & O’Neill, 2010).
At any rate the somewhat large number of studies has focused directly on the change in
preferences deriving from the participation in deliberative processes, highlights an array of
different situations: alongside cases in which the change is significant and convincing there
are others whereby the changes are limited or negligible (Denver et al, 1995; Crosby, 1995;
Fishkin, 1997; Gastil & Dillard, 1999; Fishkin & Luskin, 1999; Luskin, Fishkin & Jowell,
2002; Fishkin & Luskin, 2005; Fiskin, 2009). A comprehensive exploration of the
determinants of preference change is still nevertheless a long way off (Ryfe, 2005; Talpin,
2011): the evidence emerging from a variety of studies carried out on specific experiences
highlights the complex nature of the factors that interact.
Some studies suggest that participation in deliberative processes has an effect on
opinions as such and that the disposition towards preference change of participants is
correlated to the intensity of their previous stances.
The comparison between the participants in a deliberative process on the welfare system
in Arizona and a control group, which, despite not taking part in the process, had been able
to discuss the matter in earlier months, highlights that the change in opinion is more
significant among those who took part in the deliberative experience; it nevertheless mainly
concerns the participants who had vaguer and less unequivocal opinions (Barabas, 2004).
Another quasi-experimental study on a jury held in Ireland regarding the economic crisis
highlights that the change in preferences among the participants was more significant
compared to the change in preferences among the members of the control group, whom
were given the same information that was put forward to the jury members, but who did not
take part in the discussion (Farrel at al., 2012). Similarly, among the participants in the
deliberative survey on the Euro conducted in Denmark in 2000, the number of those who
were in two minds was halved compared to a control group, which had not taken part in the
experience (Andersen & Hansen, 2007). The correlation between relatively weak previous
preferences and the tendency towards changing them in the wake of a deliberative process
emerges, too, from a study that concerned a deliberative poll on two separate issues – a new
high-speed railway line and the right to vote for immigrant citizens – carried out in Turin
Greater strictness in defending one's initial positions then seems to manifest itself in the
deliberative processes included in decision-making processes with real-life stake. This is
what emerges from a citizens' jury on the reconfiguration of the local health authority set up
in Leicester, England, (Parkinson, 2006) as well as from the consultative processes
regarding the governance of fishing in the Baltic Sea (Stöhr & Chabay, 2010): participants
tend not to change their preferences even when some of their assumptions have been
seriously questioned. On the other hand, the unanimous convergence in favour of reduction
and regulation policies of private traffic in a jury set up in Turin does not seem to be the
result of a solid change in preferences as much as the contingent adoption of a less
particularistic vision, in line with the prompting of the facilitator and supported by the
awareness that the jury's ruling would not actually have had an effect on public decisions
The studies carried out on a deliberative process conducted in Finland concerning the
construction of a nuclear power station do not instead highlight any correlations in the
change in preferences neither with the method adopted to reach the expression of the final
stances of the participants – voting by ballot or drawing up shared recommendations –
(Setälä et al., 2010), nor with the individual deliberative capacity of the participants
(Himmelroos & Christensen, 2012). In this case deliberative capacity is assessed according
to two standards: participation in the discussion – measured by the number of contributions
made during the group sessions – and their discursive quality – measured by four specific
indicators derived, with a few adjustments, from the approach proposed by Steiner to
evaluate the procedural quality of the deliberation (Steiner et al., 2004; Steiner, 2011).
A certain influence on the state of the process, and therefore on its outcomes, occurs
when a specific frame becomes prevalent during the discussion due to the volition of the
promoters or in the wake of unique dynamics that develop during the interaction. The study
of a process pertaining to the management of the coastal area of a Norwegian municipality
in fact suggests that the approach of the meetings defined by the promoters inhibited the
arguments in support of town planning development in favour of arguments aimed at the
conservation of natural areas (Soma & Vatn, 2010). In the case of a citizens' jury on the
regulation of traffic in the historical centre of Bologna, the decision to boycott the process
by the city's main trade associations ended up encouraging a preferential focus on the
consequences of pollution on human health to the detriment of the reasons concerning
economic development (Giannetti & Lewansky, 2007).
Also the social perception of the deliberative processes in itself influences the progress
and the outcomes of them: the comparison of two Australian cases in fact suggests that
more productive results and cooperative interactions among the participants are more
probable in contexts whereby positive storylines concerning deliberation are already
widespread among the population (Hendriks, 2005).
The lasting stability of the change in preferences, which materializes in deliberative
processes, still remains a somewhat uncertain subject. If, for example, the increase of
participants against the construction of an incinerator in Dublin seems to be substantially
stable even nine months after the end of the process (French & Laver, 2009), just three
months after the deliberative poll on the Euro in Denmark one can observe some further
important changes in the participants' opinions (Andersen & Hansen, 2007).
In actual processes, after all, reflective thinking combines for the most part with a set of
factors extraneous to the deliberation – individual traits, framing effects, external
influences, cognitive closure and interests – and this makes it very hard to distinguish
clearly the cases in which the change in preferences derives from a genuinely deliberative
process, that is, based on the critical scrutiny of a wide range of information and arguments,
from the cases in which it joins with other kinds of influence.
This paper intends to verify the hypothesis that it is possible to understand when the
change in preferences has been caused by factors of a non-deliberative nature through a
study that focuses on two aspects: the discussion between participants and the ways
preferences are influenced at a micro level.
The analysis of the discussion among the participants of the three juries concentrates on
the debate between opposing arguments. According to Manin (2011), in fact, reasoned
discussion does not necessary correspond to a mutual critical debate that is the real heart of
the deliberation. After all, as widely proven by social psychology, individuals tend, on one
hand, to absorb new information selectively, interpreting it as support for their previous
beliefs and, on the other hand, they tend to endorse the dominant opinion within their
group. A well-balanced debate between opposing arguments does not guarantee that deep
reflective thinking develops, as required by the deliberative paradigm, but at least it
constitutes an obstacle for selective attention and conformist confluence that can be
In order to verify whether specific ways of influence on the preferences that are clearly
not deliberative and that can be documented empirically are openly manifested in the three
cases, the study then explores the perceptions of the jury members and the micro-
interactions that took place while it was carried out.
Three tools of investigation were adopted: analysis of the transcripts of the discussions
of eight group sessions, four of which in Turin2 and four in Castelfranco di Sotto3; direct
observation of all the plenary sessions and approximately one-third of the discussion
sessions for small groups (eight sessions out of a total of 22 in Turin and seven sessions out
of a total of 21 in Castelfranco di Sotto); interviews carried out a few days after the
conclusion of the juries, which involved a total of 26 participants, 16 of whom in Turin and
3. A Comparison of the Juries
3.1 The Preference Change
The first of the two Turin-based juries on federalism took place on 10 and 11 December
2011. 22 jury members took part in them, selected at random. The jury was given a
document containing information, which pointed out the differences between fiscal
federalism, based on the financial responsibility and autonomy of the regions, and
2 Two sessions on 10/12/2010 (hereinafter Session 1 and Session 2), one session on 4 March 2011 (hereinafter Session 3) and one session on 5 March 2011 (hereinafter Session 4). 3 One session on 8 March 2011 (hereinafter Session 1) and three sessions on 9 April 2011 (hereinafter Sessions 2, 3 and 4). 4 The study presented in this paper was conducted as part of the research into deliberation quality, co-financed by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research and headed up by Prof. Luigi Bobbio. The interviews were conducted by a working group, which included Luigi Bobbio, Angela Fedi, Gianpiero Lupo, Stefania Ravazzi, Chiara Zanetti and myself. I also carried out participant observation in the cases.
functional federalism, that is, the devolution of competences. The work carried out by the
jury, in a series of group sessions and plenary experts' hearings, explored in particular the
potential impact of the various forms of federalism on healthcare and educational policies.
The second jury on federalism took place on 4 and 5 March 2011. Another 26 jury
members were added to 16 of the 22 participants in the previous jury. These, too, were
identified by drawing lots. The jury members were given a new document containing
information, which put forward the notion of speaking out about different scenarios of
federalism to a greater or lesser degree.
In the wake of both juries a certain change in preferences was observed, albeit not
always in the same direction. As one can observe in Tab. 1 and 2, there was in fact an
increase in the number of jury members in favour of fiscal federalism, whereas there was a
decrease in the members in favour of functional federalism.
Tab. 1. The Position on Fiscal Federalism
*limited to newly recruited jury members
Tab. 2. The Position on Functional Federalism
Piedmont should be able to much in favour decide autonomously how to Fairly against and very
*limited to newly recruited jury members
The work carried out by the Castelfranco di Sotto jury was divided into six sessions,
between 4 February and 9 April 2011 and concerned the properties and impacts of a pyro-
gasification facility for industrial waste proposed by a local firm.
As in the juries on federalism, the 50 jury members—selected at random—were given a
document containing information and the sessions took place as a series of group
discussions with experts' hearings. The press and one of the local television channels
ensured good coverage of the process and three paper newsletters published by the
facilitation company were distributed with a circulation of 10,000 copies in the
In this case, the change in preferences was significant and unequivocal. As one can
observe in Tab. 3, if there were jury members who were in favour or uncertain about
building the facility prior to the jury, they expressed the opposite opinion following
Tab. 3. The Position on the Construction of the Pyro-Gasification Facility
Castelfranco di Sotto Jury
3.2. Discussion among the Jury Members
In the four discussion sessions for small groups analysed for the juries in Turin, there
was a total of 72 contributions of the jury members containing at least one argument,
whereas the total was 70 at the four sessions taken into consideration for Castelfranco di
To assess the level of opposed arguments in the discussions, each contribution has been
allocated a position as regards the issue that was discussed (the federalist reform in the
Turin juries, the construction of the pyro-gasification facility in the Castelfranco di Sotto
jury) along a continuum ranging from very against to very much in favour5. The position
has been considered neutral in the instance whereby the arguments that were adopted were
not clearly ascribable to the scope of those in favour or those against.
5 The position for each contribution has been allocated first of all in autonomous terms by myself and by another member of the research group; the definitive position has been allocated jointly by comparing and discussing individual codifications.
There are notable differences between the two Turin-based juries and the Castelfranco di
In the first two cases the jury members discussed the underlying principles, the
implementation methods and the effects associated with the federalist reform of the state,
starting a debate between those in favour and those against in three of the four sessions that
were taken into consideration (first, second and third session). As one can observe in Tab.
4, by considering the four sessions in their entirety, there are 32 contributions against, 17 in
favour and 23 neutral. In the first and third sessions there is a higher number of
contributions against (nine contributions compared to six and six contributions compared to
five respectively), whereas those in favour prevail in the second session (six contributions
compared to four). Opposed arguments are highly limited in the fourth session only, where
16 contributions do not take a stance and there is no contribution in favour alongside 13
Overall, it may be considered that the presence of contrasting opinions, although it was
not uniform in all the sessions, was there anyway, probably thanks, too, to the unequivocal
In the group ran by […] there were 15 of us, among whom only one person was very much
in favour of [federalist] stances, whereas the others were all critical. The thing that I found
positive was that without forcing her to do so, the facilitator managed to get the woman to
speak, as in the beginning she had said, “I'm not saying anything. You're all against me
In Castelfranco di Sotto, on the other hand, the contrast among arguments was highly
limited, notwithstanding the profuse commitment in this instance too by the facilitators to
encourage the free expression of arguments of every stance. The jury members focused
mainly on the negative external effects of the pyro-gasifier and any arguments in favour of
it emerged in any of the sessions, as one can observe in Tab. 5.
Tab. 4. The Position of Contributions, Turin juries
Fairly and very
Fairly and very
much in favour
Total Sessions 1-4
Tab. 5. The Position of Contributions, Castelfranco di Sotto jury
Fairly and very
Fairly and very
much in favour
Total Sessions 1-4
In short, the discussion solely gave rise to two partial kinds of critical debate.
The first kind of critical debate was had between the contributions expressly against the
construction of the pyro-gasifier (38 in total) and contributions that, despite partially
questioning certain aspects of it, did not take a stance either in favour of or against it (32 in
total), as in this sequence taken from the first session:
- [jury member 4.1]: […] my opinion is that the facility should not be constructed as in
Castelfranco the town-planning scheme in that area calls for non-polluting technologies.
[…] Therefore I say no right at the outset.
- [jury member 2.2]: these policies will be given in the final plans, so at the moment no-one
A second kind of critical debate developed during the final jury session, aimed at drawing
up the final purview of the process. In this case, what differentiated the jury members
wasn't so much the position on the facility—unanimously against—but the reasons used to
justify it, as emerges from this sequence taken from the fourth session:
- [jury member 2.2]: someone in the other group had said [that] if you say no in practice it
creates a precedent and one should say no to everything else […] so a tannery should get a
no as well. […] in this case [author's note: referring to the pyro-gasification facility] we
have all said that there's no public benefit, so one can say no. In another case, even where
there's a deterioration of the environment and health, if, however, there are general benefits,
then I can personally accept a compromise
- [jury member 2.2]: so are you saying no to everything?
- [jury member 4.1]: we need to improve the state of the environment!
- [jury member 2.2]: so why don't you stop using a car?
- [jury member 4.1]: I try to use it as little as possible!
- [jury member 2.2]: you shouldn't use it at all! […]
- [jury member 2.3]: I accept the compromise because I work and I live off those jobs…
-[jury member 5.3]: here we're talking about yes or no to the pyro-gasification facility… as
far as the pyro-gasification facility is concerned the only interest belongs to the firm. they
make money because they burn, they gain from it; what does the community gain from it?
Yes or no to firms, I don't think it's got anything to do with it.
An initial line of argumentation (supported by jury members 2.2, 2.3 and 5.3) can be
traced back to an industrialist discourse: no to the waste treatment facility should be
justified without resorting to reasons pertaining to polluting emissions, which may also be
extended to local firms that guarantee employment to a large number of people. A second
argument (to which jury member 4.1 refers) can be traced back instead to an
environmentalist discourse, which places the emphasis on the external effects that are
negative for the environment and health and on the need to restrict them as much as
This is a problem that the jury is unable to solve, as one can observe in the final
recommendations, which propose a dilatory argument as the main reason for its opposition
to the facility: “the Jury deems that the current lack of a Plan and the existence of an
ongoing planning process are valid reasons to maintain that the conditions do not exist to be
able to approve a facility such as the one proposed, as: the decision pertaining to a facility,
not included in a planning tool, is deemed inopportune as it is premature […]”6.
The limited critical debate, which the jury started, cannot however be ascribed to the
lack of arguments in support of the pyro-gasification facility that could have been used
potentially by the jury members. During the hearings, various experts in fact put forward a
series of information and data, which were summarized in the newsletters published and
circulated among the population and which were clearly subject to the selective attention of
In the discussion sessions that were analysed, reference is never made to the data and
information that was received, which would have minimized the existing level of pollution
and the negative impacts of the facility,
Mortality rates due to cancer in the zone is lower than the average for the whole of the
region of Tuscany: only 4 zones still have a mortality rate that is lower than average,
whereas another 32 zones have a mortality rate higher than the rate for this area (Newsletter
The environmental study that was presented [by the proponent firm], which deems the
environmental impact of the facility insignificant, adopts a correct forecasting model
6 The final purview of the jury is available on-line at the following links: http://www.insiemeperdecidere.it/uploads/GiuriaCittadiniCastelfranco.pdf
In general, a pyro-gasification facility produces fumes that have less impact than an
incinerator, given than its fumes derive from the combustion of syngas as opposed to the
direct combustion of waste (Newsletter 2),
By constructing the pyro-gasification facility it is estimated that the measured values of the
air quality in the power stations currently in operation in the area would worsen by
approximately 0.27% in terms of nitric oxides, by 0.01% in terms of dust and by 5.33% as
regards sulphur oxides. But these values would remain amply within legal limits
In the space of 20 years it can nevertheless be estimated that polluting substances would be
deposited in the soil in various magnitudes within the legal limits provided for the
reclamation of polluting sites (Newsletter 3),
or clarified the nature of the regional control system for existing facilities, which is stricter
As regards the methods used to carry out checks on incinerator facilities, the Tuscany
Regional Government adopted the recommendations made by ARPAT [Regional Agency
for the Environmental Protection of Tuscany], establishing a set of additional requirements
compared to the national legislation (Newsletter 3).
Jurors did not give any attention to the willingness shown by the proponent firm to set
out innovative types of monitoring of the pyro-gasification facility, open to the
participation of residents' committees and therefore more incisive compared to the types of
monitoring provided for by regional legislation,
innovative types can be foreseen, which also involve the participation of residents'
committees [.] and [the proponent firm] has shown its willingness where this is concerned.
and neither does the argument whereby it would be hard to deny the authorization to build
the facility, if it were to observe all the parameters set out in the legislation in force, by the
relevant public institutions, regardless of the jury's ruling,
If the facility has emissions that remain within legal limits, as set out in the plans, [the
proponent firm] may be authorized to build the facility (Newsletter 3).
If regarded in their entirety the outcomes of the analysis of the discussion lead to
considering the Castelfranco di Sotto jury as a highly problematic case from the
deliberative viewpoint. The arguments in support of the construction of the pyro-
gasification facility put forward by the experts were systematically ignored, therefore the
jury members against the facility did not receive any hint by other participants to challenge
their stance. This happened because the few jury members who were in favour were
probably subjected to the dynamics of the spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1993):
sensing that they were the minority in the group and fearing isolation, they did not fully
express their opinions. This small component during the jury's work did not in fact ever
freely express itself either in favour of or against the construction of the facility, restricting
itself to making contributions that questioned certain aspects of the contrary arguments.
During the final session, it proceeded to subscribe to the unanimous stance of opposition,
concerning itself with containing the effects of the failed authorization as much as possible
so as to avoid any negative repercussions on local firms. In this way it was able to obtain
the consent of various other jury members, who had spoken out to deny the authorization of
the facility since the outset, paving the way towards a final purview that denies the
authorization, making use of an argument—that provincial planning is still ongoing—that
does not have direct implications for the local productive fabric.
3.3 Influencing at a Micro Level
Direct observation combined with analysis of the evidence gathered in the interviews
brings out three phenomena that strengthen the hypothesis whereby the change of
preferences observed in Castelfranco di Sotto was essentially of a non-deliberative nature.
The first phenomenon regarded the facilitators: in the early stages of the comparison
they were unequivocally pointed out to a greater or lesser degree by various jury members
as the counterparty to the jury as such. This observation was confirmed by two
interviewees. One of them suggested that these were not particularly well-founded
accusations, probably instrumental in strengthening the inner unity of the group, indirectly
preventing the expression of stances in favour of the facility by specific members of the
[The facilitators] No, they've never directed the discussion. Somebody… there were
accusations in those terms, but, in my opinion, they stemmed from the fear that could arise
from just one of jury members uttering the words: “Yes, let's build the pyro-gasification
facility”. Because, in reality, they haven't tried to change anybody's mind (CF1),
For a very long time the facilitators were seen from the platform of the jury members as
allies in favour of the pyro-gasification facility. That is to say, they manipulate us: this was
The second phenomenon involved the experts deemed to be close to the proponent firm.
Their hearings were much stricter than the ones concerning the experts on stances viewed
By asking questions, grilling them [author's note: referring to the experts recommended by
the proponent firm], about things we didn't understand or which went against some of the
things that they said, one understood and it helped us to strengthen our opinions (CF2),
The discussion was inevitably slightly led as everyone asked questions to give people—the
experts—, who were in favour, a bit of a hard time. So, in some ways, it took a slight turn
as most of the people who were there seemed to me to already have a preconceived idea.
Not everyone was as ignorant as I was. I felt far behind than them as, to be honest, I was
The observation suggests that the barrage, to which the experts were subjected by some
of the jury members, was probably aimed not only at receiving the fullest possible answers,
but also at facilitating a perception of these experts as a counterparty to the jury as such.
This is an interpretation that is confirmed to a certain degree in the testimony of a jury
member who was initially uncertain in her views: in fact she states that, as from the end of
the first meeting, she felt that she was part of a jury that was somewhat united in a stance
against the facility, which of course tended to clash with the experts, who seemed to defend
The first meeting with the representative from the provincial government was a turning
point in itself because she gave us lots of information about waste collection, sorting in the
province, percentages, figures and things I hadn't known about. So it was a load of
information. Also, she was in favour of [the facility] and so it really hit home to see how the
Administration was already on board with it straight away in the first meeting. On one
hand, we had the Jury, already dead set against it; on the other hand, we had the Province
Pointing out the facilitators as the counterparty and the skewed severity in the experts'
hearings do not necessarily imply a unitary intention and certainly may have been the result
of the individual initiative of single members of the jury. When these hearings were held it
should nevertheless be noted how a sub-group of jury members gradually came together,
coordinated by a member of the jury, who had carried out local-level administrative
This sub-group met a few times behind closed doors outside the jury sessions, probably
with the intention of agreeing on some strategies to influence the state of affairs. Its most
clearly identifiable product consisted of a draft of the final reccomendation, which was
handed to the other jury members and to the facilitators prior to the final session. The
facilitators did not use this draft as the basis with which to draw up the final
recommendations, but much of the content nevertheless became part of the discussion due
to the contributions made by some jury members who repeated specific steps verbally.
Mention is made of these episodes, albeit timidly, in two of the interviews:
I know that the ones who were always grumbling [author's note: referring to specific
members of the jury] also met up afterwards, someplace else. They had made a bit of a din.
So they probably knew one another better. I preferred to stay out of it all (CF7),
They tried to present a document at the last session [author's note: the document refers to
The unfolding of the afore-described phenomena probably strengthened the same feeling
spread among the Castelfranco di Sotto jury members that, since the beginning, the jury
was made up of a large group with a solid stance against the facility:
I think that for most [of the jury members] the idea [against the facility] was there from the
- Was there anybody in favour of it, at the beginning?
Maybe in favour of it, no, but you could see that some people were a bit unsure (CF2),
Most of the jury members were in favour since the beginning of the judgment that we made
It was hard to say if anyone was close to the yes group (CF4),
I have to be honest. The impression was truly that everyone—or almost everyone—already
had this ready-made idea [of being against the pyro-gasification facility] (CF7),
As from the very first evening, I didn't have the impression that anybody was in favour. In
my opinion, there was never anybody who wanted this facility (CF10).
These are phenomena that I neither observed in the Turin juries nor did I find any traces of
them in the testimonies offered by the interviewees.
Unlike in Castelfranco di Sotto, among the Turin-based interviewees there was no
shortage of testimonies by jury members for whom there was a clear feeling of interacting
with people of a different stance to their own,
In the discussion group in which I found myself we were divided pretty much fifty-fifty
between those who were more in favour of federalism and those who were not (TO1.7),
or who nevertheless report some initial shyness associated with the fear of clashing with
other members of the jury, who had different opinions to their own:
I realised from the opening discussions up until the last more uninhibited chats that we had
together. In the beginning we were all a bit more awkward of course because the doubt
that I had and that the others also had was saying things: if there are things, burning issues,
if I express myself to a greater or lesser degree, then perhaps someone else has completely
different ideas to my own and we'll start arguing (TO1.1).
Different testimonies place the emphasis on the ability of the participants to work together
productively, avoiding pointless clashes and seeking the potential basics:
There was a certain willingness to change idea, to take on-board the arguments of others, I
In the end, we were able to reconstruct certain reasoning altogether as nobody was ever
What interested me is that there was a lot of comparison that no longer exists in other
fields. [.] There was nevertheless a desire to discuss, to find out more, to explain one's
ideas and also to be willing to change them, some people more than others (TO1.7),
I proposed—and it was then discussed—the issue of saying “let's reason about the fact of
being able to assess a few restrictions and exceptions, but in a shared and bipartisan way”.
It's a bit of a mediation, but, there again, politics is all about mediation (TO2.5).
Similar emphasis is also found when various interviewees reflect on the final purview
produced by the juries, which they associate with the image of compromise, negotiation
It is a result of compromise
, of course, and like every result of compromise it is a little, a
little forced. but essentially I would say that it takes into account what emerged from the
Let's say that I can see myself in it all, all things considered, also because it hasn't been
rendered extreme […] there were negotiations
on what could, what could happen (TO1.9,
They did nevertheless try to include all the issues, ideas and opinions as far as possible as it
was always regarded as a summary
(TO2.4, my italics),
[The final outcome] summarises
the various positions. Of course one single document
could not be drawn up as the positions adopted were sometimes fairly differentiated and the
various opinions therefore had to be taken into account (TO2.6, my italics).
The empirical studies, which in recent years have concerned the processes actually
inspired by the deliberative paradigm, have now fully highlighted that real-life experiences
are not always able to embody perfectly the rules of deliberation and that the change in
preferences is a highly ambivalent subject. In practice it is extremely hard to understand
when it derives from a process of inquiry based on critical debate or it is the result of non-
To explore this issue, the paper proposes and trials an evaluative approach in three cases.
The approach combines the direct observation of the process, analysis of the discussion
contents and in-depth interviews with the participants at the end of the experience.
In one of the three instances – the Castelfranco di Sotto jury – the study carried out with
this approach clearly brings out how the substantial quality of the deliberation was rather
The accusations of partiality levelled at the facilitators, the strictness adopted in experts'
hearings, judged to be close to the proponent firm, and the activities promoted by a sub-
group of the jury are in fact three phenomena documented in the analysis. These
phenomena actively encouraged the development of a climate of conformist pressure
towards the minority of the jury members who were initially in favour of the construction
of the facility. However, the latter never unequivocally voiced their point of view, as
emerges from the discussion analysis, which revealed the lack of opposed arguments and
the systematic omission of facts and information that was not in line with the predominant
stance of the participants. The change in preferences that was seen on this jury was
therefore probably the result of a non-deliberative polarization process (Moscovici &
Zavalloni 1969; Myers & Lamm 1976; Sustein, 2002): a pre-existent majority was, that is
to say, able to direct their positions on the entire group, making use of social influence as
opposed to the strength of the arguments.
In the other two cases, on the other hand, the analysis does not lead to an unequivocal
On the Turin-based juries a certain level of contradiction developed as far as it was not
always balanced and uniform in all the sessions. The discussion was neither subject to
systematic omissions nor to clear attempts at influencing. In the interviews the feeling of a
widespread tendency to listen, mutual recognition and a willingness to partial types of
convergence also emerged. In these cases, therefore, the evaluative approach that was
adopted did not highlight serious shortcomings in terms of deliberation. This does not
however mean that the substantial quality of the deliberation was actually of a good level.
For example, it is possible that the lack of real-life repercussions was a disincentive for the
participants in expressing a particularly intense cognitive commitment, if anything
facilitating a climate conducive to superficial discussion and easy compromise.
In conclusion, therefore, the adopted approach was unable to measure with any certainty
the quality of the reflective thinking, an indicator of sound deliberation from the substantial
viewpoint. It does, however, appear to be especially useful for identifying in empirically
well-founded terms those processes that distance themselves for the most part.
This study leads to one last conclusion. Direct observation of the processes is invaluable
and is hard to replace. Without this it would have been extremely difficult to identify the
influencing phenomena, which have been triggered at a micro level in Castelfranco di
Sotto. Moreover, it would have been very hard to identify the experts' arguments, which
were systematically omitted by the jury members without having actually attended the
In other words, observing the process is the first and foremost source of information on
the object of study. It enables one to formulate some interpretative theories, which are then
checked through analysing the transcripts and interviews.
This is a very costly line of investigation in terms of resources, but it allows light to be
shed within processes that would otherwise risk being left unexplored black boxes for the
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