At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low-Medium
Length of process: 
3hrs to several days
Number of participants: 
8-12 in a single group
Participant selection: 
Varies
Online / Offline: 
Offline

Folded speech bubbleDeliberative Workshops refer to small-scale dialogue events where the focus is on having in-depth informed discussion.

Description

Deliberative Workshops are a form of facilitated group discussions that provide participants with the opportunity to consider an issue in depth, challenge each other’s opinions and develop their views/arguments to reach an informed position. A defining feature is that the facilitation will support participants to communicate in productively and respectful ways.

Deliberative workshops (which can take place either face-to-face or on-line) will typically take participants through a number of phases including:

  • Information sharing –  including information, drawn from the experiences and views of participants themselves and, depending on the topic, factual, neutral information about the issue and/or expert perspectives on different sides of an argument;
  • Dialogue to develop understanding - designed to give sufficient time and space to enable participants to gain new information and to discuss in depth the implications of their new knowledge in terms of their existing attitudes, values and experience. These discussions are facilitated to support participants to communicate in productively and respectful ways and ensure that that minority views are not excluded and the discussions are not dominated by any particular faction or individual.
  • Public reasoning and deliberation –resulting in a considered view, which may (or may not) be different from participants’ original view, and which has been arrived at through careful exploration of the issues at hand in response to a clear task or purpose.

Through this process deliberative workshops are able to give the organisation conducting the event a greater understanding of what may lie behind group opinions and/or how people's views change as they are given new information or deliberate on an issue.

Participants

The choice of participants will depend on the purpose of the workshop: participants could be self-selecting (on the basis of an interest in the topic or a stake in the outcome); or they could be recruited through stratified random selection to form a ‘mini public’; or a combination of both.

A skilled facilitator will usually not work with more than 8-12 in a single group, although multiple group discussions could take place simultaneously as part of a single deliberative workshop.

Costs

Low - Medium

The main costs of a deliberative workshop are associated with commissioning a bespoke workshop design and the facilitation.   

If you decide to recruit participants through stratified random selection however that can add significant costs. An incentive (such as a small payment) is also sometimes offered to citizens for their time.

Additional costs include venue hire (choose an informal setting where possible), catering and supporting arrangements, such as transport or childcare.

Sometimes a Deliberative Workshop reconvenes on several occasions which will add to the cost and time requirement.

Approximate time expense

Various:

They can run for a few hours or for several days depending on the topic and the intended outcome.

Strengths

  • Provides participants with the time and resources to consider an issue in-depth, including costs, benefits, long-term consequences and the trade-offs they would be willing to make
  • Discussing with others gives participants an insight into alternative perspectives, allowing their own views to be developed and challenged.
  • It can build and improve relationships between participants.
  • It can give participants new knowledge and skills.
  • It is a method that is rapidly acquiring increase social legitimacy and political buy in

Weaknesses

  • They may not always deliver clear, collective conclusions
  • Like all forms of qualitative research, Deliberative Workshops are open to manipulation: how the discussions/activities are framed, how the participants are introduced to the topic, and what questions are asked will all influence the results.
  • Deliberative Workshops only involve small numbers of people and therefore can’t be used to gather statistically significant data to accurately measure public opinion.
  • The fact that participants' views are developed through deliberation may also mean that the final views are not representative of the views of the wider public, since they have not experienced the deliberative process.

Origin

Deliberative Workshops developed out of focus groups as a more in-depth and deliberative alternative.

 

In text image by TangYauHoong.

Header image Drew Reid