Why Deliberative Democracy Makes Better Citizens

Why Deliberative Democracy Makes Better Citizens

Matt EasterdayTo create policies that reflect “the will of the people,” schools need to begin teaching how to engage in public deliberation, Northwestern University professor Matt Easterday wrote in “Why Deliberative Democracy Makes Better Citizens.”

After the 2016 presidential election, Easterday noticed his students were struggling to understand the perspective of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

But morality can both “bind and blind” us, he wrote. “Unfortunately, when we make calls for greater empathy, we are typically asking for others to understand our perspective or those whose perspectives we share,” he wrote.

Easterday believes it may help to engage in the kind of deliberative democracy practices that our country was designed to support.

Though there are many variations, “deliberate democratic practices such as deliberative polls, citizens' assemblies, and citizen juries bring citizens together to discuss the common challenges we face and to decide what should be done,” he wrote. “Deliberative democracy makes dialogue, and thus, a deeper understanding of key issues, central.”

Easterday wants schools to begin teaching deliberation as part of a broad civic education. Supporting the non-partisan Jefferson Center, which works to advance democratic, citizen-driven solutions to community and public issues, and electing local officials that use deliberate input when making policy decisions can also help.

“To be sure, deliberation alone is insufficient if it does not lead to policy change,” he wrote. “But neither can we have good policy if we cannot fully grasp the issues and policies and deliberate their nuances.”

Easterday, a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project, is assistant professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern where he has developed online deliberation platforms for the Roosevelt Institute Network, Jefferson Center, and the Joyce Foundation. 

His research focuses on technology for the new civics – producing scientifically supported educational technology to create informed and engaged citizens who can solve the serious policy problems facing our society such as poverty, climate change, and militarism.  

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 7/21/17