"The best two hours of the semester..."

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The following guest bloggers, Emerson Murphy, Stuart Watts, Pierre-Emmanuel Thomas, Jill Bolak, Xan Hall, and Colden Franklin share their insights and experiences using deliberation to engage some difficult public issues during coursework with professor Gregg Kaufman, M.Div. Th.M.  at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia.

by Emerson Murphy
November 25, 2013

The Deliberative Democracy Experience Early in the semester my classmates and I were introduced to the topic of Deliberative Democracy. I knew the meaning of deliberating and I knew the meaning of democracy; however, when the words were combined as one I learned about a previously foreign topic. Deliberative Democracy, as defined by Martin Carcasson in “Key Aspects of the Deliberative Democracy Movement”, is “an approach to politics in which citizens, not just experts or politicians, are deeply involved in public decision making and problem-solving.” Deliberative Democracy utilizes neutral facilitators that actively engage the participants in the discussion in order to create common ground to work towards solving a problem. During the semester our class had multiple forums where a variety of topics were discussed such as Diversity, Mental Health, and the American Political System. During the Diversity forum we had a discussion with members of the Georgia College staff, who pertained to increasing diversity at our school, and members of the community. This discussion was about trying to increase Diversity at Georgia College. Going through the Diversity forum was very interesting because while we had discussed deliberating in class, the Diversity forum was our first hands-on experience with Deliberative Democracy. During the Diversity forum everyone was able to participate who wanted to and everyone had a voice and was important when finding common ground during the discussion. The discussion was a terrific example of Deliberative Democracy done well. We started the discussion as strangers who were talking about a topic that we would all have to compromise on. We were all able to give our input on the topic. The most important part of Deliberative Democracy, which I learned during this forum, is that we discuss not to diagnose but to find treatment for the problem. The discussion was organized and efficient. Due to the organization of the discussion, I found that everyone was more willing to work together and listen in order to make progress, in the form of common ground, on the topic. Overall, through this class, I have learned valuable skills when it comes to assessing a problem and making progress in working towards a solution for that problem. Deliberative Democracy is an important skill to learn and be aware of because with the deliberative process people are given a voice on topics that their voices would otherwise be unheard.


by Stuart Watts
26 November 2013

Coming into this course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Public Deliberation? What’s that? Deliberative Democracy? Oh, man…is his class going to be about politics? I’m sick of hearing about government I don’t want a class about it!

Well to my surprise, this has become my favorite course. And it wasn’t about politics as I had grown to know it. Just like many of the country, when I thought politics, I thought debates, fights, arguments, disagreements, and dishonesty. This process changed the way I see the everyday citizen. It has given me hope that anyone can make a difference and offer an opinion even if he/she isn’t an “expert” on the topic at hand. Learning to facilitate and participate in civil discussions rather than debates has been a great experience. I have learned how to come to common ground, even with those who may offer a different opinion than my own, without arguing. Ordinary citizens really can make a difference! Deliberative democracy is, in my opinion, the best way to get the everyday citizen involved in politics again. If I am ever in charge of a company or group of some sort, I plan to implement the things I have learned about deliberative democracy and hopefully come to common ground on issues within the company.

Overall, I love this approach to getting the ‘non-expert’ involved and coming to common ground in a civil manner. I believe that in a time where over 50% of our population doesn’t trust the government this form of democracy can save us. If everyone in our country took this course and learned how to come to common ground on issues they may not be experts on, the everyday citizen will see that they can make a difference. If the everyday citizen, people like you and me, feel we can make a difference, than we will. I trust that deliberative democracy is the secret to getting the constituents involved in decision making once again. If I could do it over again, I would have learned about this years’ ago.

by Pierre-Emmanuel Thomas
(international student from France)
November 25, 2013

This fall semester is to about to come to an end and I have to admit that in a three months time period, when it comes to this class of public deliberation, my mind has been blown. These words could seem exaggerated as they seem really strong for what one would call “a random class among so many”. But the reason why in my case it reached such a level is probably because I started from ground zero. I had, as many, if not most of my classmates, no idea where this class would bring us, I was stuck in the general idea that it’d be about politics of a country that wasn’t my native one and that I would die out of boredom. And the only reason why I feel comfortable writing such things today is because as I got to discover what this class was about. Not only my opinion was completely changed, but some of my deepest thoughts and beliefs were also affected.

When it comes to deliberative democracy, I see it as a weapon. A positive weapon though, a weapon against ignorance if I may say. Indeed, it is hard for one to realize the power of debates about the most common or even the most random issues our nowadays’ societies are facing without really experiencing it. We’re often prisoners of our “laziness” and lack of interest which keeps us from getting to know what we don’t and listening to what WE THINK we already know. If I had to sum up in a few what was the main thing this class brought me, I would say that it allowed me to realize how listening to other people, whether they have a same or even different opinion, gave me the opportunity to open my mind to new barriers, approaches and led me to become so much more objective in general. Another example of how this class surprised me where I definitely didn’t expect it was when it came to facilitating a public issue at a church.

Indeed, as terrible as it may sounds and I want to apologize for it, knowing that I’d have to talk about some issue I didn’t feel concerned about with some people who weren’t younger than 70 didn’t thrill me in the first place. And yet, these two hours spent with these great people could have been the two best hours of the semester as it taught me so much on so many levels.
I am very grateful that my random GC1Y choice ended up to be a public deliberation class and I’d be glad to see more classes involving students’ opinions as much.

by Jill Bolak
23 November 2013

Deliberating with Differences

While deliberative democracy is highly important in a community setting to encourage interest and help individuals get involved, deliberative democracy must ideally include a range of participants, extending to people of all different age groups, incomes, ethnicities, and racial backgrounds. As I recorded for the diversity forum on September 18th, I grew aware at how important the presence of diversity is, not only throughout the community, but also in making decisions for the community. I was amused by how many different opinions different age groups had to offer, as Beauty Bragg, whom is involved in African American studies, thoughtfully agreed with a GC student during their push towards actions that may bring a more diverse student body to Georgia College. I noticed that the contributions to the conversation were well thought out, reaching common ground that could be extended to the entire community. Because of the large presence that diverse people from the surrounding area bring to public deliberations, the speakers are more inclined to be less selfish, volunteering solutions that may better every individual present, rather than just them and their peers. To contrast the more diverse forum, I was also present as a facilitator at a later forum involving several people of an older generation, who shared more common interests. I noticed that a few people got involved with the issue, suggesting solutions. Then, the rest got more involved in what their peers were saying and how the solution would benefit their generation. During deliberations with more variation in ages and social statuses, the public seems to react more acceptingly, offering light solutions individually that build into larger more serious actions. Because everyone contributes to the common ground in a diverse forum, the common ground better reflects the community’s ideals, reaching out to all ages and social statuses within the area. Diversity and differences in deliberation are necessary. Without diverse participants, we may only discover unreasonable solutions that do not benefit the whole population.

by Xan Hall
November 25, 2013

Public Deliberation has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. By that, I mean the course has changed the way I view democracy and its inner-workings as a whole. I no longer see democracy as a lost cause in which citizens can’t become involved on a fundamental level. I understand that through deliberative democracy, it’s possible for people with differing opinions to come together to address issues and come to a common ground. Through my experience with facilitating a forum in a church with people from the community, I was able to gain an even greater understanding of deliberative democracy. It helped me see that everyday people are capable of deliberating issues and coming to reasonable solutions. This was an encouraging experience because I was able to see, firsthand, what everyday people were capable of when it came to addressing pressing issues. Deliberation forces you to see multiple sides of an issue, as opposed to only hearing your personal take on something. By being exposed to other viewpoints in an environment that is open for discussion, deliberation helps break the barrier that divides those with differing opinions and ideologies. Public Deliberation has helped me see that involvement in government is, in fact, possible for average citizens. Deliberative forums help set the stage where public issues can be addressed and many people can create solutions together.

by Colden Franklin

Public Deliberation: A Change We Need

As a student at Georgia College, I had the unique opportunity to participate in classroom and out of class deliberative forums.  Throughout these seven or eight forums and our time spent learning about deliberative democracy, I found something new and inspiring to look toward when it comes to dealing with problems on a local or communal level.

As a member of the millennial generation, I find deliberative democracy inspiring.  With the gridlocks in Congress and failure of our legislative and executive bodies to carryout their duties as leaders of our country, the millennial generation now has the tools to build roots in our communities, and then address the change our proud nation needs in the encroachment of massive problems such as the future of health care and social security.

It may seem like a stretch to say deliberative forums will lead to solving these issues, but it works as a steppingstone.  Deliberative democracy gives “We the People” a chance to make change.  Local government lusts for citizen involvement, and deliberative discussion fuels that desire with the recognition of resonating communal issues and approaches to fixing those issues.

In my time acting as a facilitator and a deliberator in these discussions ranging from immigration reform to the growing concern of mental illness, I continually found one thing to be true.

The young people of my generation come into these discussions with a negative view of government, but at the close of each forum when we take time to survey those deliberating an issue to address whether or not they see the problem in a new light and whether or not they would like to participate in another forum the results are astounding.

Almost 80% seem to view the issue in a new light or have encountered actions to solving the issue never before thought of, and as many as 50% would like to participate in another forum.

We have a chance to jumpstart the political involvement our country so desperately needs from the millennial generation in the coming years.  With encouragement and integration of deliberative policies in our school systems, the innovation and adaptability of the young generation will shine.

Deliberative democracy allows citizens to identify and see the change we are making in our local communities.  It could be the trend to making the next generation see the importance of political involvement in our country.  Deliberative democracy could serve as the change we need as a young generation called “self-serving” and “apathetic” to recognize the importance of issues affecting those around us and the country we call home.