From the Literature
Deliberative democracy is a form of democracy in which public deliberation is central to legitimate lawmaking. It adopts elements of both representative democracy and direct democracy and differs from traditional democratic theory in that deliberation, not voting, is the primary source of a law’s legitimacy. It usually involves an extensive outreach effort to include marginalized, isolated, ignored groups in decisions, and to extensively document dissent, grounds for dissent, and future predictions of consequences of actions. It focuses as much on the process as the results. Moreover, many practitioners of deliberative democracy attempt to be as neutral and open-ended as possible, inviting (or even randomly selecting) people who represent a wide range of views and providing them with balanced materials to guide their discussions.
Theoretically, a deliberative democracy process involves the following five features (Cohen, 1989):
- An ongoing independent association with expected continuation;
- The citizens in the democracy structure their institutions such that deliberation is the deciding factor in the creation of the institutions and the institutions allow deliberation to continue;
- A commitment to the respect of a pluralism of values and aims within the polity;
- The citizens consider deliberative procedure as the source of legitimacy, and prefer the causal history of legitimation for each law to be transparent and easily
traceable to the deliberative process; and
- Each member recognizes and respects other members’ deliberative capacity.
Deliberative Democracy in Action
There are many ways in which the public and stakeholders become involved in environmental and infrastructure projects as well as environmental assessments. Deliberative democracy in action takes a variety of forms. Depending on the project and the nature of involvement required, additional points of contact (in addition to those required in and EA process, such as public information centres) through stakeholder or public advisory committees can be formed. Please note that the names of these groups can vary by project. For instance, committees are sometimes referred to as ‘discussion groups’ or the suchlike. It really depends on the project’s needs or the formality of the group dynamic.
As mentioned previously, participants are either identified and invited by the project proponents, or can be randomly selected. In many cases, public participants (as well as local interest groups) often self-identify, in which their interest in the subject matter is known in the community due to their involvement in similar processes. The same can be said about the involvement of other stakeholder groups such as agencies and organizations who have also been involved in similar types of processes for related projects. The committees or groups meet several times over the course of a project and serve to ensure that the members/participants are informed of project activities. The groups also provide a forum for participants to inform the proponent of their concerns or bring additional information to the group. The proceedings of these groups are made publically available and usually posted to project websites so that all interested parties can review them.
Cohen, J. (1989) “Deliberative Democracy and Democratic Legitimacy,” from Hamlin, A. and Pettit, P. (eds), The Good Polity. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 17–34
Danya Al-Haydari is an Environmental Planner at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, where she specializes in public consultation, environmental assessment and energy policy. She has coordinated work for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, and conducted research on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s Property Value Protection Program. Most recently, she co-authored a paper for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on community well-being in nuclear host communities. Danya is a member of the Canadian Nuclear Society and Women in Nuclear Canada.