What is it? Often, many community members are less informed about many of the concerns and policies that affect their neighborhoods. Standard polling and survey instruments may provide an early indication of how people feel about an issue. However, when planners and local leaders equip inhabitants with better information, they often receive more thoughtful and knowledgeable responses. In a deliberative polling process, the organizers engage residents in learning about and discussing an issue, and then ask participants for their thoughts. The process has several steps. In one model, initiators distribute an initial survey instrument. They next identify a sample of the respondents, who are invited to contribute in the deliberative process. Facilitators supply these individuals with more subject matter material and conduct small group discussions, that may include conversations with content experts and policymakers. After the process is completed, planners again poll the participants to see how they view the topic. Facilitators examine the differences between the two polls, uncovering the ways that the increased knowledge, and opportunities for learning, influenced participant opinions. While the process is quite involved, it may be useful for communities dealing with complex, technical issues.
How has it been used? In 2011, 412 registered voters from California participated in the “What’s Next for California?” poll. The survey, conducted by the Center for Deliberative Democracy, focused on four main areas: legislative representation, the initiative process, local government and tax and fiscal policy. Participants deliberated over the issues over a weekend and were asked for their opinions at the beginning and at the end of the session. Significant changes occurred with some items. For instance, the number of people agreeing that non-residential property should be more frequently assessed for tax purposes increased 20% over the weekend. However, many items did not see significant changes. Regardless, after this deliberative process the participants felt better equipped to answer questions and their opinions were more indicative of their true feelings. (Source: The Center for Deliberative Democracy)