Government-Led Deliberative Mini-Publics (DMPs): Transformative or Transient? How Effective Are Government-Led Deliberative Mini-Publics (DMPs) in Increasing Levels of Civic and Political Engagement Among Participants?

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Johns Hopkins University
Given pervasive levels of citizen disengagement from political institutions, this thesis examines democratic innovations that seek to re-engage citizens and address the deficits of Western democracies. Government-led Deliberative Mini-Publics offer citizens more consistent voice in between elections, more meaningful input in government decision making, and more impactful platforms for participation. The thesis introduces a new definition for a Civic and Political Citizen and asks how effective DMPs are in increasing levels of engagement in participants. Introducing an innovative methodology that disaggregates the definition of civic and political engagement into five constitutive characteristics (Dependent Variables), the thesis measures changes in i. Epistemic Growth (learning), ii. Connectedness (sense of community), iii. Effervescence (enthusiasm), iv. Political Activity (interest), and v. Consequential Voice (a sense that input is meaningful). To provide more exacting and revealing findings, the research design creates an Analytical Framework for DMPs (the Unit of Analysis) and divides DMPs into four components consisting of Design Integrity, Composition, Process and Deliberation, and Government Promise and Presence. Relying on a mixed-methods research plan that includes field research in Paris, Brussels and Ottawa, participant observations, surveys and in-depth interviews, the thesis provides in-depth analysis of the French Citizens Convention for the Climate, the Brussels Parliament’s Deliberative Committee on Homelessness and the second Canadian Citizens Assembly on Democratic Expression by weaving quantitative results with rich qualitative testimonies from participants and observers. The thesis concludes that Government-led DMPs can, in fact, be transformative given post-participation increases documented in the Dependent Variables. However, throughout the Case Studies, decisions made by implementers and/or government representatives during the design, implementation and after the conclusion of a DMP are reported to result in decreases in Dependent Variables and/or not to maximize increases in levels of engagement. This study cautions us to separate the potential of DMPs from current practice. To realize the promise of DMPs and to maximize the increase in participants’ civic and political engagement, this thesis provides recommendations for future government-led DMPs and urges the deliberative community to be more discerning and intentional in the design, implementation and follow up of such platforms.
Democratic Innovations, Government-led Deliberative Mini-Public, Citizen Engagement, Beyond Elections, Meaningful Voice, Impactful Participation, Epistemic Growth, Connectedness, Effervescence, Political Activity, Consequential Voice