Technology-enabled deliberative democracy – Peter Miles


Technology-enabled deliberative democracy – RSA


11th August 2020

Written by:

Peter Miles FRSA

Peter Miles FRSA



We are seeing an increased recognition of the need for deliberative democracy. Peter Miles FRSA shares his experience of a technology-enabled structured dialogue methodology that actively supports a diverse group of stakeholders and experts to develop a deep and shared understanding of a complex challenge and then commit with confidence to a way forward.

While there are many group deliberation methods around, most rely on simple technology (such as the humble but ubiquitous post-it note), or apply computing in a passive mode as a way of documenting and sharing text. Almost always there is a tacit assumption that words and sentences have a single meaning.

The structured dialogue methodology introduced here has its roots in Interactive Management, developed in the 1970s by John Warfield and Alexander Christakis in the US. This approach spread around the world under a variety of names, including Structured Dialogic Design, Structured Democratic Dialog and Demosophia. It is designed to avoid ‘cognitive overload’ and reduce distortion due to power imbalances, to integrate diverse expertise and perspectives, and it enables deep mutual understanding as a solid foundation for progress. While the technology plays an active part and the process of facilitation plays an important role, the content is always owned by the participants.

Let us start with an outline of the experience of the participant. First of all, they will be in the room – known as a Colab – for a reason; the participation group will have been carefully designed at an earlier stage of the process, taking account of the overall context, and aiming above all for cognitive diversity. They may be deeply involved in the particular issue and care about any potential changes, as a stakeholder; or they may have sway over resources that will be needed for implementation. They could be an expert of some sort – possibly technical, or financial, or from working in a frontline position – that gives them a specific insight into how things really work.

Participants will be asked to answer a ‘trigger question’, initially working on their own. The question will be a broad one, designed to cover the scope of the situation, and along the lines of: ‘What are the main issues, barriers and challenges we face in achieving X?’ Everyone will then be asked to provide just one answer. That answer will be captured in a software tool, along with answers from everyone else and this process continues until a number of answers are captured. Then participants get the opportunity to clarify the answers that others have given and these clarifications are again recorded and captured, always using their own words. Further understanding emerges during a grouping phase, where answers are contrasted and compared.

The next stage is where the magic happens.

continues in source:

Technology-enabled deliberative democracy – RSA

Other links from Pete:

A brief history of interactive management and structured dialogue: