Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance Seminar

When does deliberation occur, and how do you know you've found it?

Tue 26 July 2016Speaker: Dr Simon Niemeyer, University of CanberraVenue: The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


This presentation focusses on the question of how the process of deliberation takes place in mini public settings. In part it revisits the findings of Goodin and Niemeyer (2003) who found that most of the transformation takes place during the early phase of deliberation where information is acquired. The findings draw from a real-world deliberative event in Uppsala Sweden involving 60 participants considering options for addressing the issue of begging by internal EU migrants.  As for Goodin and Niemeyer,  transformation is measured in terms of position on underlying issues (attitudes/beliefs, values) at three stages (pre; mid, following information presentations; and post-deliberation), but in this case policy preferences were also surveyed permitting a wider range of analysis. The results are consistent with Goodin and Niemeyer, where the greatest transformation occurs during the early information phase of the event. However, another measure of transformation (intersubjective consistency) is most strongly affected during the later deliberation phase. The results raise the question in respect to what counts as deliberative transformation. They also suggest that deliberation from the individual perspective may involve a sequence whereby the initial opening of minds induces a higher level of receptiveness to information and transformation, which is followed by a subsequent process of reflection. To the extent that this model of internal deliberation is valid it potentially accounts for wildly conflicting results obtained from observing deliberation, as well as potential implications for understanding the possibility of both deliberation within and deliberation in mass settings.


Simon Niemeyer is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow whose research covers the broad fields of deliberative democracy and environmental governance, particularly in respect to climate change. His focus is on the forces that shape public opinion and how this can be improved so that the expressed preference of the public better reflects their collective long-term interests. This has guided his research in the direction of exploring the nature of preference change during deliberative minipublics, which is now moving into a phase of understanding the possibility for deliberative preference formation in mass public settings and the institutional features that best facilitate deliberative democratic governance.

Simon completed his PhD at the Australian National University and since then has been the recipient of a number of Australian Research Council Awards, including his current Future Fellowship. As well as his Future Fellowship he is the lead investigator on an ARC project concerning the possibilities for achieving mass public deliberation; a co-investigator on another ARC project on deliberative democracy and achieving just outcomes when adapting to climate change (with David Schlosberg), and a co-investigator on a Swedish Research Council project (with Julia Jennstål) concerning the nature of the deliberative person.

He is currently co-located between the University of Uppsala and the University of Canberra while he develops international links for the next phase of research in assessing deliberativeness of national political settings.

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