Research Projects


Sparking a National Conversation (2016-2019)

Investigators: John Parkinson, Núria Franco-Guillén

This project aims to understand why some promises of a ‘national conversation’ on a policy issue seem to be mere hyperbole, while others seem more authentic. Using an evaluative framework based on the deliberative systems approach, and the aims and understandings of key actors in each case, it is using a mixed methods approach, including new electronic techniques, to identify, map and track ‘memes’ – units of meaning – over time and place in two starkly contrasting cases: the Scottish independence debate of 2012-14 in which policy conversation was widespread and detailed; and the campaign to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution, which was highly fragmented and failed to deliver even a referendum question. The project will identify reasons why some real-world efforts work better than others, and will develop powerful new tools for researching the communicative content of deliberative systems in real time.


Moral Disagreements: Philosophical and Practical Implications (2017-2018)

Project team: Richard Rowland (project leader), Selen Ercan, David Killoren, and Lucy Parry 

Widespread disagreement about moral issues is a salient feature of moral thought and discourse in contemporary pluralistic societies. This project explores the metaphysical, epistemological, and practical implications of moral disagreement and whether deep and fundamental moral disagreements can be overcome.

The project involves the world’s first deliberative poll on a fundamental moral issue. In deliberative polls a large number – at least 200 – people with different views on political and policy issues come together to deliberate about a particular policy issue (such as, for instance, whether we should focus on responses to crime other than imprisonment). Participants are given information about the issue in question that has been rigorously vetted to ensure its neutrality. They deliberate with one another in small and larger groups about the issue in question for 1-2 days. Before the deliberation participants are anonymously polled about the issue that they will subsequently deliberate about. They are then anonymously polled again after the deliberation. Over 70 deliberative polls have been conducted on different policy issues in 24 different countries. And significantly more convergence in the relevant views of participants has been found after the two days of deliberation than before the two days of deliberation. Although over 70 deliberative polls have been conducted there has yet to be one on fundamental moral issues; all the polls thus far have concerned issues of policy and the probable consequences of various policies rather than the moral desirability, or rightness or wrongness of particular outcomes. In collaboration with members of Stanford University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Canberra University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance this project will conduct the first deliberative polls on fundamental moral issues. These polls will shed light on whether deliberation can help to overcome deep moral disagreement.

Funding: Australian Catholic University



Project Team: John Dryzek, Selen Ercan, Lucy J. Parry, Nicole Curato and Jane Alver

In recent years, there has been a rapid development of participatory and democratic innovations around the world, with new channels of citizen engagement in politics often falling outside the realm of electoral representation and legislature. Participedia is an online, user-generated collaborative project documenting this growing compendium of participatory politics. It aims to map innovative processes as they develop in almost every country, and provide researchers and practitioners with accessible information, tools and good practice.

The Australian contingent of this project builds on the existing Australian catalogue and will provide robust, systematic and practical information on the variety of democratic innovations from all over Australia. The project aims to 1) comprehensively catalogue current and past participatory Australian political processes and 2) explore emergent themes and lessons from Australian cases 3) develop a future research agenda for learning across cases to provide systematic and practical advice for researchers and practitioners worldwide. These objectives feed into Participedia’s primary aims of mapping democratic innovations, explaining and assessing their contribution to democracy and most importantly, transferring this knowledge back into practice.

Funding:  Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)


Realising Democracy Amid Communicative Plenty: A Deliberative Systems Approach (2015-2018)

Investigators: John Dryzek, Selen A. Ercan, Paul Fawcett, Carolyn Hendriks and Michael Jensen

Research Assistants: Sonya Duus, Hedda Ransan-Cooper and Juliana Rocha

The ever-increasing volume of political communication (especially online) challenges democracy and effective policy making. This project examines whether, how, why, and to what effect discourse flows within and between different deliberative sites in the new politics of communicative plenty. We apply the idea of deliberative democracy, which puts meaningful communication between citizens and policy makers at the heart of effective governance. It develops a deliberative analysis of controversy surrounding coal seam gas in Australia, using qualitative and ‘big data techniques to collect information.

Funding: Australian Research Council


Deliberating in the Anthropocene (2015-2019)

Investigators: John Dryzek

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Jonathan Pickering

The Anthropocene is the emerging environmental epoch in which human activity is a major driver of a less stable and more chaotic Earth system, which can be contrasted with the unusual climatic stability of the past 10,000 years of the Holocene (in which human civilization arose). The implications are profound: for example we cannot so easily speak of  “restoration” ecology or environmental “preservation” because there is no going back to any ecological baseline. To date the response of social scientists has been limited, producing at most calls for strengthened global governance. This project explores the idea that a polycentric deliberative approach to the Anthropocene involving co-evolutionary relations between human and ecological systems may yield more effective governance than a top-down managerial approach. The project is both theoretical and empirical, with applications to the global governance of climate change, biological diversity, and ozone layer protection.

Funding: Australian Research Council – Laureate Fellowship


Deliberative Global Justice (2015-2019)

Investigators: John Dryzek

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Ana Tanasoca

This project develops an encounter between deliberative democracy and global justice, the two most prominent programs in political theory in the past decade and more, both now wrestling with problems that intersect in interesting ways as they encounter a recalcitrant global order. The two topics have become estranged in political theory, where democracy is treated as a matter of procedure, and justice a matter of substantive outcomes that cannot be guaranteed by any procedure. At the same time there is a widely-shared feeling among theorists that the two really do belong together. Amartya Sen argues that global justice requires democracy because in any real setting, multiple conceptions of justice can apply, and public reason will be needed to sort them out. Deliberative democracy can speak to this need. More importantly, without something like deliberative democracy, the standing of the agents necessary to put justice into practice is problematic, and the conditions of their interaction impoverished. This project combines political theory and an application to the post-2015 development agenda (the successor to the Millennium Development Goals).

Funding: Australian Research Council – Laureate Fellowship


Deliberative Cultures (2015-2019)

Investigator: John Dryzek

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Jensen Sass

Deliberative democracy is routinely seen as a normative model that emerged from the constitutional settings of Western liberal democracies and has since been used as a baseline to evaluate other political practices, whether in the global system or in non-Western societies. It is for this reason that the model is sometimes criticized for harbouring imperial ambitions. But deliberative practices are extremely widespread in human societies, not least because they manifest the universal competence to reason collectively. This implies an opening for a different relationship between Western political theory and non-Western polities, one where deliberation is both the medium of exchange and an object of normative and practical evaluation. This relationship would entail mutual dialogue about the preferred character of deliberation and its place within the governance structures of different societies. Forging this relationship is pressing within the Anthropocene, since the new forms of governance required to address climate change will involve people from radically different societies and cultures, people with varying ideas about the character of appropriate and effective forms of political communication and decision-making. The first step in the “deliberative cultures” research project thus entails surveying the many forms of deliberation seen across different social and political contexts, including the various roles they play and the conditions under which they flourish. To date a number of papers are in preparation which lay the conceptual compass that will guide future empirical work on this theme, and some preliminary surveys of the relevant anthropological and sociological literature have been undertaken. The next stage of the research will involve designing a comparative study of both informal and institutional deliberation seen in a number of Pacific Island nations, with a focus on deliberation concerning environmental change. An overarching aim of this study is to understand how different forms of deliberation are helping these nations adapt to the effects of climate change. 

Funding: Australian Research Council – Laureate Fellowship


Building back better: Participatory governance in a post-Haiyan World (2015-2018)

Investigator: Nicole Curato

'Building back better' has become a global mantra for countries recovering from disasters. This project aims to examine how this principle can be extended from rebuilding disaster-resilient physical infrastructure to rehabilitating institutions of participatory governance to ensure the inclusive and empowering character of recovery efforts. Through a multi-sited ethnography in cities worst hit by the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, a theoretically-informed and empirically-grounded analytical toolkit that gauges the democratic quality of post-disaster reconstruction will be developed. The project aims to generate insights into the precise ways in which participatory governance can also be 'built better' in a post-Haiyan world.

Funding: Australian Research Council - Discovery Early Career Research Grant


Protests and Political Engagement (2013-2017)

Investigators: Selen A. Ercan (University of Canberra), Ricardo F. Mendonca, (Federal University of Minas Gerais), Umut Ozguc (University of New South Wales)

One particularly important event of the beginning of the 21st century has been undoubtedly the cycle of protests crossing frontiers throughout the globe. From Iceland to Hong Kong, and including Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, the USA, Turkey and Brazil, the recent protest movements were widely noticed due to their size, their transnational dimension and organizational logic. This project aims to study these protest movements with a particular focus on the way they were organized and carried out in Turkey and Brazil in 2013. By drawing on various streams of contemporary democratic theory, the project will investigate: i) the deliberative capacity of these protests; ii)  the interplay between conflict and consensus both in theory and practice ; iii) the role of social media and online engagement in the context of recent protests; iv) the symbolic disputes triggered by these protests and the discursive repertoires mobilized in protest performances; v) the type of collective and ‘connective’ action protests generate and their implications in terms of the constitution of political communities. 

Funding: Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil


The Deliberative Citizen: Who deliberates, when, why and how? (2014-2017)

Investigators: Julia Jennstål and Simon Niemeyer

The aim of this project is to systematically address foundational questions regarding the possibilities for improving deliberation in civil society by developing an understanding of the citizen and the factors — psychological, situational, personal, structural, etc. — that lead them to engage in political deliberation.

Funding: Swedish Research Council



Understanding and Evaluating Deliberative Systems (2015-2017)

Investigators: Andre Bachtiger, Nicole Curato, John Dryzek, Selen A. Ercan, Eda Keremoglu-Waibler, Simon Niemeyer and Kei Nishiyama

Research Assistant: Juliana Rocha

In recent years, deliberative democratic theory turned away from a focus on deliberation within small-scale forums, towards a focus on systems embracing multiple sites of deliberation and decision-making. The shift towards a systems approach enabled scholars to move beyond the limitations of focusing on mini-publics and other democratic innovations and instead think about the various ways in which deliberative activity is dispersed in various spaces of political action. The deliberative systems approach opens up a new way of thinking about deliberation, but also raises questions with respect to its practical applicaiton and empirical investigation. This project builds upon the existing joint projects of the project partners in this field and seeks to refine the methodological tools to empirically examine and compare the 'deliberative systems' in different political systems and across different policy areas. This project aims to: 1) develop a conceptual framework for assessing the deliberative democratic quality of contemporary political systems; 2) develop a mixed method (by combining the insights gained from qualitative and quantitative methods of analysing deliberation) 3) offer empirical applicaiton of these methods in the context of individual reserach projects of the project partners. 

Funding: DAAD - Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst German Academic Exchange Service


Technologies of Humanitarianism: An Ethnographic Assessment of Communication Environments in Disaster Recovery and Humanitarian Intervention (2014-2015)

Investigators: Mirca Madianou, Nicole Curato, Jonathan Corpus Ong and Jayeel Cornelio

The proposed research aims to assess the uses and consequences of communication environments in the recovery and rehabilitation of populations affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in modern history. In particular, we investigate the uses of digital technologies and innovations such as mobile phones, SMS, crisis mapping and social media by directly affected populations and humanitarian organisations.

Funding: Economic and Social Research Council Urgency Grant.


Democracy in the Public Sphere: Achieving Deliberative Outcomes in Mass Publics (2009-2015)

Investigators: Simon Niemeyer, John Dryzek, Bob Goodin, André Bächtiger and Maija Setälä

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Nicole Curato

This project investigates the mechanisms and settings that facilitate the same deliberative outcomes achieved in small group deliberation among the wider population.

Funding: Australian Research Council – Discovery Project


Deliberative Democracy and Climate Change: Building the Foundations of an Adaptive System Future (2011-2015)

Investigator: Simon Niemeyer

This research seeks to develop an appropriate conception of deliberative democracy to identify those elements of democratic systems that impede the ability to identify and respond to the challenges posed by climate change and identify shortcomings in the theory of deliberative democracy and develop solutions. It does so using empirical evidence relating to the operation of deliberation in real world settings, including evidence from a sister ARC funded Discovery project on mechanisms for scaling up deliberation. As well as contributing to the theory of deliberative democracy and earth systems governance, the research will produce practical recommendations and contribute to public debate.

Funding: Australian Research Council – Future Fellowship


Rethinking Climate Justice in an Age of Adaptation: Capabilities, Local Variation, and Public Deliberation (2012-2014)

Investigators: David Schlosberg and Simon Niemeyer

This project aims to produce recommendations, designed by citizens and stakeholders, for climate adaptation policies in three regions of Australia. These recommendations will be based on a definition of climate justice that incorporates basic needs and resources to be protected, as identified by impacted communities.

Funding: Australian Research Council – Discovery Project


Deliberative Democratization in China (2011-2014)

Investigator: John Dryzek

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Beibei Tang

An innovative deliberative path to democratization may be especially applicable to China, where traditional paths involving constitutionalism and party competition are obstructed or problematic. China has however allowed substantial deliberative innovation at the local level, in part to help cope with the social and environmental dislocation attending rapid economic growth. The broader intent is to develop a generalizable approach to democratization, emphasizing deliberative capacity.

Funding: Australian Research Council - Federation Fellowship


The Deliberative Global Governance of Climate Change (2009-2014)

Investigator: John Dryzek

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Hayley Stevenson

Description: In taking deliberative democracy to the global level, no topic is more important than climate change. The idea is to map the key components of the global deliberative system for the governance of climate change, and assess how effectively they are working in deliberative terms. To the extent this proves to be a deliberative system in disrepair, we need to develop ideas for realistic reform of the system. The international system currently suffers from a severe democratic deficit, but any strengthening of democracy at international and global levels will almost certainly look very different from familiar models found in liberal democratic states.

Funding:  Australian Research Council - Federation Fellowship


Creating and Analysing the Australian Citizens’ Parliament (2008-2013) 

Investigators: John Dryzek, Lyn Carson, Simon Niemeyer, Janette Hartz-Karp, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, Ron Lubensky, Ian Marsh and John Gastil,

Post-Doctoral Fellows: Luisa Batalha and Nicole Curato

The pioneering Australian Citizens’ Parliament was held in February 2009 in Old Parliament House, Canberra. The participants were 150 ordinary Australians, selected by stratified random sampling, one from each federal electoral district. They deliberated the question ‘How can Australia’s political system be strengthened to serve us better?’ The project generated a mountain of quantitative and qualitative data which is now being analysed.

For more information click on this link to view a video of the process and a lecture about it

Funding: Australian Research Council - Linkage, and New Democracy Foundation


A Deliberative Global Citizens’ Assembly (2009-2012)

Investigators: John Dryzek, André Bächtiger, Karolina Milewicz and Alessandra Pecci

Description: Building on the successful Australian Citizens’ Parliament held in 2009, the idea is to explore the prospects for a global assembly composed of more or less randomly selected participants. This can be contrasted with existing proposals for a United Nations ParliamentaryAssembly, which rely upon problematic combinations of state-nominated participants and a tortuous path to global elections.

Funding: Australian Research Council - Federation Fellowship


Climate Change and the Public Sphere (2008-2011)

Investigators: Simon Niemeyer, Kersty Hobson, Will Steffen, Janette Lindesay, Brendan Mackey

This project develops an understanding of Australia’s response to climate change and ways to improve adaptation from a governance perspective. An interdisciplinary team will construct and use original climate change scenarios to assess public responses through interviews, survey methods, contrasting individual responses with results of deliberative forums and follow up interviews. Significant developments in methods and concepts and understanding of adaptation will have an international audience.It will produce a series of regionally specific scenarios, statement of likely responses and role of institutional design and policy in improving adaptation.

Funding: Australian Research Council - Discovery


Communication Across Difference in a Democracy: Australian Muslims and the Mainstream (2007-2014)

Investigators: Bora Kanra, John Dryzek, Selen A. Ercan and Alessandra Pecci

Australian Muslims have been at the centre of media attention particularly since September the 11th. Even though they comprise no more than 1,5 per cent of the total population, the debate on the compatibility of Islamic and Western values has been very prominent. To date, this debate has focused little attention on the attitudes of Australian Muslims and how they perceive themselves in relation to Western values. This gap, often filled by negative stereotypes, has a wide range of implications in the area of contemporary governance and public policy. This research project studies the relationship between Islamic communities in Australia and the wider society in the context of ideas about cultural difference and democracy. The degree to which Australian Muslims develop a sense of belonging and social responsibility towards mainstream society is directly linked to the level of their inclusion as well as participation in Australia's multicultural scheme. This project aims to contribute to the possibilities to foster a more productive social and political relationship between Australian Muslims and the mainstream. The empirical substance consists of interviews with both Muslims and non-Muslims, with a view to mapping and analysing discourses about difference and democracy in Australia. The knowledge generated can then be deployed to identify exactly how communication across difference can be promoted in this kind of case. The research is informed by a theoretical perspective that highlights the role of social learning in deliberation in a diverse and democratic society. The project studies both ordinary citizens and opinion leaders in Islamic and non-Islamic communities.

Funding: Australian Research Council - Discovery


Micropolitics of Deliberation (2005-2008)

Investigators: John Dryzek, Simon Niemeyer

Research Assistant: Selen A. Ercan

This project explores the nature of democratic deliberation with a view to improving theories of democracy and prospects for institutionalising the benefits ascribed to deliberative democracy. It aims to systematically address fundamental questions about what it means to deliberate using empirical investigation of actual deliberative process. The methods employed have been trialled with promising results and accepted as being consistent with normative deliberative theory. These involve both formal hypothesis testing and qualitative exploration of results to reveal insights about the process of deliberation. The findings will be used to re-examine theory and formulate recommendations for the instutionalisation of deliberative democracy in both Australian and international contexts.

Funding: Australian Research Council - Discovery


The Theory and Practice of Deliberative Democracy (2004-2007)

Investigators: John Dryzek, Robert Goodin, Christian Hunold, Carolyn Hendriks, and Aviezer Tucker

This project examined the relationship between deliberative innovations, especially citizen forums, and the larger political contexts in which they take place. Particular kinds of institutional innovation work out quite differently in different contexts. A comparative study of consensus conferences on genetically modified foods revealed sharp  differences between the roles such forums play in Denmark (where they are integrated into policy making), the United States (where they are advocacy inputs from the margins of policy making), and France (where they are managed from the top down). A broader survey of cases also revealed systematic differences between the relatively 'promethean' position that policy makers are constrained to take, and the more 'precautionary' conclusions reached by reflective publics, causing problems for the deliberative legitimation of risk-related policy via citizen forums. A close look at Germany enabled systematic comparison of the virtues and problems of forums made up of, respectively, partisan stakeholders and non-partisan lay citizens. Another broad survey of cases looked at the variety of ways in which citizen forums, or 'mini-publics', can have an impact in larger political systems. All these empirical results can help inform the development of deliberative democratic theory, as well as the practice of deliberative innovation.

Funding: Australian Research Council Discovery Grant