Deliberation is a common practice. We practice deliberation in our personal lives when we try to decide what choices we should make to either solve a problem we face or to take advantage of an opportunity available to us. We weigh the pros and cons, examine the costs and consequences, and consider the tradeoffs associated with each option before ultimately making a decision about what action or actions we should take.
If family or friends are likely to be affected by our decision, they are stakeholders in the outcome of whatever we decide, and we should therefore invite them to share their perspectives and provide their input during the decision- making process. A careful process of hearing and listening to understand stakeholders’ concerns is the essence of deliberative dialogue. It is simply dialogue that informs a decision.
Deliberative dialogue for public issues works the same way. Stakeholders’ are included in the process of weighing options and making choices about issues that affect them. Deliberative dialogue is not a debate. Nor does it require agreement. It is a search for common ground based on informed critical thinking that, when identified, makes it possible to move toward a decision on important public issues.
Sustaining the kind of dialogue needed to find common ground on public issues requires courage, trust, honesty, and a high regard for maintaining an environment of respect and civility. It requires participants to carefully consider, critically examine, and weigh “what is known” about a topic as much as how you “feel” about the question at hand. All are important characteristics for effective leadership, especially in a democratic society. So, we hope you will see the deliberative dialogue forums at The University of Tennessee Knoxville as opportunities to practice democracy and to develop your ability to be a personally and socially responsible leader on campus, in your community, and into the future.
To facilitate deliberative dialogue forums on important public issues in America we use materials developed by two nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations – The Kettering Foundation and The National Issue Forum Institute. Please read the Issue Advisory associated with the forum you selected to have some background information before you attend.