Opening up the 'Black box' of deliberation
Since my collaboration in implementing two Deliberative Polls and an America Speaks event in New Haven I have been interested in opening up the 'black box' of deliberation, understanding not only the effect of the lego blocks that compose deliberative decision making processes, but also the effect of their sequence and interaction.The first lego block of real life deliberation that I investigated was the moderator.
The majority of deliberative processes employ moderators that often directly intervene in the discussion offering their opinion. My research shows that moderators that express their views in the discussion have large and significant effects on participant decisions. (“Who Moderates the Moderators? The Effect of Non-neutral Moderators in Deliberative Decision Making”). This result constitute an important cautionary tale for community driven development projects that often employ moderators from local CSOs that have their own agenda. The paper has been downloaded more than 1000 times since its publication. The experiment has been replicated at NYU and in Milan by other researchers.
The second ingredient that I am currently studying is the structure of discussion and its impact on the quality of deliberation and engagement. I am particularly interested in the sequencing and integration of different deliberative exercises and their impact on deliberation quality. In the Democracy Matters project I have explored a variety of real-time impact evaluation methods to capture the quality of deliberation with low-cost technologies. Empaville, the deliberative role-playing game of Empatia that uses frugal technologies was deeply influenced by such experience.
I have also conducted experiments on online deliberation. In 2012 I deployed an RCT in collaboration with a faction of the Italian Democratic Party (see my article on New Media and Society) and in the Scholio project I am analyzing experimentally different platform for online comments in the news.