Deliberating online : Can we disintermediate power relations through the use of technology?

Very much first draft thinking….

The issue:

How can power be neutralized such that participants engage in a deliberative process with equal weight to their (valid?)is there a pre-supposition of validity to any claims made here? -Paul 2/14/09 11:12 AM claims given differing factors such as economic background, level of education, varying claims and types of expertise, etc.

The three powers- administrative, economic and cultural (wiklund 2005)

Why deliberate?

Bridging the chasm between what is and ought to be:

1) Begins as a linguistic/communicative act
2) Must attach itself to the tangible (direct,visible results as an endpoint) – Actionable
3) The ought may be (should be?) aspirational – but not utopian.

A proposal:

A potential system:

If we accept that expertise comes in different forms (modes) and that public participation is open to all, the leveling process (disintermediation of power relations) and creation of norms of deliberation can be arrived at by providing 3 zones as constituent of an online deliberative sphere. These zones (Educative, Dialogic and Deliberative)

Each participant can engage in any of the 3 zones as needed. Ideally the educative and dialogic zones provide tools to minimize knowledge differentials and allow for the establishment of a deliberative norm.

In this instance dialog does not equal deliberation. Dialog=talk/discussion. Deliberation = intentional, directed process to arrive at a conclusion/decision. Public reasoning Support for social learning.

The 3 zones

Assumption of equal access and digital literacy
– A fundamental, and troubled, assertion of this system is that access to the online sphere is equitable such that none of the three powers exerts an influence on participation. Given the current state of access to the internet, as well as issues of digital literacy, the current proposed system depends upon several steps or actions prior to the full realization of it’s potential.

Weakness of placing the deliberative zone online – Ideally the deliberative process should include embodied interactions in a physical sphere. Thus the ideal solution would likely include educative and dialogic zones which could be constructed online with either a hybrid online/in-person or an completely face to face physical zone for deliberative functioning.

Anonymity vs accountability – There is some evidence that anonymity (cite) can encourage participation in online environments, however in a deliberative space ownership of ones words is fundamental to establishing trust,

Fundamental embodiment of the practice and it’s outcomes
– Democratic practice as craft combining techne and phronesis this may be questionable, open to debate -Paul 2/15/09 12:52 PM

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Deliberating online : Can we disintermediate power relations through the use of technology? by ptreadwell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


  • Hi Paul, like you I have an interdisciplinary interest in learning and deliberation. Before going too deep into deliberative theory (although I'd recommend that you read Dryzek 2000), I'd recommend attending or even facilitating at a deliberative event. Hook into NCDD and see what's happening. I say this from experience: your view of what should happen (ie normatively) will be influenced by what you see people actually doing. Also, make a clear distinction between partisan, activist stakeholder-driven deliberation and randomly-selected citizen deliberation. Much work is currently happening to build online systems to support deliberation. There is much argument about how facilitation (to impress those deliberative norms) can be enacted online.

  • hmm…deliberation theory,….this is food for thought.

  • I have thought about it this way but I think we definitely can.

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