There are two key features of deliberative events which distinguish them from other qualitative techniques.
First, they tend to be used for subject areas which are relatively complex or where there are multiple solutions and trade-offs which cannot be adequately explored using other research techniques. Second, deliberative events typically involve the provision of detailed information in order that participants are able to develop a clear understanding of the issues under discussion and of the options facing them. This information might be provided through presentations by experts; leaflets and other printed communications materials; and briefing sessions describing possible scenarios or the costs and benefits associated with different options. For instance, in a deliberative workshop for Glasgow City Council exploring perceptions of budgetary options the Council was considering,, the Council Leader gave a presentation in which he outlined the financial challenges facing the Authority, including the scale of savings it needed to make. Participants were subsequently given a list of savings options to discuss and prioritise.
There are a number of different deliberative techniques, including citizens’ juries, deliberative polls and workshops, with each tending to run over a half-day or a day, and participants taking part in a series of sessions. At the end of the event they will be invited to arrive at a conclusion, whether this might be in terms of identifying their preferred options, ranking options, and so on. A standard deliberative event might involve around 20-30 participants but this can be increased to up to 100 provided the ratio of moderators to participants remains at approximately 1 for every 8.
Deliberative and Participative research are no better or worse than traditional research – they are different. So long as deliberative events are designed carefully, they can provide a very useful technique for involving people in decision making. Participants themselves invariably enjoy taking part and contributing to debates on key issues.