Thinking systemically about deliberative democracy and climate change


@ ABCD - Alberta Climate Dialogue

This report suggests that deliberative democracy is a collaborative and effective way to develop the concerted, ambitious and creative action needed to respond to climate change. Drawing on the work of Alberta Climate Dialogue (ABCD) in organizing mini-publics, it argues, however, that in order to achieve these aims, deliberative approaches need to adopt the tools of system design and thinking to enable people to better understand complex problems and implement action through experimentation and learning.


John Parkinson

Interesting application of a particular approach to systems theory, but deliberative democrats have started down this path already – see the volume I edited with Jane Mansbridge in 2012 and a large number of articles running with the idea since then. Minipublics are no longer the only game in town. What would, I’m sure, be extremely useful is a solid engagement with the still-nebulous ways in which deliberativists are using systems thinking; and, of course, the dangers of overly systemic views going back many years.

David Kahane

Thanks for the comment, John. I use and teach your and others’ work on deliberative systems, and indeed had a section of this piece briefly taking up those literatures – until I ran into the strict (though fair) FDSD enforcers of word limits.

I’m interested in the different characterizations of ‘systems’ in (1) approaches like systems thinking and systemic design and (2) deliberative systems theory. Deliberative systems theories not only have a more normative and abstract cast than the practice-oriented systemic approaches I discuss in this piece, but also (it seems to me) less of a focus on certain dimensions of complexity (e.g. feedback loops, nested systems, relations of symbiosis) that make on-the-ground deliberative interventions on issues like climate change so difficult and often forlorn. So I see a pragmatic, methodological usefulness in approaches like systemic design that I don’t find in the deliberative systems literature. Though if I’m missing the boat on important parts of that literature (especially as they intersect with the preoccupations of systems theory, systemic design, etc.) I’d love for you to point them out.

And yes, mini-publics are no longer the only game in town. But there are still a lot of them about, they potentially do important political work, and I hope that my short article provides useful pointers for practitioners who develop and design those spaces.


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