How can digital tools support deliberation?

 Claudia Chwalisz at the OECD: “As part of our work on Innovative Citizen Participation, we’ve launched a series of articles to open a discussion and gather evidence on the use of digital tools and practices in representative deliberative processes. ….The current context is obliging policy makers and practitioners to think outside the box and adapt to the inability of physical deliberation. How can digital tools allow planned or ongoing processes like Citizens’ Assemblies to continue, ensuring that policy makers can still garner informed citizen recommendations to inform their decision making? New experiments are getting underway, and the evidence gathered could also be applied to other situations when face-to-face is not possible or more difficult like international processes or any situation that prevents physical gathering.

This series will cover the core phases that a representative deliberative process should follow, as established in the forthcoming OECD report: learning, deliberation, decision making, and collective recommendations. Due to the different nature of conducting a process online, we will additionally consider a phase required before learning: skills training. The articles will explore the use of digital tools at each phase, covering questions about the appropriate tools, methods, evidence, and limitations.

They will also consider how the use of certain digital tools could enhance good practice principles such as impact, transparency, and evaluation:

  • Impact: Digital tools can help participants and the public to better monitor the status of the proposed recommendations and the impact they had on final decision- making. A parallel can be drawn with the extensive use of this methodology by the United Nations for the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Transparency: Digital tools can facilitate transparency across the process. The use of collaborative tools allows for transparency regarding who wrote the final outcome of the process (ability to trace the contributors of the document and the different versions). By publishing the code and the algorithms applied for the random selection (sortition) process and the data or statistics used for the stratification could give total transparency on how participants are selected.
  • Evaluation: Data collection and analysis can help researchers and policy makers assess the process (for e.g., deliberation quality, participant surveys, opinion evolution). Publishing this data in a structured and open format can allow for a broader evaluation and contribute to research. Over the course of the next year, the OECD will be preparing evaluation guidelines in accordance with the good practice principles to enable comparative data analysis.

The series will also consider how the use of emerging technologies and digital tools could complement face-to-face processes, for instance:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and text-based technologies (i.e. natural language processing, NLP): Could the use of AI-based tools enrich deliberative processes? For example: mapping opinion clusters, consensus building, analysis of massive inputs from external participants in the early stage of stakeholder input. Could NLP allow for simultaneous translation to other languages, feelings analysis, and automated transcription? These possibilities already exist, but raise more pertinent questions around reliability and user experience. How could they be connected to human analysis, discussion, and decision making?
  • Virtual/Augmented reality: Could the development of these emerging technologies allow participants to be immersed in virtual environments and thereby simulate face-to-face deliberation or experiences that enable and build empathy with possible futures or others’ lived experiences?…(More)”.