Deliberation and Policy-Making: Three Ways to Think About Minipublics’ Consequences

AuthorVincent Jacquet,Ramon van der Does
DOI10.1177/0095399720964511
Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterPerspectives
https://doi.org/10.1177/0095399720964511
Administration & Society
2021, Vol. 53(3) 468 –487
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
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DOI: 10.1177/0095399720964511
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Perspectives
Deliberation and Policy-
Making: Three Ways to
Think About Minipublics’
Consequences
Vincent Jacquet1 and Ramon van der Does1
Abstract
Policy-makers are increasingly experimenting with various ways to involve
citizens in policy-making. Deliberative forums composed of lay citizens
(minipublics) count among the most popular of such innovations. Despite
their popularity, it is often unclear in what ways such minipublics could affect
policy-making. This article addresses this issue of conceptual ambiguity by
drawing on an original systematic review of the literature. It shows that the
literature has approached these consequences in three ways: congruence
with decisions, consideration in the policy-making process, and structural
change. The article discusses the implications for empirical research and
points out trajectories for future research on deliberative minipublics.
Keywords
participatory governance, policy-making, impact, minipublic, PRISMA
Public disillusion with the functioning of the political system is growing in most
contemporary representative democracies. Various innovations have recently
been proposed and implemented to face this challenge (Elstub & Escobar,
2019). Minipublics, such as citizens’ assemblies, consensus conferences, and
1UCLouvain and F.R.S.-FNRS, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Corresponding Author:
Vincent Jacquet, UCLouvain, Place Montesquieu, 1 bte, L2.08.07, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve,
Belgium.
Email: vincent.jacquet@uclouvain.be
964511AASXXX10.1177/0095399720964511Administration & SocietyJacquet and van der Does
research-article2020
Jacquet and van der Does 469
citizens’ juries, count among the most popular of such initiatives (Fung, 2015;
Grönlund et al., 2014). These forums bring together a group of citizens that
deliberates on a political issue, listens to stakeholders and expert testimonies,
and subsequently formulates a set of policy recommendations. Minipublic par-
ticipants are recruited through a process of (quasi-)random selection to establish
a diverse sample of citizens (Carson & Martin, 1999).1
The spread of minipublics has stimulated a lively exchange among
political theorists about the role such innovations should have in the political
system. Their most fervent advocates conceive of minipublics as effective
vehicles to make contemporary democracy more deliberative and inclusive
(Dryzek et al., 2019; Fung, 2007). James Fishkin (2009), for instance, consid-
ers that the output of well-designed minipublics offers the view the people
would have if they had the time, resources, and motivations to carefully dis-
cuss political issues. These innovations should accordingly be used to shape
the views of decision makers. In this vein, some radical proposals also sug-
gest giving authoritative power to randomly selected assemblies (for a dis-
cussion, see Gastil & Wright, 2019). Other scholars argue that minipublics
should promote political participation and deliberation in the wider political
system (Curato & Böker, 2016; Felicetti et al., 2016). According to this view,
minipublics should have an indirect impact on the policy-making process.
Minipublics could for instance synthesize and disseminate arguments into the
public sphere in terms that can be understood by the broader population to
foster the quality of argumentative exchanges at a systemic level. According
to Simon Niemeyer (2014), minipublics could also scale up deliberation to
every political setting if they succeed in becoming an exemplar for other
grassroots practices.
Other political theorists are nevertheless more skeptical about the demo-
cratic virtues of minipublics (Chambers, 2009; Pourtois, 2016). Most notably,
Christina Lafont (2015) argues that the focus on micro-deliberative settings
may lead to bypassing deliberation in the public sphere and create a new form
of elites detached from the mass public. Others also point out that minipub-
lics lack formal accountability to other citizens (Parkinson, 2006). Landa and
Pevnick (2020), finally, argue that minipublics should not make binding deci-
sions because there is no guarantee that participants will not act according to
their own private interest or be manipulated by the bureaucracy in charge of
the organization of the debates. They therefore call for a purely advisory role
for minipublics.
Despite evergrowing scholarly attention paid to minipublics, the nature of
their consequences on the policy-making process remains unclear. Whereas
political theorists continue to exchange about the ideal role of minipublics,
most notably the binding character of their recommendations, both in

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