Unit Six: Deliberating in Our Communities

Deliberation Project

In the last assignment, our “This I Believe” podcasts, we explored where our beliefs came from—experience, inheritance, tradition, resistance—and we crafted our philosophies into a lyrical monologue. With careful attention to style and arrangement, we delivered our stance on how best to live, each of us offering one instructive lesson among the millions that make up our civic life. Next, we will put our beliefs, values, and stories into conversation with others, focusing on dialogue more than monologue, listening more than expressing, and understanding more than asserting, all to discover the greatest good for the community.

For this assignment, our class will divide into two teams, each of which will devise and lead a specific kind of civic discussion: a formal public deliberation.  A public deliberation is a directed discussion focused on tough choices that confront the community.  Its initial goal is to foster a deeper understanding of the issue and to discover the values that should guide the community in deciding its future. Its ultimate goal is to work collectively toward a decision on the optimal way to solve a particular problem, to the benefit of the entire community.  

Each team will facilitate a two-hour-long deliberation session during an RCL-wide public event, sponsored by Penn State’s Center for Democratic Deliberation. Teams will also be in charge of inviting members of the community to participate.

Each member of the team will have specific responsibilities to perform, and will be evaluated on both individual performance and overall group collaborative effort.

Primary Assignment Goals

  • Research and frame “tough choices” associated with a civic issue so as to foster reflective discussion
  • Introduce, facilitate, and record the dialogue and deliberation among the public on your team’s chosen issue
  • Reflect on how your behaviors affected the outcome of the presentation and deliberation and evaluate the emergent themes in the deliberation.

Overview of Evaluation Components (225 points total)

Preparation for Event (100 points)

Based on content and organization of:

    • presentation outlines/works cited lists
    • prepared facilitation questions
    • discussion guide
    • post-deliberation questionnaire
    • publicity efforts
    • overall quality of preparation  

This portion of your grade may be modified by peer feedback.

Performance and Participation: Presentations, Facilitation, and Note Taking at Event (75 points)

Based on delivery of presentations, and appropriateness of facilitation and recording (note-taking) during the deliberative discussion.  Graded individually.  

Post-Deliberation Event Report (50 points)

An 900-1400-word report on the entire deliberation, directed toward policy-makers, which elucidates the emergent themes, values, points of consensus, and impasses.  One per sub-team; individuals only get credit if they actively contribute to the writing, revision, and editing of this document.

Team Member and Self Evaluation

Evaluation based on completion of provided form; directions and submission on Canvas. (Failure to complete on time will result in a 15 point deduction from overall assignment score.)

In addition to attending your team’s own deliberation event, you are required to attend one another event and write a 500-word reflection on the experience of participating.  This should be posted to your RCL blog.

Breakdown of Sub-Team Roles

Decide within your overall team who should be on each sub-team:

Overview (2-3 people): Prepare a five-to-seven-minute presentation to welcome participants and introduce them to the deliberation topic; facilitate and record during the Personal Stake section of the deliberation event; write a brief overview of the topic for the discussion guide; assemble the discussion guide from the three approach sub-teams.

Approach 1 (2 people): Research Approach 1 and write discussion guide section for Approach 1, prepare three-to-five-minute introduction to Approach 1 for deliberation event, facilitate and record during Approach 1 for event.

Approach 2 (2 people): Research Approach 2 and write discussion guide section for Approach 2, prepare three-to-five-minute introduction to Approach 2 for deliberation event, facilitate and record during Approach 2 for event.

Approach 3 (2 people): Research Approach 3 and write discussion guide section for Approach 3, prepare three-to-five-minute introduction to Approach 3 for deliberation event, facilitate and record during Approach 3 for event.

Debriefing and Outreach (2-3 people): Facilitate the conclusion, develop and hand out the post-deliberation questionnaire, actively invite at least three local organizations who may care about your deliberation topic (save the evidence of that invitation), create social media campaign for the event.  At the event itself, greet attendees and thank them for coming—although everyone should really help out with this.

Preparing for your Deliberation Event

  1. Pick a complex Type 2 problem, or a less complex Type 3 problem, affecting the local community (campus, State College, or Pennsylvania).  This needs to be a researchable, open-ended, ongoing issue of public concern.  It also needs to be something where multiple approaches could be suggested.  (Recall the distinction from class discussion between an approach and a solution.)  
  2. Research the topic using credible sources.  Research should be both general and local. Consider using the list of civic issue sources, the libraries’ resources, or research from public policy institutes (think tanks) for general research.  Options for local research include the Centre Daily Times, The Daily Collegian, Onward State, Penn State Pulse Surveys, and interviews with town residents, University administrators, faculty, staff, students, etc.  

At least six sources should be conversationally cited aloud among the combined presentations.  At least one source must be cited by each team member (except for the debriefing sub-team). These, plus additional sources should all be listed on your works cited list, which will be submitted on Canvas.

  1. Identify three primary values that stakeholders might use when weighing proposals for addressing the problem.  Use these to identify the “tough choices” faced by stakeholders in this issue, crafting three possible approaches, in accordance with the principles discussed in class for framing deliberative choices. For each possible approach you will need to identify the benefits and trade-offs that would need to be made if the approach were selected.   


  1. Prepare an introductory presentation for your sub-team’s portion of the event (everyone except the debriefing/outreach sub-team).  The introductory group should clarify the problem.  Depending on your chosen issue, you might include a discussion of context, causes, consequences, scope, severity, and key stakeholders. The three approach teams should cohesively, fairly, and accurately present the possible approaches covered in your discussion guide (see below). Equally strong arguments and trade-offs need to be constructed for all approaches; the audience shouldn’t have a sense of which option you prefer, either individually or as a group. Whatever you include, be sure that it prepares the group to deliberate on the problem, rather than simply running through a list of data.

Each group member should deliver their remarks extemporaneously (from notes, not manuscripts) and should speak for roughly equal portions of the presentation. Be mindful, too, that each member should cite at least one source aloud during the presentation (except the debriefing/outreach sub-team). The overall content will be graded collectively, but delivery and clarity, if particularly strong or poor, could impact an individual’s overall grade on this portion of the assignment.  Adhering to time constraints is largely a group issue, so be sure you collectively rehearse the presentations and strategically plan the deliberative discussion.  There will not be an opportunity for the use of PowerPoint, so be sure your presentations are clear, well structured, and engaging.

  1. Develop a discussion guide for discussants to refer to when participating in the deliberation. Your framing of the three approaches should reflect the criteria outlined above, as well as criteria established in class. This guide should be one page (front and back) at maximum, and should clearly and succinctly lay out the problem and the three main approaches you’re exploring. Consider using white space and smart layout and design choices to make this easily skimmable by the discussants.  Bring 30 printed copies to the event and submit a digital copy on Canvas.

Here is an example of a one-page discussion guide from Colorado State’s Center for Public Deliberation. You could easily change the layout to make this a front-and-back document–but the content is right on the mark.

  1. Prepare facilitation questions (only for the three approaches and the debriefing sub-teams) to help guide your sub-team’s section the deliberation—although you’ll need to be very flexible in adapting to comments offered by the participants.  At least some of the questions you prepare should reference or build off of high quality research, perhaps allowing participants to respond to a statistic, trend, or quotation from experts or laypeople.  

   Team members should equally divide the tasks of facilitating and recording discussion. Effective discussion facilitation should be in keeping with the principles outlined in class and in our readings.  Remember that your job is to encourage participants to engage in reflective conversation with each other (not with you) about the underlying values and trade-offs inherent in the issue, the approaches, and any possible solutions.  (Here are the criteria for successful facilitation.)

  1. Prepare a post-deliberation questionnaire (only for the debriefing/outreach sub-team) that asks participants questions about changed perspectives, preferred approaches, values, and sticking points.  Print and bring 30 copies to the event and submit on Canvas. Responses must be collated and shared with all team members in a timely manner.  (This questionnaire should generate additional evidence for your team’s post-deliberation report.)

Structure of the Deliberation

  • Welcome and Introduction Presentation: 5-10 minutes
  • Participants Share Introductions and Personal Stakes: 2-10 minutes
  • Approach 1: 20 minutes
  • Approach 2: 20 minutes
  • Approach 3: 20 minutes
  • Review of notes and debriefing discussion: 20 minutes
  • Post-Deliberation Questionnaire: 5-10 minutes

Additional Key Points for the Deliberation

  • Teams should wrap up the entire event within about 90 minutes, give or take 5 minutes. This requires paying close attention to time!
  • Each part of the deliberation, from the Personal Stake to the Conclusion, should have a pre-designated facilitator and note taker, who will be taking notes for the discussion on poster board.
  • After finishing the three approaches, the note taker for the debriefing sub-team should tape all the notes on the walls/or otherwise share/review with the group. After allowing the discussants a few minutes to digest the notes, the facilitator for the debriefing section should guide the discussion.  (It’s ok if no consensus has been reached yet.)
  • The debriefing sub-team should ask the group to fill out individual questionnaires before leaving.
  • Keep or photograph the notes for evidence for your post-deliberation report.

After the Deliberation

As a sub-team, write a 900-1400 word post-deliberation report directed toward policymakers who are interested in understanding the public perspective on the issue. After presenting the problem (drawing on and citing the team’s research, and perhaps on material from your overall team’s introductory presentation), your report should explain what occurred during the entire deliberation (not just your assigned portion), highlighting the emergent themes and explicit or implicit values in participants’ comments.  You might paraphrase (or quote directly) from key moments of the discussion or questionnaires as evidence. Your report should also explore points of consensus, as well as tensions or unresolved issues.  

The report should make specific policy recommendations based on the consensus of the participants, although it may also recommend further research for some parts of the issue if only a tentative recommendation can be reached.  You might need to conduct additional research to support this recommendation, if it goes beyond the scope of your team’s initial research.  Reports should be professionally written, visually appealing, and well formatted (headings, white space/good layout, and occasional bullets could be useful), and should include a list of the works cited in the report.  (And yes, sources should be cited throughout.)

All individuals also need to complete a Team Member and Self Evaluation on Canvas.