Unit Six: Deliberating in our Communities

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 ornament 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, our search for the good. Next, we will put our beliefs, values, and stories in play 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 “Super Teams,” each of which will devise and lead a certain kind of civic discussion: a formal public deliberation event. A deliberation is a directed discussion focused on tough choices that confront the community. Its goal is to foster a deeper understanding of the issue and to discover the values that should guide the community in deciding its future. Each team will facilitate one two-hour-long deliberation session during a 10-day RCL-wide public event, “Deliberation Nation,” sponsored by Penn State’s Center for Democratic Deliberation. Teams will also be in charge of inviting members of the community to participate.

Within each Super Team, we will form several Mini-Teams, each with a specific role and set of responsibilities.

We will schedule this out-of-class event as soon as possible. Each Super Team will work to promote their deliberation to the Penn State community and public at large.

Primary Assignment Goals

  • Research and effectively frame “tough choices” associated with a civic issue so as to foster reflective discussion
  • Introduce and facilitate 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.
  • Effectively communicate the themes of the discussion and emergent policy recommendations to key policy makers in formal report(s).

Overview of Evaluation Components 

MiniTeam Introductory Presentation and Moderation at Event, 10% of final course grade

  • Based on quality of content, organization, delivery, moderation and recording, and post-deliberation questionnaire/publicity efforts for Team Summary.

Mini-Team Issue Guide Sections, 7.5% of final course grade

  • Based on quality of prose, organization, design, and explanation of tradeoffs and benefits. Each Mini-Team should write about 300-500 words to contribute to the Issue Guide, with Team Overview in charge of writing the introduction and Team Summary in charge of designing the document.

Mini-Team Post-Deliberation Report,  7.5% of final course grade     

  • A 500-750-word Mini-Team-written report featuring findings directed toward policy-makers. Reports should elucidate the deliberation’s emergent themes, values, and/or policy recommendations. Super Teams might combine their written efforts, or write several reports to different audience. Team Summary provides the formatting and the cover letters/email messages for the sending the report(s).

Team Member Evalution

In addition to attending your deliberation event, students are required to attend one another event and write a 500-word reflection (which will stand in for your Civic Issues Blog for week five, six, or seven). 

Breakdown of Mini-Team Roles 

Team Overview (2-3 people): Prepare the 5-minute welcome and introduction to the deliberation topic, work on promoting deliberation, moderate for the Personal Stake section of the deliberation event, write a compelling overview of the topic for the issue guide, write a 300-500- word introduction and overview for the post-deliberation report.

Team 1 (2 people): Research Approach 1 and write issue guide section for Approach 1, prepare three-minute introduction to Approach 1 for deliberation event, moderate during Approach 1 for event, write a 300-500-word post-deliberation report as a Mini-Team.

Team 2 (2 people): Research Approach 2 and write issue guide section for Approach 2, prepare three-minute introduction to Approach 2 for deliberation event, moderate during Approach 2 for event, write a 300-500-word post-deliberation report as a Mini-Team.

Team 3 (2 people): Research Approach 3 and write issue guide section for Approach 3, prepare three-minute introduction to Approach 3 for deliberation event, moderate during Approach 3 for event, write a 300-500-word post-deliberation report as a Mini-Team.

Team Summary and Outreach (2-3 people) Design and arrange the issue guide written by the other Mini-Teams, take notes during the approaches, moderate the conclusion, develop and hand out the post-deliberation questionnaire, 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, format the post-deliberation reports and write the cover letters/emails for sending the post-deliberation reports to policy makers.

Preparing for your Deliberation Event

Super Teams pick a complex Type 2 problem (or a less complex Type 3 problem).  This needs to be a researchable, open-ended, ongoing problem.  It also needs to be something where multiple approaches could be suggested.  (We will discuss in class the distinction between an approach and a solution.)  The selected issue may emerge from your civic issue blog topics or could be new for your group.

Research the topic using credible sources.  Consider using the list of civic issue sources, the libraries’ resources, or research from public policy institutes (think tanks).  At least six sources should be cited aloud in your presentation for the Super Team.  At least one source must be cited by each team member (except Team Summary). These, plus any other useful additional sources should all be listed on your bibliography, which will be listed on your Issue Guide.

Identify the “tough choices” faced by stakeholders in this issue.  Select 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.  You also will need to identify the primary value informing the approach.

Prepare an introductory presentation for your mini-team’s section of the event (all but Team Summary) that clarifies the problem and cohesively, fairly, and accurately presents the possible approaches presented 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. Depending on your chosen issue, you might include a discussion of context, causes, consequences, scope, severity, and key stakeholders.  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 Team Summary). 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 presentation and strategically plan the deliberative discussion.

Develop an issue guide for discussants to refer to when participating in the deliberation. Your identified three approaches should reflect the criteria outlined in the Identify the “tough choices” section above, as well as criteria established in class. This guide should clearly and succinctly lay out the problem and the three main approaches you’re exploring (sometimes deliberation experts call discussion guides “placemats”). Consider using white space and smart layout and design choices to make this easily skimmable by the discussants.  A bibliography of resources should be included on the Issue Guide.

Prepare discussion questions to help guide your Mini-Team’s section the deliberation, although you’ll need to be flexible in adapting to comments offered by the discussants.  Team members should equally divide the tasks of moderating and recording discussion. Effective discussion moderation should be in keeping with the principles outlined in class and in our readings.

Prepare a post-deliberation questionnaire (Team Summary’s job) that asks participants questions about changed perspectives, preferred approaches, values, and sticking points. Print and bring 30 copies to the event. This questionnaire can be used to generate additional evidence for your team’s post-deliberation report.

Structure of the Deliberation

  • Welcome and Introduction Presentation: ~5 minutes
  • Personal Stake ~10 minutes
  • Approach 1: 15-20 minutes
  • Approach 2: 15-20 minutes
  • Approach 3: 15-20 minutes
  • Review of notes and conclusion discussion: ~10 minutes
  • Post-Deliberation Questionnaire: 5-10 minutes

Additional Key Points for the Deliberation

  • Super Teams should wrap up the entire event with five minutes to spare in the 90-minute allotment. That means paying close attention to time!
  • Each part of the deliberation from the Personal Stake to the Conclusion should have a pre-designated moderator and recorder, who will be taking notes of the discussion on poster board.
  • After finishing the three approaches, the recorder for Team Summary 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 moderator for the Conclusions section should guide the discussion. (It’s ok if no consensus has been reached yet.)
  • Team Summary must ask the group to fill out individual questionnaires before leaving.
  • Thank participants and direct them to the class website for the post-deliberation report.
  • Keep the notes and post-deiberation questionnaires for evidence for your post-deliberation report.

After the Deliberation: The Post-Deliberation Report

There are many ways your Super Team may decide to execute this report and divide up the writing tasks, but, ultimately, as a Mini-Team, you will write a 500-750 word post-deliberation report directed toward policymakers who may be interested in understanding the public perspective on the issue. This report will be published on our course Think Tank website and sent to policymakers.

But first, sift through your evidence. As a Super Team, review your deliberation notes and questionnaires. Recollect and analyze the discussion. Are there any points of consensus or conflict? Do any policy suggestions or action items come to light in view of the deliberation?

Consider themes, not approaches. You do not need to present or discuss the three approaches from the deliberation in the report. In many ways, the three approaches are merely constructs to draw out themes and values. Rather, examine the evidence from the deliberation (notes, recollections, questionnaire responses), and see if you can identity some emergent themes and opportunities for action.

Consider your audience(s). Which policy makers could benefit from a report on your findings and recommendations? Should your Super Team collaborate on one big report to one policy maker or should Mini-Teams write different reports to more than one policy maker? You have several options here for how to break up the writing. Here are some examples:

  • One compiled report on several themes or action items to one policy maker (e.g., a report containing several  programs and strategies to reduce sexual assault at Penn State directed to the university president or another campus officer).
  • More than one report addressed to policy makers at different levels (e.g., findings from a deliberation on sanctuary cities addressed to the State College Borough Council, the Global Programs office on campus, a state representative, and United States senators representing Pennsylvania)
  • More than one report addressed to policy makers about different topics (e.g., A deliberation on improving town-gown relations could generate a report to the university president on the topic of on-campus housing, another one to the State College Borough Council on the topic of the student housing crisis, and yet another to the Overall THON Chair on the topic of involving the State College community in THON.)

Components of Post-Deliberation Reports: 

Regardless of how your Super Team decides to divide up the writing and reporting, excellent reports should feature the following:

  • A fitting title and visually appealing, professional-looking formatting
  • An introduction that briefly presents the issue and the details of the deliberation (who came, who hosted, when, and where) and explains the reasons this topic was a pressing civic issue, perhaps drawing on evidence from your issue guide research
  • A thesis statement that reflects the findings/themes of the report
  • Well-organized body content that provides evidence from your research and the deliberation itself to support the report’s findings, stances, or recommendations.
  • An elegant and efficient prose style that reflects the conventions of academic writing
  • An awareness of the needs and expectations of your chosen audience
  • MLA parenthetical citation throughout and a Works Cited page.
  • Team Summary only: Draws upon the conventions of cover letter/email etiquette when sending the reports, shows an awareness of audience and purpose, writes persuasively to the audience(s) to read the attached reports, effectively summarizes the aims and content of the report, and provides professional-looking formatting for the reports themselves.

All students also need to submit a Mini-Team Member via CANVAS dropbox by the due date on the course schedule.



Issue guide education and society

free speech menu