Box 71 Criteria for good deliberation

(i) Neutrality: The process should not be framed such as to privilege any particular stakeholder perspective, discipline or policy option. For instance, it should not rule out in advance or neglect through lack of time certain issues, perspectives or options. It should avoid pre-empting the outcome by devoting disproportionate attention to particular aspects (e.g. nuclear power as distinct from other low carbon options, or climate change to the exclusion of other pressing environmental or security challenges).

(ii) Breadth: The process should give full attention to the importance and implications of uncertainties and gaps in knowledge, including differences of interpretation under different viewpoints. These should not be artificially curtailed by the desire to arrive at a firm policy recommendation or 'consensus', which can be a sign of power being used to silence debate (Owens et al., 2004), or can make the process inherently conservative - the participants seeking convergence around the lowest common denominator.

(iii) Transparency: The process and course of argumentation should be fully transparent and accessible to third parties so that critical scrutiny can be directed at the specific reasons why particular understandings have been adopted at different stages, with a responsibility for those in power to answer any queries before concluding the process. Deliberation does not necessarily render decision making easier, especially if the process has revealed an irreconcilable clash of values and frames (Weale, 2001, p. 419), and as participants better understand what separates them (Wilson, 2001, p. 301; Jordan, 2007, p. 59). Yet, it can make it more transparent - something that policymakers do not always appreciate, since this removes the possibility to hide political decisions behind the veil of 'scientific objectivity'.

(iv) Precaution: Given the inevitable uncertainties and complexities, the process should be precautionary. The idea of precaution is sometimes misunderstood as being about not taking certain courses of action. Yet, one can argue that the essence of precaution is simple: future decisions are by definition uncertain, involve complexities that no amount of expert knowledge can erase, and therefore dealing with uncertainties necessarily involves weighing the options in the light of different types of knowledge. Among other things, this means giving particular attention to diversity, flexibility and irreversibility, in case apparently positive courses of action turn out to be problematic. It also means examining options not in terms of idealised technical understandings of best practice, but in the light of historic experience of the ways in which technologies and institutions behave in the real world.

(v) Openness: The imperative to make concrete policy commitments in a reasonable time should not be used as an excuse to restrict the scope of attention or constrain deliberation during the appraisal process. The output of public engagement may be to 'open up' (instead of 'closing down') the range of options being considered in the spirit of 'honest brokering'. While certain options could be identified as deficient, this means presenting results in the form of tradeoffs between a number of possible alternative actions, rather than a single, artificially prescriptive, 'no alternative' recommendation.

Appraisal should not be the moment to decide on how to prioritise between competing interests and points of view in society. Decision making should be left to the political process, with due regard to the need for democratic accountability. After a deliberative process, it is up to policymakers to justify the particular assumptions, uncertainties and value judgements deemed most appropriate in choosing among these options.

(vi) Diversity: The process should involve a range of event formats and a range of processes to access different kinds of public opinion relevant to the policy decisions ahead. These should include: individuals without any substantial prior involvement with the policy, others who have been thoroughly exposed to the issues for the first time and members of engaged networks with particular relevant knowledge, interests and values. Within any given process, careful attention should be paid to eliciting the full range of opinions, rather than allowing a few powerful voices to dominate. Furthermore, the findings of these different processes must not be aggregated in a way that is biased towards a particular overall outcome.

(vii) Inclusion: Certain groups may have little or no voice, even in a well organised consultation of the kind outlined above. These include future generations, marginalised and minority groups, diffuse groups of actors such as small businesses, and ultimately, the natural world generally. The role of the expert should be to facilitate genuine deliberation by striving to minimise the influence of asymmetries of power, especially by 'empowering' the weaker, less organised or less articulate groups or individuals. The more established parties (e.g. industry associations, large NGOs) usually are able to make their voice heard through traditional channels of representation. Asymmetries of power between participants are a major challenge to any appraisal process, but the transparency of deliberative processes makes abuse of power more difficult.

(viii) Commitment: Finally, participants should be guaranteed in advance that their inputs will be taken seriously, and the initiators of the consultations should be explicit about how the outputs of the consultation will be used in policymaking. This is essential, in particular, to ensure the motivation of people to participate, as sometimes people reject participation simply because they do not believe this would have an effect on decisions (Wilson, 1999, p. 250).

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