Trust in government and politicians is in short supply. People claim to be tired of ‘experts’ and the divide between facts and opinion has been blurred. The art of offering simple solutions to complex problems is tipping the scale away from nuanced, multifaceted answers founded on compromise.
Within this context, governments nonetheless need to make difficult decisions, whether it is developing budgets, aligning priorities, or designing long-term projects. It is often impossible to make everybody happy, and the messy business of weighing trade-offs takes place.
While sometimes these tricky policy dilemmas are relegated to independent commissions or inquiries, or lately to referendums, a better method exists for solving them. This study of almost 50 long-form deliberative processes in Canada and Australia makes the case that adding informed citizen voices to public decision-making leads to more effective policies. By putting the problem to the people, giving them information, time to discuss the options, to find common ground and to decide what they want, public bodies gain the legitimacy to act on hard choices.