The Deliberative Corporation is a technology-supported process for sustainable decision-making. It allows any organization or governing group to consult its population. The process builds trust and knowledge so that the implementers can find out what the people would think if they were thinking. It builds political capital and informed consent so leaders can make the right decision even when this involves significant complexity and difficult tradeoffs.
This process integrates a proven methodology for obtaining representative, informed opinions from a scientific sample with a patented technology that empowers an entire population to offer their views. We call this combination of techniques the Deliberative Corporation process.
This process can enhance decision-making for almost any group, including global multi-national companies -- geographically dispersed and multi-lingual -- as well as companies with more regionally concentrated workforces. It works even when there are deeply divided cultures, and challenges for which the group has not thought through the complexities before the process begins. Because considered judgments of populations are more likely to be sustained than top-of-the-head opinion, the process can create a deeper form of stakeholder buy-in. It allows resilient solutions to be identified, accepted and sustained over time. It can engage the collective intelligence of the workers or the clients of a corporation and provide decision makers with a data driven basis for choices that might otherwise be dominated by anecdotes and impressions.
Deliberation creates "political capital" and is the basis for making decisions that can be successfully implemented with the support of those who are affected by them. When leaders can show that what stakeholders think under good conditions, this can create legitimacy for a decision and political cover to do the right thing. This can apply equally for leaders of companies, governments and unions.
There are many reasons why a corporation might need to consult a population -- whether its employees, its customers, its clients, or some other stakeholder group. It might need to draw on the collective intelligence of that population, or it might need to get their informed buy-in for implementing difficult choices. Or it might need to engage a community about effects of some of its policies. In all these cases, there are a number of impediments to getting feedback that is accurate and actionable.
However, the Deliberative Corporation process outlined here surmounts all the familiar impediments to meaningful consultation. Most importantly it provides representative data about informed opinion while also giving all members of the relevant population an opportunity for substantive involvement. We believe this combination to be unique. It can provide informed buy-in from a population facilitating decisions that are perceived to be more legitimate and sustainable.
The Reframe It platform allows thousands of people to add comments on specific parts of a document. These comments can be rated, and they are displayed prioritized by either raw ratings or, more typically, by weighted ratings that allow those who have already attended the Deliberative Poll event to represent the population as a whole, minimizing the effects of mobilized groups.
The timeline for the overall process varies, depending on the availability of the Briefing Committee of experts and the desired length of time for the Online component. However, the process is typically three-six months.
The resources required for the process fall into the following categories:
The Deliberative Corporation process combines insights from multiple disciplines. One component of it, Deliberative Polling® in its modern form was invented by Professor James Fishkin, now director of Stanford's Center for Deliberative Democracy and on the Board of Directors of Reframe It. The process builds on the ancient democratic process that was used to govern the city-state of Athens more than two millennia ago.
Another component of the Deliberative Corporation process is Reframe It's annotation platform. Bobby Fishkin founded Reframe It based on four years of research into what Tolstoy, George Eliot, CS Lewis, Herman Melville, ee cummings, Thomas Hardy and other authors scribbled, crossed out and underlined in their copies of Shakespeare. This rich history of hundreds of years of marginalia caused Bobby Fishkin to create the company and technology of Reframe It to bring the positional meaning of conversation to life through digital annotation.
These two traditions of historical marginalia and ancient Athenian democratic practice have been brought together in a 21st century approach to reinventing decision-making for corporations called the Deliberative Corporation process.
Deliberative Polling has been used in many areas with a history of conflict, in order to make decisions about how processes can be changed to reach mutually shared values from both cultures. Because changes in process can affect lives in fundamental ways, and because the implications of the changes can be complex, it's important to get the informed consent of the groups that are involved in these changes.
Deliberative Polling has been used in Northern Ireland to have parents consider issues of educational integration. There was a substantial shift in favor of various forms of cooperation between Protestant and Catholic schools. Further, there was a large increase in each group’s perception that the other group was “trustworthy” and “open to reason.” This DP was used to give guidance to political decision makers on issues involving education.
In a corporate example, in a merger situation, systems for employee development might follow two different models to which employees have adapted. A Deliberate Poll is held to discuss several alternatives offered by those within the firm who have ideas about the issues (the Briefing Committee). Not only does the Deliberative Poll show "what the employees would think if they were thinking," it also teaches the employees about the tradeoffs, and the Poll itself expresses the concern and seriousness that executives have regarding sensitive issues.
After the Deliberative Poll, the Briefing Materials are put online so that the entire company has the opportunity to comment on the issues, not just the random sample that attended the Poll. The analysis of the Poll and the online documents allow everyone to share their ideas and insights that reflect their own interpretation about what would be culturally viable and successful in the post-merger environment. This dialogue produces revised and hopefully improved policy options. The final Deliberative Poll on the new options allows for a statistically representative sample to make an informed decision based on balanced arguments for and against each of the alternatives.
A Deliberative Corporation process can be used any time there are tradeoffs that a population needs to consider in order to provide informed consent for a resilient solutions.
Deliberative Polls can also reveal surprising conclusions. In Italy, there was a Deliberative Poll about reform of the medical system. For many years, the region that surrounds Rome has had many more hospital beds and hospital wings than doctors to support them. There had been strong, entrenched public resistance to closing hospital wings based on the visceral sense that people had that they wanted to ensure there would be a hospital bed available to them. When participated in the Deliberative Poll however they realized that their empirical assumption was likely mistaken. The number of hospital beds was less relevant to their core objective of having medical services available to them if and when they needed them than whether there was a medical bed with a doctor to treat them.
The Deliberative Poll revealed a significant opinion change of individuals who were willing to support a shift in resources from the maintenance of empty wings to providing more doctors by closing down those facilities that were deserted. Corporations often have the challenge that employees are aware of problems, but are not necessarily well enough informed about the potential solutions to these problems that they can make a thoughtful decision or provide their informed consent. The Deliberative Corporation process lets them do this by asking questions about empirical assumptions, facts and opinions in a coherent framework of analysis that allows implications to be drawn from the results that can create a legitimate basis for decision-making.
For an in-depth discussion of the Deliberative Polling process, please see James S. Fishkin When the People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation (Oxford University Press, 2009).
One of our joint venture projects is bringing Deliberative capacity to India at www.reframeitindia.com.