Deliberative ministers? The hidden world of informal public input

Stream: Panel 57 - Human Rights & Democracy: Deliberative Democracy
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 4.00 pm – 5.30 pm


Politicians are typically viewed by deliberative democrats as ‘decision makers’ who passively receive messages or discourses from the public, which they are then expected to act upon. This paper reveals that in practice the relationship between political leaders and public input is far more nuanced and complex. An analysis over 50 interviews with former ministers and state secretaries from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand finds that political leaders view public input as an integral component of their work. Leaders place a high premium on personal interactions with the public, such as conversations with individual citizens, or one-on-one exchanges with affected groups. In these informal interactions, decision-makers connect with everyday people, hear ‘real world’ stories and learn how issues affect people’s lives. This represents a hidden world of public deliberation taking place between executive governments and their publics that has hitherto been hidden from scholars of deliberative democracy. The paper considers what these findings imply for public deliberation, particularly the place of leaders and executive government in contemporary deliberative systems.


Carolyn Hendriks (Presenter), Australian National University
Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU

Jennifer Lees-Marshment, University of Auckland
Associate Professor of Politics, University of Auckland