Volume IV: The Role of Narrative Building in Public Deliberation
This publication is Volume IV of The Deliberation Series, a collection of papers on public deliberation, researched and written by The Open Government Partnership’s Practice Group on Dialogue and Deliberation.
Public deliberation processes call on participants to deal with issues objectively. They must engage in careful reasoning that is supported by data and information and informed by knowledge and expertise. But participants are often also asked to balance conflicting values or interests. This is not only difficult; it can be divisive. What standards should they use to guide their deliberation? Who gets to decide what counts as a “reasonable and fair” accommodation?
This paper argues that, typically, both the problem and the solution involve narrative building. The public’s views on issues are usually grounded in a background story. Different groups often have different stories whose values diverge or conflict, so that when the two sides engage in “debate,” they may talk past one another, even when they agree on key facts.
A shared narrative is a story that such opponents create together, from the bottom up, through a deliberative process. A shared narrative can help them find the common ground they need to begin discussing how to mitigate risks or balance competing values in ways that are more likely to be taken as respectful and fair by both sides. This paper uses three case studies to illustrate key techniques and challenges in building a shared narrative.