Framing for Democracy: Exploring the Impacts of Adversarial and Deliberative Framing, Understanding the Longer-Term Benefits of Deliberation

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This Kettering Foundation Working Paper describes a project by researchers from Public Agenda and the Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation that examined the impacts of framing and experience with deliberative issue framing.

In the experiment, two different “issue guides” were created and presented on the subject of immigration. One reflected a typical media framing (two sides, adversarial, debate oriented) and the other a “choicework” framing (three approaches, with pros and cons considered in each). Focus groups were conducted with students who had minimal exposure to deliberation and were also conducted with students who had moderate to deep exposure to deliberation. Half the groups used the adversarial framing; the other half used the deliberative framing.

The researchers examined the effects that exposure to deliberative frameworks has on the nature of the students’ discourse. By comparing groups of students with different levels of exposure to deliberative practice, the ability of the experimental group to reframe an issue deliberatively, as compared with the control group, became clear. This research has implications for ways that deliberative events, such as those using National Issues Forums materials, can be used to improve political discourse among citizens.

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