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Hope for democracy

John Gastil, Pennsylvania State University / Katherine R. Knobloch, Colorado State University

Tue 2 June 2020

11:00am - 12:00pm

Virtual seminar

Seminar recording is available on our YouTube channel.


Concerned citizens across the globe fear that democracy is failing them, but civic reformers are crafting new tools that bring back into politics the wider public and its capacity for reason. This book spotlights one such innovation—the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR). Each review gathers a random sample of twenty voters to study a statewide ballot measure. These citizen panelists interrogate advocates, opponents, and experts and distill what they learn into a one-page analysis for the official Voters’ Pamphlet. The Oregon government permanently established the CIR in 2011, and reformers have tested it in locations across the United States and Europe. This book introduces the citizen activists responsible for the development of the CIR, as well as key participants at the inaugural CIR whose experiences changed their lives. Along with these stories, this book provides evidence of the CIR’s impact on voters, who not only make better decisions as a result of reading the citizen analysis but also change the way they understand their role in government. The CIR fits into a larger set of deliberative reforms occurring around the world and into a long history of democratic experiments that stretch back through the American revolution to ancient Athens. The book weaves together historical vignettes, contemporary research, and personal narratives to show how citizens, civic reformers, and politicians can work together to revitalize modern democracy.

About the speaker

John Gastil  is a professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University, where he is a senior scholar at the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. Gastil's research focuses on the theory and practice of deliberative democracy, especially how small groups of people make decisions on public issues. The National Science Foundation has supported his research on the Oregon Citizens' Initiative Review, the Australian Citizens' Parliament, jury deliberation, and cultural cognition.

In July of this year, UK imprint Cosmic Egg will publish Gastil's first novel. Gray Matters is a near-future sci-fi tale about the limits of AI and the prospects for--what else?--deliberation. And it prominently features an Aussie transplant, who's slang was enhanced by none other than the irreverent Dr. Lyn Carson.

Katie Knobloch is Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Center for Public Deliberation in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on creating a more informed and engaged citizenry and explores the impact of deliberative participation on individuals and communities. She earned her PhD in communication from the University of Washington, and she has received National Science Foundation funding to study the expansion of the Citizens’ Initiative Review beyond Oregon. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Applied Communication Research, American Politics Research, Public Administration, and The International Journal of Communication. With John Gastil, she is the author of Hope for Democracy: How Citizens Can Bring Reason Back into Politics (Oxford, 2020).

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