The Challenges of Experimenting with Citizen Deliberation in Laboratory Settings

Lala Muradova, PhD Candidate, Democratic Innovations & Legitimacy Research Group, University of Leuven (Belgium) and 2018 Visiting Scholar at Centre for Experimental Social Science (CESS) has a manuscript entitled “The Challenges of Experimenting with Citizen Deliberation in Laboratory Settings” forthcoming in SAGE Research Method Cases. The case is based on data from a laboratory experiment conducted in collaboration with CESS.

A laboratory experiment was designed and conducted with an objective of studying the benefits of small group citizen deliberation for individuals’ political reasoning; and affective and cognitive mechanisms underlying this relationship (Muradova, 2019). The study consisted of two waves (n=600, and n=127), and those randomly assigned to deliberation group were invited to take part in a small group discussion about legalizing assisted dying in the UK. This SAGE case study describes this experiment. It further discusses the main benefits, challenges and shortcomings of conducting lab experiments in citizen deliberation relying on the lessons learned. Close attention is paid in particular to the difficulty of measuring and manipulating a complex concept such as deliberation. Further, the importance of scientific rigor, and transparency in designing, conducting and reporting social science experiments are emphasized. Finally, it discusses some of the theoretical and methodological choices the author made when designing and fielding the lab experiment in deliberation.