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Abstract

This essay describes a case study that successfully dealt two of the biggest challenges facing exploratory public discussion. By design, this category of discussion is typically separated from actual decisions and collaborative action and therefore lacks an element of urgency. The exploratory public discussions that prompted this report, which coincided with climate change conferences held in Cancún, Mexico, and Durban, South Africa, in 2010-2011, largely overcame this problem by preserving the exploratory nature of public discussion while trading on citizens’ interest in unfolding real-world events. We call the result “just-in-time” exploratory discussion, shorthand for the notion that public discussion can remain exploratory despite drawing on the motivational power of temporal urgency. By getting the timing of exploratory discussion right, we suggest, citizens will be ready, even eager, to participate. Proper timing also tends to reinforce the value of exploratory discussion. In short, a just-in-time approach is useful at both the front and back end of exploratory discussion. It helps get citizens interested and keeps them interested in using what they’ve discussed.

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