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Abstract

Recent years have seen an increase in empirical studies of public deliberation. This has led to important advances in thinking through issues such as who to include, how best to inform lay audiences about a particular topic, and how to maximise the perceived legitimacy of deliberation. An important issue that has not received much attention is how to define, identify, and report the results of deliberation. The conversations among individuals that occur over the course of a deliberation can be understood as a large and complex set of qualitative data. The deliberative discourse that is produced over the course of a public deliberation contains a large number of statements by participating individuals, and it is not immediately obvious how certain statements might be extracted to characterise the official results of the deliberation. In particular, public deliberation aims to guide deliberants towards collective decisions – therefore, social scientific methods of analysis that do not orient to changes in individual deliberants’ positions at best only capture a part of what is going on. Further, qualitative analyses such as thematic or content analyses may give equal importance to considered and informed positions produced nearer to the end of a deliberative event and relatively uninformed and preliminary positions expressed at the beginning. While such analyses can provide important insights, they are therefore not sufficient on their own for identifying the results of deliberation. In this paper, I argue that the results of a deliberative forum are best conceptualised as constituted by at least three distinct factors: 1) the initial framing and structuring of the deliberation; 2) the facilitation process; and 3) the final (post-hoc) collation and analysis of materials by an analyst or host of the deliberation. I conclude that any meaningful and legitimate representation or synthesis of the results of deliberation should take into account the complexity of the discourse that is produced in such settings. The recent case of the BC BioLibrary Deliberation is used to illustrate and ground the discussion.