Published 1 April 2012
The ‘deliberative turn’ in democratic theory has generated a wealth of deliberative experiments. The purpose of deliberation as a research technique (as opposed to policymaking or public consultation) is distinctive: to uncover the public’s informed, considered, and collective view on a normative question. In the social science context, this often arises in relation to research on poverty, well-being and inequality, where there is a need to define and justify the thresholds and concepts adopted on a deeper basis than convention alone can offer. This paper compares deliberative research to more traditional methods of studying the values of the general public, such as in-depth interviewing, attitudinal surveys, and participatory approaches, and reveals that deliberative designs involve a number of assumptions, including a strong fact/value distinction, an emphasis on ‘outsider’ expertise, and a view of participants as essentially similar to each other rather than defined by socio-demographic differences. Normative decisions permeate the design and implementation of deliberative research, so while it has the potential to provide uniquely considered, insightful and well-justified answers to the problem of defining a collective position on key questions in social science, transparency at all stages of the process is essential.