The Promise and Problems of Online Deliberation


Black, L.W. (2011). The Promise and Problems of Online Deliberation. Kettering Foundation Working Paper (2011-2). Dayton: Kettering Foundation. Retrieved September 02, 2012 from

Work data:

Type of work: Working Paper


Participation | Politics and Political Science | Social Media & Social Software


Many civic and deliberative organizations are working to take advantage of the tremendous potential that new and digital media offer for citizens as they attempt to discuss and address problems at both the local and national levels. We know that many of these media (Facebook, Twitter, online forums) are used effectively for self-expression and organizing. There are challenges, however, in taking true deliberation—recognizing tradeoffs, considering other people’s experiences, and making choices—online. This Kettering Foundation working paper by Laura Black focuses on the question: To what extent can digital media truly offer potential opportunities for deliberative decision making, particularly the practice of deliberation itself?

To address this question, this working paper assesses features of online deliberation by reviewing online deliberative tools, examples of other potentially deliberative websites, and relevant academic research. Black describes several different design choices that are commonly used in online forums hosted by deliberative organizations, including:

  • discussion boards
  • real-time chat
  • web conferencing
  • social media
  • virtual environments

Black assesses the deliberative affordances properties of the different forum design choices. The report concludes by analyzing the implications these choices hold for designing and hosting deliberative decision making as Kettering understands it.


Accompanying chart to the working paper The Right Tool for the Job: