Concluding remarks

This chapter hopefully demonstrates that there is practical and theoretical value in evaluating mini-publics in light of developments in democratic theory. This is not to claim that mini-publics are a complete expression of deliberative democracy; that they are the only democratic innovation that has deliberative qualities; or that deliberative democracy is the only significant theoretical development. Rather, it is a more limited assertion that by studying the actual practice of institutions, we are in a better position to interrogate the evaluative claims of democratic theory and to open up areas of theoretical inquiry that may have been overlooked at a more abstract level of analysis. So, for example, our analysis of mini-publics suggests that the realization of the goods of inclusiveness and considered judgement can come at the cost of the effective realization of publicity and popular control. While the innovative design of the BCCA offers one way in which the deliberations of a mini-public can be tied to a public ratification process, it still proved difficult to achieve effective levels of public awareness and its very existence relied on a (rare) willingness of the executive to experiment with a new form of public participation. No single design can realize all the democratic goods we value; any design is a compromise. At more abstract theoretical levels, democratic theorists can ignore such compromises: analyzing the actual practice of institutions forces us to reassess our theoretical claims and commitments.

We did not have to focus on mini-publics: there are plenty of other democratic innovations worthy of investigation (Smith 2005). The relatively small, but growing literature that attempts to bridge the disciplinary gap between normative theory and empirical political analysis through the evaluation of democratic innovations, includes not only studies of mini-publics, but also other institutional designs such as participatory budgeting, community policing and schooling, direct legislation, and so on (Fung 2003; Fung and Wright 2003; Smith 2009). A number of these designs are discussed elsewhere in this collection. The promise is two-fold: the emergence of democratic theory that better reflects practical design choices; and a better understanding of what democratic participation might mean and become.

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