2020 Election Sparks

2020 Elections: Best Practices on Civil Discourse

Posted on in 2020 Election Sparks

Deliberation is rooted in the simple notion that people need to come together to reason and talk—to deliberate about common problems. Deliberation is an essential public skill; it is the discursive process through which differences are negotiated and group decisions are made. Deliberation encourages active listening and an examination of the assumptions that people bring to their opinions.

Deliberation is always oriented toward reaching common ground or taking action; it is not the practice of discussion for the sake of discussion. If you are serious about working with and through diversity, deliberation is an excellent process to negotiate and incorporate differences. In some cases, different people will view problems in totally different ways, while others will disagree on whether a particular problem is a problem at all. Deliberation should be inclusive and democratic. It is important to discuss both the purpose of and some of the guiding principles for democratic deliberation.

Deliberative dialogues use issue books framed by the National Issues Forum Institute to examine issues from at least three basic perspectives. We encourage active listening and an examination of the assumptions that people bring to their opinions. By laying out a set of ground rules and then discussing each perspective in sequence, it leads participants to see opposing and diverse perspectives with an eye on areas of agreement and disagreement. Groups finish the exercise by reflecting on these themes and looking for next steps. A deliberation concludes with each group reporting out their thoughts to the larger gathering.

Some issues are not suited to the Deliberative Dialogue format but the principles of “good arguing” are applicable in all political discussion. Here are five principles for a better argument:

1. Take Winning off the Table: Conventionally, parties enter an argument with a goal of winning, or at least reaching resolution. Instead, the goal of a Better Argument should be framed as the reinstitution of civility to build a common community.

2. Prioritize Relationships and Listen Passionately: A Better Argument places relationships at the center, and requires that all parties are truly listening to one another. Participants should listen to learn, not to win.

3. Pay Attention to Context: A Better Argument acknowledges culture. Understanding the presence of culture in any debate increases its accessibility. Better Arguments within a community should begin with specific questions relevant to that community.

4.  Embrace Vulnerability: In civic life today, many Americans only engage with circles that confirm their own worldviews. One major reason why this withdrawal occurs is because entering a space of argument means making yourself vulnerable.

5. Make Room to Transform: A Better Argument is a transformational experience for all involved. Without a goal of winning or even reaching resolution, the goal of a Better Argument becomes to change how we engage with one another in order to build a community.

Instructors, click the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt and a debate question as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for “Deliberation and Democracy"


“Americans still work together, despite political rancor, to resolve public challenges”

“Republican and Democratic voters actually agree on many climate change fixes. So why no action?”

“How Americans can learn once again to solve our nation’s problems together”

“Lone Star College-Kingwood students look to prevent mass shootings on campus”

“Five Features of Better Arguments”

“Too many Thanksgiving or Election Day disagreements? Here’s how to have a better argument”

“This expert says you shouldn’t keep politics out of the office—here’s the right way to talk about it at work”

“You Won’t Change Your Cranky Conservative Uncle in One Dinner Conversation: But if you approach him right, you might start a meaningful dialogue.”


  • Debate: Partisan differences are important in a democracy and attempts to minimize them leaves voters without a clear choice.
  • We should always look at issues from two sides since there are two political parties.
  • Poll: There is too much partisan rancor in American politics.
  • I don’t like politics because people seem to just argue and not get anything done.
  • Short Answer: Why are political discussions so fraught with problems and seem to seldom come to resolution?

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Featured Image Credit: Lisa Hinson/NewAlbanyCommunityFoundation

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