Democracy, deliberation and design: the case of online discussion forums

Scott Wright, John Street

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

343 Citations (Scopus)


Within democratic theory, the deliberative variant has assumed pre-eminence. It represents for many the ideal of democracy, and in pursuit of this ideal, online discussion forums have been proposed as solutions to the practical limits to mass deliberation. Critics have pointed to evidence which suggests that online discussion has tended to undermine deliberation. This article argues that this claim, which generates a stand-off between the two camps, misses a key issue: the role played by design in facilitating or thwarting deliberation. It argues that political choices are made both about the format and operation of the online discussion, and that this affects the possibility of deliberation. Evidence for the impact of design (and the choices behind it) is drawn from analysis of European Union and UK discussion forums. This evidence suggests that we should view deliberation as dependent on design and choice, rather than a predetermined product of the technology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-869
Number of pages21
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Deliberative democracy
  • E-democracy
  • Online discussion
  • Theories of technology
  • Website design

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