PB Charter Learning Event Report: What's the difference between dialogue and deliberation?


Proper dialogue and deliberation is vital for people taking part in PB to come to the best decisions for their communities. But how much deliberation is really happening as part of participatory budgeting (PB) in Scotland?

This event was part of PB Scotland’s launch of the PB Charter for Participatory Budgeting - the charter sets out seven key features showing what a fair and high quality PB process should look like.

Deliberation is one of those key features:

“PB supports communities to access information, share ideas, listen to each other and consider different views.

Sharing ideas and views helps people to learn more about different issues and leads to informed decisions that are best for the whole community.”

To explore this further we heard from two contributors and brought more than 60 people together to share their ideas and experiences from across Scotland.

Oliver Escobar Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Politics & International Relations at University of Edinburgh. 

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Oliver brought us through the context of PB and participation so far in Scotland, exploring the importance of deliberative democracy where it’s more than ‘counting heads’ and instead about supporting discussion on an equal and inclusive basis - deepening participants’ knowledge of issues in play. 

But what’s the difference between dialogue and deliberation? 

  • Dialogue is a form of conversation that focuses on building and understanding and relationships...

  • Deliberation includes reflection on preference, values and interests...

What’s crucial, Oliver said, is combining the both into the ‘D&D’ model. In the context of participatory budgeting, this allows for more exploration, discovery, learning  and scrutiny. It means PB:

  • Helps to reach decisions that are well justified

  • Builds understanding and consent for decisions we may disagree on 

  • Can transform uninformed views and preferences through open and inclusive conversations 

  • Can avoid ‘groupthink’ and the ‘echo chamber effect’ (i.e. law of group polarisation)

“Talk without action can be toothless but action without talk can be mindless.”

Sandra Ross, Community Learning and Development, Aberdeenshire Council

Sandra spoke about her experiences in Aberdeenshire Council working through participatory budgeting and mini publics. Dialogue and deliberation were key parts of these processes, with three mini publics being run in the Aberdeenshire area. 

Participants were paid £50 day and session were designed to ensure people could attend from a range of backgrounds / needs.

The event in Fraserburgh focused on child poverty - a big issue in the local community, where 12 people were asked too contribute their views. Through this process participants developed ideas around the the issue of school meals and food poverty.

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Through contributions from speakers and deliberative discussion, it emerged that some children might go home Friday and not get a full meal until the following Monday. One change that came from the mini public process was having schoolsmeals available earlier in the day, so young people didn’t have to wait until lunchtime, as well as developing breakfast clubs with local businesses.

The key learning from Sandra was…

  • The topic can change - the methods are flexible. 

  • Timings are vital 

  • Be clear to speakers about what they're asked to do

  • Not all participants can make every session, so don't be disheartened. 

“Mini publics one of the most valuable engagement tools I use in my work.”

Discussion and wrapping up


Following both inputs we came together in groups to discuss what we’d heard and delve into three questions:

  • How might we use dialogue and deliberation in our practice?

  • Who supports and facilitates to make this happen?

  • Where does dialogue fit in a PB cycle?

This led to some great discussions and feedback, with the range and depth of knowledge of PB and other participative methods on display from those in the room. Some of the issues raised included:

  • The importance of accessibility of PB events

  • Openness and clarity of information 

  • The amount of time and resources dialogue and deliberation can take

  • Online deliberation - how does that work?

  • The importance of a diversity of voices, but how difficult that can sometimes be for public authorities 

  • How much we can learn from youth focused PB 

  • How well do we do dialogue? Do we have the skills? Do we rush into decision making?

  • The need for good quality facilitation to enable deliberation to happen.

  • Community involvement in deliberative processes

  • How do we move from the ‘quick vote’ appeal to PB towards longer more in depth processes?

  • Ongoing cycle of PB - less about yearly cycles. Getting it into the DNA of how we work.

A huge thanks to everyone to spoke and contributed throughout the day!

You can download the slides from the day here.