Public opinion formation for democratic decision-making in local governments

Guoray Cai, Ye Tian, Jessica Kropczynski, John M. Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The legitimacy of public decision-making in democratic government is often challenged by its lack of capability for representing the public and their true preferences. This paper revisits existing methods of eliciting public opinions through the lens of structured public decision making, and highlights the importance of establishing public value and solid decision analysis before measuring public opinion. While deliberative mini-publics have been used to enable informed and reasoned judgment, they are vague on how opinions can be formed deliberatively and can not work well with highly complex and controversial issues that often have unclear value criteria. Following deliberative systems thinking, we argue for a three-phase process where opinions from the general public are elicited only after public values and solid decision analysis have been established. The working of this approach requires concatenation of three deliberative forums that establish legitimate public values, decision knowledge, and public opinions in synchronization with the three phases of public decision-making. We applied this approach on a real community issue in State College Borough (Pennsylvania), and developed a practical solution, Community OPinion Elicitation (COPE). COPE is a process that sequences two mini-publics (for public value identification and decision analysis) and one mass deliberation (for public opinion elicitation). While we observed positive impacts, it remains challenging to assess the method empirically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-99
Number of pages27
JournalInformation Polity
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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