Deliberative democratic theorists contend that legitimate democratic decision-making must proceed through reasoned and inclusive discussion. Deliberative theories of democracy have been subject to critique, but these critiques generally focus not on whether quality deliberation is desirable but rather on whether it is achievable, as a practical matter.
To address the question of whether and how deliberative ideals might be achieved, and through what method, I examine interest-based or integrative problem-solving as a successful model that might provide such insights. Focusing on three instances of its usage to address complex, multi-stakeholder issues in the labor-management context, I demonstrate how integrative models have enabled participants to overcome historically toxic relationships, incorporate participation by stakeholders with different perspectives and needs, and address tumultuous changes in their fields and institutions.
I then unpack the mechanics of interest-based methodology, beginning by examining its theoretical origins in the work of Mary Parker Follett. Building on that theoretical foundation, I examine how Follett’s theories have been implemented in contemporary interest-based processes, focusing in particular on how Follett’s transformative view of conflict resolution contrasts with the more transactional model promoted by most deliberative democrats. This difference is directly reflected in the techniques used in Folletian conflict resolution processes, which seek to capitalize on the existence of conflict to drive effective and meaningful participation. Follett’s integrative methods, I contend, directly answer many of the critiques of traditional processes of deliberative democracy.
Last, I consider the implications of interest-based methods for political decision-making. These include what types of issues, communities, and participants most lend themselves to deliberative models of decision-making; the critical role of training and facilitation to the success of deliberative models; and the ways in which process can be used to address the issues of capacity, power, epistemology, and feasibility that have plagued more traditional modes of deliberation when empirically tested. From this analysis, I conclude that interest-based models are worthy of continuing study and implementation in the political context, and I suggest avenues of further potential study and trial implementation.