Democracy in Small Groups:
Participation, Decision Making, and Communication
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.When a decision is made that involves more than one person, the decision can often be made through a democratic procedure. Whether the setting is a classroom, a community group, a family, or a senate chamber, group decision making can proceed according to democratic or undemocratic principles. Democracy in Small Groups was written for those who want a better understanding of what makes a small group democratic. People usually use the word "democratic" when critiquing or praising large-scale political systems, and scholars and activists have discussed at length the meaning of large-scale democracy. This book is one of the first to provide a detailed understanding of democracy at the small group level. This book also provides practical guidance for those who want to know how to start a small democratic group or make their current groups more democratic.
There will never be a cookbook for democracy, because humans and their social appetites are ever-changing. Nonetheless, Democracy in Small Groups provides a few cooking tips. Different groups have different experiences, but almost everyone has encountered some of the most common group problems. Exceedingly long meetings, for example, are a ubiquitous phenomenon, and they can obstruct the democratic process in many ways. Groups that wish to proceed democratically must also find ways to adapt their procedures to compensate for large memberships, time pressures, and external power constraints. Finally, Democracy in Small Groups provides ideas and suggestions for those who wish to apply the principles of small group democracy to their wider social lives and to their larger world.
The copyright on Democracy in Small Groups has reverted to me, and I have chosen to make this book available for free download. Use any of the links below to download, print, or circulate the complete book or pdfs for specific chapters.
Follow-up notes on Democracy in Small Groups:
- The Jury and Democracy shows the power of small group democracy in the most enduring institutionalized deliberative body comprised entirely of lay citizens.
- The Citizens' Initiative Review process established by Oregon's legislature in 2009 shows the potential power of a small democratic group to improve the deliberation of a large-scale election.
- Political Communication and Deliberation provides an in-depth examination of deliberation, which was part of the central definition of democratic group process in Democracy in Small Groups.
- The Deliberative Democracy Handbook provides concrete examples of democratic group processes oriented toward improving public discussions and decisions.