In 2003, Transport Canada conducted a pilot study to assess the feasibility of using the deliberative democracy approach to citizen engagement. Deliberative democracy is a unique method of public consultation. Ordinary members of the public are educated on an issue, provided the opportunity to deliberate and discuss it with experts, and then polled to obtain their well-informed opinion on how the government should proceed. For the pilot study, members of the public were consulted on Transport Canada’s options for reducing driver distraction from the next generation of electronic devices available in cars. Known as in-vehicle telematics, these devices include features such as map systems, global positioning systems, built-in hands free cell phones, and office communication technologies. Overall, the study demonstrated that public service managers could meaningfully engage the general public, even on complex regulatory subjects.
The deliberative democracy approach
Deliberative democracy, also referred to as deliberative polling, involves recruiting a representative sample of the general public, polling them to determine their initial views, and then bringing together a representative portion at a single location. Participants receive balanced information about an issue, question the experts, and engage in group discussions before they are polled again. This way, government obtains the views of well-informed members of the public on a given issue.
The Canada West Foundation rates deliberative democracy as the most effective approach for engaging the public in government decision-making because it combines representivity with a forum for information sharing and discussion. Deliberative democracy builds on and improves other citizen engagement and consultation mechanisms. Like the public opinion poll, it selects participants who are representative of the entire population; like the policy conference, it draws on the views of credible experts; like the policy roundtable, it fosters discussion and clarification, with the potential for recommending specific courses of action. Deliberative democracy, therefore, takes advantage of the strengths of each while avoiding their drawbacks when used separately.1
Driver distraction and in-vehicle telematics devices
Transport Canada is concerned that in-vehicle telematics devices are a threat to road safety because they increase driver distraction. This concern is based on a substantial and mounting body of evidence indicating that using these devices impairs driving performance.2
Government’s options for dealing with this issue range from heavy-handed approaches such as regulations, which would ban devices outright, to no involvement at all. In the middle are other options such as issuing advisories to industry and developing memorandums of understanding between government and manufacturers. The issue of driver distraction from in-vehicle telematics devices and these options were presented to participants during the deliberative democracy sessions.
1 Meaningful Consultations: A Contradiction in Terms? Canada West Foundation, September 1997. www.cwf.ca/abcalcwf/doc.nsf/publications?ReadForm&id=4EEF79027424864887256BD30002D75E
2 See The Impact of Cognitive Distraction on Driver Visual Behaviour and Vehicle Control, Road Safety Directorate, Transport Canada (February 2002) www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/tp/tp13889/pdf/tp13889es.pdf
and Strategies for Reducing Driver Distraction from In-Vehicle Telematics Devices: A Discussion Document, Road Safety Directorate, Transport Canada (June 2003).