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Small Differences that Matter: The Impact of Discussion Modalities on Deliberative Outcomes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2014


An experiment on the extension of the political rights of foreigners in the Swiss city of Geneva used three different procedural ways to structure deliberation: participants take positions at the outset, do not take positions, and reflect first. Most opinion change occurred when participants did not have to take a position at the outset. However, no learning effects were recorded, the deliberative quality was poor and group influence had the greatest impact. When participants had to take a position at the outset, opinion change and group influence were least, but there was significant learning, and the deliberative quality was better. These results indicate a potential trade-off between opinion change – which many scholars equate with deliberative success – and good procedural deliberative quality.

© Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Department of Sociology, University of Geneva; Department of Political Science, University of Luzern; Department of Sociology; University of Geneva, respectively (emails:;; The authors wish to thank Simone Chambers, Michael Bechtel, Alex Gabadinho, Dominik Hangartner, Annabelle Lever, Michael McKenzie, Paul Quirk, Mark Warren, participants at two Geneva brownbag seminars (April and June 2013), participants at the annual conference of the ‘Arbeitskreis Handlungs- und Entscheidungstheorie’ (Munich, June 2013), three reviewers, and the editor Bob Goodin for excellent comments and suggestions on previous versions of this article. For excellent research assistance, they thank Julien Barut and Alexis Scherrer. They are grateful to all the students who contributed as moderators and technicians. They acknowledge financial support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF Grants 100017_143210 and PP00P1_128576). The online appendix and data replication sets are available at http://; 10.1017/S0007123414000167.



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