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Can Deliberative Minipublics Overcome the

Anti-Deliberative Effects of Framing?

Aubin Calvert, University of British Columbia

Mark E. Warren, University of British Columbia

Paper presented to the 2012 Meeting of the Western Political Science Association
Portland, Oregon. March 22-24, 2012.


Can Deliberative Minipublics Overcome the Anti-Deliberative Effects of Framing?


When democracies channel decision-making into deliberative venues that include those affected

by decisions, they will tend to produce decisions that are better more legitimate. These effects

follow intrinsically from deliberation, just because it involves persuasion based on reference to

facts, norms, and interests. At least, this is the ideal that is basic to most contemporary

democratic theory, and most explicitly theorized in deliberative democratic theory. The quality of

deliberation in actually existing democracies, however, remains a prima facie challenge. Public

discourse about important issues from health care reform to crime, from abortion to climate

change, from financial regulation to income inequality, and from immigration to aging

populations, often suffers from polarization, inattention to evidence, thin menus of alternatives,

name-calling, scape-goating, and, sometimes, racist, ethnocentric, or other forms of speech that

erode the very conditions of deliberation. Of course, to the extent that public discourse is

political, we should expect it to have a rough and tumble quality. And if, however rough and

tumble, such speech leads, over time, to broader, more inclusive, more plus-sum political

judgments, then deliberative democrats should have little cause to worry (Mansbridge, et al.,

forthcoming). But much public discourse may reflect what political psychologists call framing

effects. Frames organize cognition by bundling claims into a framework, such that any particular

claim brings with it unreflective judgments about other claims. Insofar as they are pre-reflective,

frames undermine the autonomy of individual judgment. Insofar as they include pre-judgments

about others, they risk undermining the status of individuals as beings who can be moved by

persuasion. Both effects undermine deliberation.


Yet framing effects are an inevitable part of politicsdeliberative or otherwisefor two

reasons. First, frames make up the cognitive structures with which people can understand issues,

form preferences, and share a common set of references for discussing them with others. Frames

are inevitablewe need them to talk and think. Second, many democratic institutions are

structured in ways that incentivize frames, just because democracies crowd much conflict into

speech, and then structure speech competitivelyinto campaigns, sound bites, legislative

debates, advocacy, and media market appeal. Under these circumstances, adversaries will seek

favourable framing effects wherever they can, and use increasingly sophisticated techniques,

such as focus-group testing, to find strategically effective frames.

We make two arguments in this paper. Our first is this: by specifying the nature of

framing effects from the perspective of deliberative ideals, we can separate out the generic

functions of framing (which are inevitable) from three more specific kinds of framing that are

problematic (which are not inevitable). We refer to these problematic frames as dominant,

polarizing, and group-based. Our second argument is that, by specifying the kinds of threats each

of these frames poses to deliberation, we can identify institutional responses. Empirical research

suggests that cross-cutting conversations and exposure to heterogeneous frames reduce their

effects, through a combination of frames canceling each other out and prompting more careful

reflection (Chong & Druckman, 2007b, p. 113). Institutions that build on this finding should be

able to combat the anti-deliberative effects of frames. We focus on one institution in particular:

deliberative minipublics. A deliberative minipublic is a body focused on a particular problem or

issue, comprised of individuals selected as a representative sample of the constituency relevant to

the problem or issue, which learns and deliberates about the issue, and then issues advise or

decisions. Minipublics open up possibilities for institutional design by structuring deliberation


through time, information, and facilitatorsin such a way as to mitigate the anti-deliberative

influence of problematic frames. If they are properly situated, results of such processes could, at

least in principle, feed back into public discourse, providing a check on such influence.

We proceed as follows. In the first section, we elaborate the epistemic and ethical

problems frame pose for deliberative democracy. In the second section, we provide an overview

of empirical literature on the psychology of frameshow they work, and different types. Third,

we identify three kinds of frames that should be cause for particular concerndominant,

polarizing, and group-based framesand set them apart from more generic kinds of framing. In

the fourth section, we ask what needs to be accomplished in order to extract better effects from

these types of frames. Fifth, we look at how these effects might be addressed by the features of

minipublic design. We conclude with another research agenda: understanding how minipublics

might counter the anti-deliberative effects of framing within the broader deliberative system.

The Problem

Frames can be understood as a speakers emphasis on a subset of potentially relevant

considerations causes individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their

opinions (Druckman, 2001, p. 1042). They can be built on metaphors, analogies, symbols, and

narratives (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Nelson & Kinder, 1996). To some extent, frames are

inevitable as a part of political strategy. For social movements, frames perform the essential tasks

of identifying a problematic condition, making attributions of blame, articulating alternatives,

and urging others to act (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 615). Likewise, organized interests have

incentives to ensure a specific understanding of an issue is taken up, and deploy sound-bites,

slogans, analogies and imagery to that end (Nelson, Oxley, & Clawson, 1997). When faced with

incentives to get third parties on-side with a given issue, political actors deploy frames to


ensure that an issue is seen interpreted in a way that favours their interests. The time and

resources devoted to determining what kind of language and frames resonate is evidence of what

political strategists know well: frames are a powerful form of influence.

But now consider framing from the perspective of deliberative democratic theory. The

theory holds that deliberative venues have the potential to produce better, more legitimate

decisions. These effects follow from those affected by a decision using persuasion to influence

choice by referencing facts, norms and interests. These normatively desirable effects depend,

however, upon two conditions. The first is autonomy: in order for persuasion to be a normatively

desirable form of influence, actors should be able to give reasons for their claims that reflect their

considered judgments. They should be able to justify their claims to others, based on reasons

they consider to be their own, in contrast (say) to unreflectively repeating arguments acquired

from authorities or the media. This deliberative requirement is primarily epistemichaving to do

with the range of considerations that can be introduced into deliberation, the weight they are

given, and the depth of reflection on claims. The second requirement of the deliberative

democratic ideal is that those affected by a decision be recognized in their capacity as speakers

as potential contributors of meaningful reasons. To respond to a claim is to enact recognition of

another, insofar as they are sources of claims that demand response (Warren, 2006). In very

much this spirit, Rawls refers to persons as self-authenticating sources of value claims (Rawls,

1993, p. 72). This requirement can be conceptualized as primarily ethicaldeliberative

democratic ideals depend upon conditions that bring forth the recognitions of others as speakers

that are implied in the illocutionary features of speech acts.

Framing effects can and often do compromise the epistemic and ethical conditions for

deliberation, in this way undermining deliberative democratic ideals. Frames affect the way that


arguments are weighed. They limit the range of competing considerations actors draw on in their

reasoning processes. Whether through slogans, images, symbols or metaphors, when frames are

embedded in arguments, influence is secured through how something is presented, more so than

its substance, undermining the epistemic value of deliberation. And to the extent that frames

embed prejudgments of groups that violate mutual recognitionprejudicesthey damage the

ethical conditions for deliberation.

At the same time, frames are not only inevitablewe could not think of deliberate

without thembut some kinds of frames may be autonomy-enabling. In addition to being a

mode of political strategy, frames are an inevitable part of persuasion. According to Nelson and

Kinder, frames teach ordinary citizens how to think about and understand complex social policy

problems (1996, p. 1058). They constitute the cognitive structures by which thinking on

matters of policy is organized within the minds of individual citizens (Nelson & Kinder, 1996,

p. 1073). In this sense, frames necessarily prior to opinion formation on a policy issue: they

enable people to understand the problem and form preferences, because although they may not

have an opinion on a specific policy, they may have opinions on general types of solutions to

which a policy is linked or compared (by way of a policy metaphor or frame) (Lau &

Schlesinger, 2005). At a minimum, the metaphorical structure of language (Lakoff & Johnson,

1981) and the analogical structures embedded in reasoning (Musolff, 2004) ensure that the

influence of words go beyond what is said. Moreover, the presence of a frame in discourse on an

issue may enable deliberation. For instance, a frame that says an issue pertains to a specific value

equality, freedom, or compassion, for instancegive people common terms of reference for

meaningful conversation (Brewer & Gross, 2005).


Insofar as we link deliberative democracy with autonomous opinion formation under

conditions of mutual respect, deliberative democratic theory needs to be more attentive to

frames. The values and beliefs that deliberative democracy is supposed to draw out may precede

framing effects, but opinion formation does not. Frames may range from relatively benign

aspects of cognition to outright manipulation, with most lying somewhere in between. Whether

carefully deployed with attention to strategies and goals, or taken up from conversation as a

cognitive shortcut, frames are a feature of the discursive landscape in which deliberation takes

place. This observation yields three important questions. First, how do frames work? Second,

what are the problematic features of frames, from the standpoint of deliberative ideals? And

third, can we design institutions that counteract the undesirable features of frames, while

transforming their inevitable features into supports for deliberative ideals?

How Frames Work

In order to understand the potentially harmful effects of frames on autonomous judgment and on

the conditions for democratic deliberation, we need a better understanding of how frames operate

how they manage to secure a degree of influence that outstrips that precedes deliberatively-

generated influence. Generall speaking, framing works through selection and

salience (Entman, 1993, p. 52). The framing literature highlights several different types of

frames. Equivalency frames offer logically equivalent statements cast in a positive or negative

light, whereas issue frames emphasize different considerations (Chong & Druckman, 2007b, p.

114). A significant subset of the framing literature has also focused on value frames, which link

issue positions with core values (Brewer, 2001, pp. 46-47). Value frames to introduce or impose

an interpretation on audiences of what a value means in a specific context, an effect that

exemplifies many of the concerns framing ought to pose for autonomy in deliberation.


In order to distinguish framing from persuasion effects, Nelson et al (1997) introduce a

weighing account of frames, which was subsequently adopted by many scholars studying the

political psychology of frames (Brewer, 2001; Chong & Druckman, 2007b; Nelson & Kinder,

1996; Nelson, et al., 1997). The weight parameter conceptualizes framing effects as follows: in

any judgment situation, people are called upon to weigh conflicting considerationsthe benefits

and risks of nuclear power, for instance. A frame shapes the relative weight supporters (or

opponents) give to the different considerations. By contrast, persuasionthe kind of influence

that is valued by deliberative democratic theoryoperates by actually changing beliefs (Nelson,

et al., 1997, p. 226).

Although the weighing mechanism in framing research has been widely adopted, others

also point out that frames alter the accessibility of beliefs (Chong & Druckman, 2007b, p. 119;

Druckman, 2004), sometimes as a function of emotional engagement (Gross & D'Ambrosio,

2004). The question of accessibility raises another tension in the political psychological literature

on framing: the distinction between passive and thoughtful receivers. According to Brewer

(2001), the accessibility account is more consistent with a passive receiver model of framing

effects, which assumes that citizens spend little time or energy considering the frames that are

put to them, and responses consisted of the automatic psychological processes (Brewer, 2001, p.

931; Brewer & Gross, 2005). By contrast, recent work in framing has favored the thoughtful

receiver model, which recognizes the possibility of active deliberation in response to messages

(Brewer, 2001, p. 48). In the thoughtful receiver model, effects depend on audience reactions to

the frame. Brewers results show, for example, that anti-welfare frames premised on the value of

compassion only produced opinion shift among those who were not angered by the frame

(Brewer, 2001, p. 60). Likewise, Barkers study of value frames in presidential nomination


campaigns seems to confirm the thoughtful receiver model. According to Barkers findings,

framing effects depend in part on whether people think considerations they raise are important or

relevant (Barker, 2005, p. 376; Chong & Druckman, 2007a, p. 640). At the same time, Barker

also notes that some of the cognitive processing in response to cues is relatively automatic, in the

sense that certain cues produce positive and negative reactions, depending how they mesh with

that individuals assumptions about how the world works (2005, p. 377).

In considering the implications of framing effects for deliberation, we need to

acknowledge the potential influence of all these dynamics. Chong and Druckman navigate the

distinctions by arguing that frames operate at multiple levels: by making new beliefs available

about an issue, making certain available beliefs accessible, or making beliefs applicable or

strong in peoples evaluations (2007b, p. 111). Availability, accessibility and applicability

influence both individual judgment and interpersonal deliberation For instance, Brewer and

Gross (2005) find that frames not only affect the direction of opinion shift, but also how people

construct their responses to questions: if a frame introduces a value as pertinent, participants are

more likely to invoke that value in describing their own thoughts (Brewer & Gross, 2005, p.

943). On the one hand, they argue, this might provide opponents with a shared frame of reference

to discuss an issue. On the other hand, it may render public deliberation less rich and diverse by

limiting the range of considerations likely to be introduced (Brewer & Gross, 2005, p. 944). The

key insight, here, is that framing affects not only how people respond to reasons, but also how

they formulate thema finding that highlights forms of talk-based influence that operate prior to

deliberative influence generated by giving and responding to reasons.

A second key finding from empirical studies of framing concerns the effects of

heterogeneity. Many studies have found that counter-framing and exposure to heterogeneous


frames limit their effects by promoting deliberate cognitive processing (Chong & Druckman,

2007a; Druckman, 2004; Druckman & Nelson, 2003), and by increasing the range of accessible

considerations (Chong & Druckman, 2007a, p. 652). However, these findings must be qualified

in a number of respects. First, audience characteristics vary in terms of knowledge (Brewer,

2003); the credibility they ascribe to those advancing a frame (Druckman, 2001, p. 1061); their

psychological need to evaluate and on-line or memory based processing style (Druckman &

Nelson, 2003); and the time at which they were exposed to competing frames (Chong &

Druckman, 2010). There is strong evidence that these differences produce variation in the effect

of frames. A second important source of variation is frame strength. Chong and Druckman

(2007a) find that in multiple frame situations, the strong frame will trump a frequent one. What

makes a frame strong is still unclear, though it likely goes well beyond the substance behind the

frame and into the political context leading to its emergence (Chong & Druckman, 2007a, p.

653). These considerations are relevant to the question to whether deliberative contexts might be

structured in such a way as to counteract some of the more harmful effects of framing, which we

address in our discussion of minipublics below. In much of the empirical literature on the

psychology of framing, the presentation of results is followed by conclusions speculating on the

implications of their findings for the quality of contemporary democraciesfor citizens ability

to think and talk about policy issues and to make genuine choices. We take these scholars

speculations about the implications of their findings as our starting point: given that frames shape

judgments about people and policies through the dynamic processes identified in this section,

how can democratic societies still derive the epistemic, ethical, and legitimacy benefits of

deliberative responses to political conflict and decision-making?

Problematic Frames: Dominant, Polarizing and Group-Based


Frames are inevitable and, in many cases, indispensable elements of communication and

persuasion. At the same time, they can be pathological for deliberation, either directly by

subsuming autonomous judgment to the goals and interests of strategic actors, or indirectly by

undermining the ethical conditions for deliberation. As such, the first task for a theory of

democratic deliberation seeking to account for frames is to establish when and how frames

become problematic. In order to understand the particular problems frames pose for deliberation

and democratic autonomy, it is useful to return to the theory of communication that underwrites

much of deliberative democratic theory. Of particular importance is the notion that an exchange

of reasons can cary with it a normatively desirable form of influence the force of the better

argument (Habermas, 1984, p. 25). This notion is grounded in Habermass universal pragmatics,

in which speech acts gain their influence from the exchange of warrants to redeem different types

of validity claims.

Rather than starting with Habermass universal pragmatics, however, we focus on Robert

Brandoms more recent pragmatic account of language use as deontic scorekeeping, as

articulated in Making it Explicit. The basic idea is that in communicating, people make claims

that constitute commitments, which have meaning only insofar as they exist in a web of

commitments connected through logical/conditional and a normative/ought type inferential

relationships. Competent language users, according to Brandom, keep track of one anothers

commitments and entitlements. They engage in deontic scorekeeping with respect to one

another, reflecting a trail of linked promises and inferences upon which actors rely as they

coordinate their interactions. When there is disagreement over the deontic score (the set of

commitments and entitlements an actor has incurred at a given point) they are forced to make

these inferential relationships explicit in order to work out the disagreement (Brandom, 1998).


Brandoms pragmatics enable us to think about the influence of frames in terms of

inferential structures. We can conceptualize frames as bundling validity claims, such that

signing on to one part of the frameperhaps the more obviously acceptable partcommits the

hearer to a number of other beliefs and commitments by virtue of the inferential structure: the set

of commitment-preserving and entitlement-preserving conditional and normative relationships

embedded in the frame. These further commitments, by virtue of their implicit status within the

frame, are not subject to reflective judgmentthat is, the testing of validity claims that enables

deliberative democracy to lay claim to the force of the better argument. In the remainder of this

section, we identify three problematic types of frames to which democratic theory needs to be

particularly attentive. We are, of course, ideal-typing these frames in oder to highlight those

features of actual frames that are likely to undermine the epistemic and ethical conditions for


Dominant frames

A dominant frame is one that functions to produce a pre-deliberative consensus, usually defining

a problem as being solely of one type, or admitting only one possible solution. In their discussion

of policy metaphors, Lau and Schlesinger (2005) argue that when an information environment

consists of a single interpretation it is likely to lead to shallow processing. In these cases, people

will be influenced more by the interpretation provided by the frame than by their own beliefs,

and are even blocked by the interpretation from engaging their own beliefs. By contrast, in

environments with multiple interpretations, people are likely to employ more complex

information processing strategies (Lau & Schlesinger, 2005).

Dominant frames are problematic for deliberation primarily for epistemic reasons. The

epistemic argument for deliberation claims that deliberative outcomes are better because they


incorporate an expanded pool of reasons and draw on a range of perspectives (Bohman, 2006;

Estlund, 1997). The epistemic dimension of the framing problem, as outlined above, refers to the

importance not just of introducing a range of reasons to discussion, but of giving each reason

considered judgment. By limiting the pool of possible reasons, dominant frames short circuit the

process by which actors raise and test validity claims. Moreover, the influence of argument is

only normatively desirable to the extent that it relies on actors freedom to accept or reject the

validity claims on the basis of reasons all can accept. By making some considerations more

salient, framing induces choice (Barker, 2005, p. 375). Dominant frames can be conceptualized

as limiting the availability, accessibility or weight of contravening reasons, thereby lending a

claim more influence than it would merit were it to be tested.

Consider the example of debates over health-care reform in Canada. When the issue is

raised, there is a strong tendency for speakers to immediately suggest that if we compromise on

any principles of universal, public healthcare as it is currently implemented under the Canada

Health Act, we are necessarily taking an inevitable step towards American-style privatization.

The privatization frame is in turn implicitly linked to several others: (a) the introduction of

markets in health care providers; (b) providers are for-profit entities; and (c) access to health care

is no longer universal, but determined by the ability to pay. In this way, reform becomes code

for for-profit entities seeking to enter the Canadian market, which is in turn associated with

greed, inequality, and the expensive and poorly performing health care system in the US. In this

way, the dominant frame links reform to a set of claims about undesirable values and

consequences, while implicitly affirming that the Canadian system is universal, egalitarian, and

high quality. The frame makes it difficult for most Canadians to recognize, let alone discuss facts

that reflect poorly on the system, and which should be an impetus to discuss reform. For


example, few Canadians know that the World Health Organizations last comparative study of

health system performance ranked Canada 30thbelow almost every developed democracy,

although above the United States (World Health Organization, 2000, p. 152). Few, even among

policy professionals, know anything about the mixes of policies that enable France, for example,

to run the highest performing health system in the world for less money, since the dominant

frame defaults to comparison with the United States.

Polarizing frames

A second type of frame that should be troubling to democratic theorists is the polarizing frame,

or rather, polarizing sets of frames. In these instances, competing groups work to frame an issue

differently, and so draw in some subset of considerations from those who process it. For instance,

two competing frames may characterize an issue as primarily economic or primarily

environmental. Not only do these frames define problems in competing ways, but each has a set

of entailments, perhaps laying responsibility on certain actors or delimiting the range of

acceptable solutions.

The damage wrought by polarizing frames is both epistemic and ethical, though the latter

is largely a result of the former. Epistemically, deliberation cannot do its work if people are

talking past one another. Brewer (2001), for example, argues that in welfare reform debates, both

sides tried to link their arguments to the core value of compassion. Subsequently, both sides

accused the other of attempting to redefine the meaning of compassion, while at the same time

putting forward their own definitions (Brewer, 2001). Elsewhere, Brewer (2003) argues that

competing frames actually enable values based deliberation because people are more likely to

use political knowledge to connect values and issues. While it may be the case that competing

frames prompt individual thoughtful processing, what is not immediately clear is whether the


presence of competing frames helps or hinders interpersonal deliberation. If frames serve to

bundle assumptions about problem causes and consequences; attitudes towards the relative

importance of different considerations; and orientations towards potential solutions, opposing

frames may make it difficult for actors to communicate about any subset of these. For example,

actors evaluation of the merit of competing solutions to a problem depends on the causes they

associate with the problem, which in turn shapes how they weigh the consequences of various

courses of action (or inaction). Polarizing frames ensure that arguments cannot be fully tested

because, in a sense, claims within a frame provide their own validity conditions.

Although the harmful effects of polarizing frames are in the first instance epistemic,

certain ethical harms may follow. Not only do frames create difficulties because actors speak past

one another, but they may also create disincentives to speak at all by creating an environment of

epistemic discounting, in which any argument that appears to be grounded in a competing

frame, regardless of its content, is given less weight. Ascribing to interlocutors beliefs associated

with a certain frame may lead to to speakers viewing one another as incapable of being moved

by argumentsas ideological, closed-minded, or dogmaticwhich in turn damages the kind of

ethical recognition and respect of others as claim-makers necessary to produce deliberative


Consider the example of the debate over further development of the oil sands in northern

Alberta, Canada. Discourse around this problem typically takes one of two positions: either the

oil sands are treated primarily as an economic issue, or they are treated primarily as an

environmental issue. Although they are undoubtedly both, and many accounts address both

aspects, the relative weight given to these considerations can vary dramatically. Such polarization

makes it difficult, if not impossible, for actors to agree on anything without endorsing other


aspects of the frame: the nature, sources, and culprits of the problem, and the likely

consequences of various courses of action. As a consequence, the force of the better argument

cannot take hold. The presence of two strong frames make arguments slipperyarguments

grounded in one frame have no purchase on the commitment structures bounded by another. In

such situations, influence necessarily results either from which frame can secure broadest appeal

or, of greater concern, from the relative power of proponents of a given problem- definition

apart from whatever reasons may be given for or against their positions.

Group-Based Frames

Often, frames also invoke peoples thinking about groups. According to Nelson and Kinder,

frames enable people to use their judgments about groupsand particularly the moral

qualifications of the intended beneficiaries of a policyto form opinions (1996, p. 1071). Gross

and DAmbrosio (2004) add that causal pathways in group-based frames pass through emotion:

frames produce patterns of emotional response that affect cognition, lending weight to the

concern that frames operate in part through emotional manipulation. The basic idea is that claims

about groups of peopleoften in the form of stereotypesare packaged into arguments about a

political decision.

This sort of framing implies many of the same epistemic concern as other types of

frames: the ability to induce choice by bypassing active reflection, either through salience,

weight, accessibility or emotion. To a greater extent than dominating and polarizing frames,

however, the harms of group-based frames are primarily ethical, as they deny to group members

the recognition of equal status as speakers. Group-based stereotype or prejudgments embedded

in frames may perpetuate status inequalities in ways that make deliberation difficult or

impossible because they undermine mutual recognition and respect (Warren, 2006, p. 163). This


type of frame positions people as objects, rather than subjects, of deliberation, thereby delimiting

the possibilities for reciprocity in the exchange of reasons. Such frames devalue the potential

interests and arguments of some groups, who in turn respond to this devaluation. A perceived

inability to get through to those who have signed onto a group-based frame may then

reproduce itself through internalization of the judgments of the other, so much so that any efforts

towards deliberation by group members will be viewed as naive, misplaced, while even good

faith efforts by members of dominant groups will be interpreted as cynically strategic.

Although nothing about the definition of group-based frames thus far requires that they

perpetuate negative judgments about a social group, such examples are more immediately

apparent from existing political discourse. Nelson and Kinder (1996) highlight a number of

instances in which beliefs about groups function as heuristics to reduce judgment of a policy to

judgment of a group. Attitudes towards welfare programs tend to turn on whether recipients

deserve aid (1996, p. 1056) or general predispositions combined with attributions of whether

they are responsible for their own situations (Gross & D'Ambrosio, 2004, p. 11). In the United

States, welfare is often a frame-based code for Black, thus associating undeserving, (and

often other implicit signifiers, including promiscuous, drug-using, etc.) with race. In this way, the

stereotypical figure of the welfare mother (Nelson & Kinder, 1996, p. 1057) not only preempts

considerations of facts and contextsthe frame closes the casebut strips the objects of the

frame of ethical status. What Nelson and Kinder call the freeloader frame (Nelson & Kinder,

1996, p. 1061) means that members of that group cannot enter deliberation because they lack the

recognition necessary to influence others through claims.

We summarize these ideal types of problematic frames in Table 1 [Table 1 about here].

Some frames may fall into multiple categories. For instance, the frame of the welfare freeloader,


in addition to inducing group-based judgments, might also be considered a dominant frame, in

the sense that it is well known, frequently invoked, and seemingly immovable. Nevertheless,

these ideal types capture the nature of problematic frames influence, so they can give us a sense

of what has to be corrected for if we are to recalibrate the relative balance between reflective,

autonomous judgment and necessity of frames as cognitive and persuasive apparatus.

Table 1. Framing Effects that Undermine Deliberation

Frame Type Characteristics Damage to deliberation Examples
relevant to
Dominant Shallow cognitive processing Primarily epistemic: Canadian
healthcare reform
Insufficient testing of reasons Dominant frames circumvent
processes of opinion and will
formation by limiting range of
considerations; undermines
communicative freedom to take yes/
no positions on validity claims on
the basis of reasons
Polarizing People talking past one another, Epistemic and ethical: The Alberta Oil
even if competing frames enables Sands
Polarizing frames make it difficult to
deeper processing.
weigh individual claims apart from
the frames in which they are
embedded (epistemic).
Presence of polarizing frames may
lead to discounting pinions of
others in their entirety because they
subscribe to one part of a frame,
undermining speaker status (ethical)

Group-based Judgments about a political Primarily ethical: Welfare reform

decision on one dimension
Group-based frames undermine the
(judgment of a group)
mutual respect, trust, reciprocity etc.
overshadows or impedes
necessary for interlocutors to enter
judgment about arguments for or
discourse on equal footing.
against a decision


Deliberative Minipublics

Can we design institutions that respond to these problematic frames? Our analysis so far tells us

what an institution must accomplish if it is to combat problematic frames. While there are many

institutional arrangements that might counter problematic frames, here we shall focus on

deliberative minipublics. By deliberative minipublic we mean a body focused on a particular

problem or issue, comprised of individuals selected as a representative sample of the

constituency relevant to the problem or issue. The body learns and deliberates about the problem,

and the process culminates in advice or decisions. Each of these elements of minipublic design

should help limit the impact of problematic frames. In this section, we address the features of

minipublics that should have these effects across problematic frames. In the following section,

we address considerations specific to each kind of problematic frame.

First, institutional design should limit incentives for using problematic frames. This ideal

weighs in favour of deliberative bodies that are selected from a constituency or public, rather

than elected or self-selected. Selection might take a number of forms, depending upon the issue,

including random or near-random selection or stratified sampling. There are a variety of reasons

to prefer selection of this kind, but with respect to incentives, it is important that members are

free from pressures of competitive re-election that incentivize problematic frames. It is also

important that such bodies avoid self-selection, which biases participation toward those who are

heavily invested in particular positions, since investments may often come with problematic

frames attached.

Second, institutional design should limit the opportunities for problematic frames.

Random, near-random, or stratified sampling will produce some of these effects, since broad

cross-sections of publics are more likely to multiply frames and dilute opportunities for frame-


based coalitions. But there is another ideal design feature as well: bodies should be formed

around problems or issues, as opposed to (say) ideologies and platforms, as are political parties.

It is often the case that problems that are deserving of deliberative attention are also those that

cut across received frames, and so decrease the psychological utility of received frames. This

feature of design also affects the selection process itself: the pool from which participants are

selected should, ideally, be defined as that the constituency of those most affected by a problem,

so that there are effective incentives to focus on the problem rather than the frame.

Third, because they are designed, minipublics provide the opportunity for trust-building

among participants, often necessary for especially fraught or divisive issues. For issues to be

deliberated, participants must recognize others as willing and capable of committing to what they

assert, claim, and argue. Fears that others are insincere, manipulative, hiding their meanings, and

the like make it difficult for participants to respond to claims. Likewise, participants must trust

one another enough to ask, probe, and evoke in good faith. This kind of atmosphere must often

be created, particularly across divides of race, ethnicity, and class, and often requires trained


Fourth, institutions constituted in these ways are more likely to enable deliberation to do

its work. We can think of this function as relating to two features of design. One is learning:

frames often become less compelling the more individuals learn about the relevant universes of

facts, the positions of others, and so on. Thus, minipublic design should incorporate not only

learning materials, but also testimony from advocates, experts, and others who can add

information, complexity, and nuance. The second feature of design involves, simply, facilitating

deliberation itself, often by means of trained facilitators. As we indicated above, the pragmatic

account of language underwriting much of deliberative democracythe notion that actors raise,


test, and accept or reject validity claims, whether implicitly or explicitly, in order to coordinate

actionsuggests that problematic frames work because they bundle validity claims. When

people sign on to one compelling claim, they commit themselves to a range of other claims, and

exclude alternatives from consideration. These considerations imply that, at minimum, correcting

for this type of influence requires disaggregating the range of claims embedded in frames so that

each might be subjected to reflective judgmentto reordering, re-prioritizing, and re-imagining

the relative importance and implications of considerations other than original framing might have

suggested. Disaggregating does not mean that each claim stands or falls separately: any

universe of claims are likely to be logically and practically interconnected. Rather, the idea

would be to make the range of claims explicit (see Brandom, 1998) to enhance autonomous

judgment, and to combat what Robert Goodin calls smuggling in the goods (Goodin, 1980, p.

96)a form of manipulation he associates with rhetorical questions that commit audiences to

premises or implications that would be rejected if they were addressed explicitly. As with trust-

building, the capacities of minipublics to make it explicit can often be increased by trained


Finally, it is important that minipublics have a task that is linked to the agenda, whether it

is setting a new agenda, providing a new form of input into public opinion, advising an agency or

legislative body, or making decisions. This feature of design complements the initial problem or

issue that provides the body with a reason for existence, and is likely to keep participants on task,

focused on what is doablewhich in turn will often crosscut problematic frames.

Frame Specific Considerations

These are, however, general considerations. We can theorize other minipublic design

considerations that are specific to minipublic responses to each kind of problematic frame.


Dominant Frames

A basic insight from the empirical literature on framing is that exposure to counterframes

moderates the effects of each frame, whether by prompting careful reflection or canceling out

eachothers influence (Druckman, 2004). But is this strategy sufficient to counter dominant

frames? Chong and Druckman find that strong frames will trump weaker frames even when the

latter are frequently repeated (Chong & Druckman, 2007a). As such, minipublics intended to

respond to dominant frames must be attentive to the specific risk that merely exposing people to

alternative views of the problem may not be sufficient to dislodge, or get people to think outside

of, dominant frames. This is particularly true in light of the fact that audiences engage in

something like selective hearing, in the sense that, although they may be exposed to multiple

frames and act on the ones they find persuasive, this persuasiveness depends as much on how

well the frame resonates with already held core values and world views as it does on a careful

weighing of its assumptions and implications (Barker, 2005). Indeed, left to their own devices,

there is an additional risk that participants will simply replicate existing dominant frames, as

typically happens, for example, in any discussion of changes to the healthcare delivery in


In the case of highly dominant frames, then, it may not be enough to expose people to

competing frames by introducing alternative viewpoints to the conversation, either because these

competing frames are not as strong, or because the dominant frame has become so embedded

that nothing else resonates quite as well. Stated otherwise, how might an institution indue people

to challenge their assumptions, to examine information excluded by the dominant frame, and to

think in new ways about the problem and potential solutions?


One of the key institutional aims for all problematic frames is to reduce incentives to fall

back on familiar problem definitions and solutionsfamiliar frames. Focusing the agenda on a

specific practical problem is one such technique. When organizers have some control over the

agenda, they can disaggregate issues, which both reduces the cognitive demands on participants,

and also focuses questions in ways that enable relevant forms of information to be brought to

bear. For example, in the case of healthcare reform, participants could address the specific

questions around hospital funding and whether it should be tied to patients, instead of, for

instance, debating the entirety of the Canada Health Act, let alone health care systems more

generally. This tactic can often free up space for people to think creatively, while reducing the

sense of risky uncertainty for participants when asked to weigh in on a complex policy area.

Although each frame generates important considerations around learning, the nature of this

learning differs across problematic frame types. In the case of dominant frames, educational

material, whether speakers, written material or websites, should be oriented to introducing

possible alternatives not typically present in discourse, and prompting creative responses.

However, organizers should be conscious of the risks of the event itself priming certain

reactions: framing the event around a need to challenge a dominant frame carries the risk of

failing to recognize aspects of the dominant frame that remain persuasive and valuable to

participants, even when challenged. Facilitators with patronizing views of dominant frames, or

who issue politically correct directives to educate participants risk de-legitimizing the

process, undermining deliberation, and perhaps even strengthening the dominant frame. That

said, in combination with careful facilitation focused on tracking and moderating the effects of

the dominant frame, these design features would, ideally, enable minipublics to generate new

agendas that break with dominant frames.


Polarizing Frames

Polarizing frames pose slightly different challenges than dominant frames. In the case of

polarizing frames, two (or more) positions are established prior to deliberation. Moreover, it is

likely that proponents of one frame or the other have already been exposed to opposing frames.

Merely ensuring exposure to competing frames, though it may reduce the level of influence of

that frame on individual opinion by prompting more careful thought about whether they endorse

the position, does not exhaust the potential harms of polarizing frames. Polarizing frames affect

not only our judgments, but also our ability to have conversations in which we weigh the validity

of argumentsour ability to draw on an exchange of reasons and engage in deliberative

judgment. Beyond the basic need to disaggregate claims from frames, then, the basic correctives

that need to be applied in situations of polarizing frames involves separating people from frames

to which they have become attached so they can weigh beliefs, as well as the logical and

normative connections among those beliefs, apart from the frames within which they had been


To do so, people need to be given the space to weigh individual claims without feeling

that they have to endorse (or reject) an entire set of interpretations and beliefs around a problem.

As with dominant frames, this effect can be achieved, at least in part, by having a constrained,

focused problem to consider. The issue of participant selection entails a more complicated

choice. On the one hand, the tendency in minipublic design has been towards random selection,

with the aim of representing relevant publics, as well as avoiding the kind of overrepresentation

of people invested in particular outcomes typical of self-selected and elected bodies. To the

extent that random selection produces a body with a representative array of participants

subscribing to a variety of frames, held with varying degrees of intensity, random selection may


be adequate to dealing with polarizing frames. Particularly on prominent issues, random

selection is likely to generate such a distribution. However, the problem of polarizing frames

might sometimes require selection that produces a representative sample of frames, both to

ensure that the minipublic is representing the kinds of polarizing frames in the broader public,

and to enable participants to learn from those whose thinking is framed in different ways.

Issues characterized by polarizing frames suggest additional design requirements with

respect to learning and trust-building. The weighting account of framing, as explained by Nelson

et al, is useful here. The weight parameter suggests that frames tell people how to think about an

issue by telling them how to prioritize the range of considerations that are implicated in every

political decision.

Both supporters and opponents of nuclear power may agree on the potential
economic benefits of nuclear energy, but they may disagree strongly on the
importance of such benefits relative to the risks of a major accident involving a
nuclear power plant...this is the setting in which frames operate. Frames tell
people how to weight the often conflicting considerations that enter into everyday
political deliberation. Frames may supply no new information about an issue, yet
their influence on our opinions may be decisive through their effect on the
perceived relevance of alternative considerations (Nelson, et al., 1997, p. 226).

One purpose of learning and deliberation within minipublic contexts is to enable opportunities to

weigh and discuss this prioritization apart from the influence of frames, to the extent possible. In

situations with polarizing frames, it may be that people come up with values that, loosely

speaking, reflect how well one of the frames resonated with their priorities. But if deliberation is

working, these fact-value connections will have been made explicit and subjected to testing, with

the added potential benefit of helping people recognize the reasoningand what they have in

commonwith perceived opponents. Trust-building might also result from dealing with small

issues that are more likely to be moveable in order to build up new identities in which people

see those who do not share their opinions, not as dogmatic, but as open to persuasion. In


addition, if trust can be achieved in this piecemeal way, it should help avoid the formation of

identities around a frame, and subsequent adoption of purely offensive or defensive stances.

Polarizing frame situations pose additional challenges to facilitators as they guide

conversations. Frames are constituted, at least in part, by symbols, analogies, metaphors, and

careful uses of concepts that carry implicit assumptions and consequences. Challenging

polarizing frames means rendering these explicit so that people can communicate about them: for

instance, enabling people to challenge the entailments of analogies and metaphors (Lakoff &

Johnson, 1981, p. 97) as a means of weighing the validity claims they imply. Consider the

problem of persuasive definitions, that is, the use of definitions to try to get someone to accept a

proposition or action (Macagno & Walton, 2008, p. 204). According to Macagno and Walton,

Persuasive definitions involve a conflict of values, in which the interlocutor

founds his implicit argumentation upon a value that the interlocutor does not
share. However, sometimes this conflict of values depends on interlocutors
arguing about two different realities, two different concepts named in the same
fashion. In order to understand and solve possible deadlocks, it is necessary to
understand what kind of conflict is involved, whether of values, or of realities
(2008, p. 205).

When the same word is used differently, it renders conflicts of meaning implicit, in essence

burying the conflict and making it more difficult for interlocutors to discuss. Although Brewer

and Gross (2005) conclude that these shared values might enable conversation across viewpoints,

the common ground provided by shared values can only become productive insofar as it serves

as a platform for people exploring how and why they are conceptualizing it differently. If the

conflict in interpretation remains implicit and people continue to invoke persuasive definitions, it

will instead replicate frustrations and further distance competing positions, undermining the

depolarizing aims of minipublic design.

Group Based Frames


Minipublics designed to correct specifically for group-based frames must structure conversations

to avoid reproducing a status inequality in which a subset of participants have to defend or justify

themselvestheir choices, behaviours, or social positions, for instancein addition to justifying

their beliefs and practical commitments. The key internal task of a minipublic must be to

structure conversations to lower the entry-costs for members of beneficiary groupsto ensure

that they are not forced to justify themselves as well as their beliefs. At the same time, another

internal task involves changing group judgments through learning and trust-building. If we

imagine a minipublic on any issue that crosses divides of class or race, we can see that the initial

problem will be to mitigate the effects of group frames. On the one hand, the key task must be to

avoid placing the burden of transforming judgments and challenging stereotypes onto the groups

subject to stereotypes. On the other hand, the most effective way of generating this

transformation seems to be through personal interactions. The question becomes how

conversations can be structured to enable members of stereotyped groups to disclose their

perspectives and experiences, without also being forced to be on the defensive. At the same time,

conversations should be structured so that listeners have to gradually accrue (and demonstrate)

commitments to mutually respectful deliberation. It is for this reason that National Issues Forums

in the United States will often spend months developing trust among (say) Black and White

participants, usually in closed, quasi-therapeutic settings, and always prior to deliberating the

topics of the forums themselves (National Issues Forum, 2000; Warren, 2006, p. 169).

Of the three problematic frames, overcoming the harms of group-based frames concerns

deliberation least directly. The purpose of conversations structured to correct for group-based

frames is primarily to create the necessary conditions for subsequent deliberation. learning and

trust-building are therefore key considerations. Although there is the specific aspect of needing to


distinguish judgments about groups from judgments about policy decisions, the correctives

around this aspect are much like those above: break down frames into their constituent parts. As

such, agenda setting considerations are largely the same: keeping the problem focused in order to

reduce incentives to fall back on familiar recommendations The added dimension group-based

frames offer is that they alter the status, not just of beliefs, but of people. Conversations around

group-based frames must incorporate many of the same considerations as polarizing and

dominant frames, but with the additional consideration of correcting for these status-based


In sum, although framing effects pose significant challenges to deliberative ideals, their

effects might be mitigated with design. Minipublics provide particularly good examples of the

kinds of designs that push back against problematic frames. Table 2 summarizes the kinds of

considerations relevant to framing effects that can and should be taken into account in their



Table 2. Relating Frames to Deliberative Minipublics

Minipublic Types of Frames
features Dominant Polarizing Group
Goals related to Disaggregate claims Break down frames Status-equalizing (people
framing Get people to think Separate facts and values
shouldnt have to enter a
discussion with a dual task
creatively/think about
Discuss priorities apart from of justifying themselves and
potential solutions outside
frame-linked positions their positions?)
the frame

Design features (We need to go over each cell below, with the aim of explaining how each feature of
relevant to achieving the design contribute to the goal above. )
Agenda Constrained, focused on Constrained, focused on Constrained, focused on
specific problems that problems that cross-cut problems shared by groups
exceed frames frames
Participant selection Near random or stratified Sample representing pre- Stratified sampling to
sample of relevant existing beliefs or discourses represent relevant groups
Trust-building Less important Pre-deliberation phase Pre-deliberation phase
focused on trust-building focused on trust-building
Learning Alternatives not typically Discovering what two Learning, especially through
part of discourse sides have in common? narrative and personal
Learning especially through Discovering weight
both expert and advocacy participants would want to
testimony give to different
considerations apart from
the influence of frames?
Learning through expert
Facilitation Focused especially on Focused especially on Focused especially on
thinking outside the frame managing norms of respect, equalizing status and voice
reciprocity, attentiveness to
Ensuring that assumptions
are made explicit in order to
enable clear communication
among participants.
Outcomes New agendas that break with New agendas or Transformed group
dominant frames recommendations that cross- judgment; problem-focused
cut polarizing frames agendas or
recommendations that cross-
cut group identities


Framing, Minipublics and Deliberative Systems

However, it is one thing to achieve such transformations at the controlled, small-scale level of a

minipublic. Broader public discourse, within which anti-deliberative frames are common and

often effective, are not susceptible to similar kinds of institution design choices. Can minipublics

designed to mitigate problematic frames have a systemic effect on broader publics? The question

of how to structure conversations internally to correct for framing (and to ensure that minipublics

do not simple reinforce existing frames) are challenging. However, the question of how to scale-

up these effects involves answering an equally complex set of questions around how and where

minipublics should be positioned in relation to other elements of the deliberative system in order

to have effects beyond participants themselves.

Because this question is so complex, we are not able to address it here. But we wish to

conclude by noting that the problem is probably not, strictly speaking, one of scaling up

minipublics into broader publics. The kind of work participants accomplish within minipublics

trust-building, learning about particular issues in depth, deliberating in good faith with a few

otherscannot be replicated in mass publics. The scale, contingencies, incentives, contexts, and

agents are necessarily different.

Rather, we shall need to think about how minipublics might be integrated into broader

publics, by identifying their roles in public divisions of political labour, and their relationships to

existing political institutions, such as legislatures, agencies, and advocacy groups. We shall need

to conceptualize and study their potential roles within a deliberative systemthat is, within the

context of all talk-based approaches to conflict resolution and political decision-making. Instead

of seeking to model one or even a few ideal-types of deliberation, located in specialized bodies

such as minipublics, the basic insight behind the move towards theorizing deliberative systems is


that no single site of discussion can or should possess all the capacities necessary to produce a

deliberative outcome. Rather, different parts of the deliberative system serve different

purposes: epistemic, ethical, and inclusive or egalitarian (Mansbridge, et al., forthcoming).

We should, then, think about what kinds of roles minipublics might fill within

deliberative systems. Focusing on the more specific problems addressed here as to whether their

effects in mitigating the anti-deliberative impacts of frames might be captured within the broader

system, there are a number of possibilities. For example, if minipublics are judged by broader

publics to have democratic legitimacy, they might come to serve as new kinds of trusted

information proxies (Cutler & Johnson, 2008; Mackenzie & Warren, forthcoming), alongside

more traditional proxies, such as political parties, advocacy groups, unions, networks, and like-

minded friends. In this way, deliberative labours might be divided among forums, each of which

might include devices that work against anti-deliberative impacts of frames. Minipublics might

then signal new ways of defining and discussing issues that would undermine the powers of anti-

deliberative frames in broader publics.

We can also think of the systematic roles of minipublics from an institutional perspective,

asking how they link up with the deliberative system at one of three sites: administrative

agencies, legislatures, and civil society. Indeed, a great deal of minipublic activity has centered

around administrative agencies seeking public mandates an areas where political directives are

absent or ambiguous (Warren, 2009). Legislatures, the second channel for minipublic

influence, have resorted to deliberative minipublics in the face of legislative impasse on a

particularly intractable problem or situations in which there is no popular choice (Lang &

Warren, forthcoming). Each of these channels will have limits in their capacities to address

problematic frames. Problematic frames are typically highly politicized. Thus, agencies will


tread carefully, so as not to appear to wade into politics, although they can often accomplish

good deliberative work within the contexts of carefully-defined problems (Warren, 2009).

Legislatures can have more incentives, but only on issues where elected politicians can see no

political gain from invoking problematic frames. Such issues may be few and far between, as

politicians are often elected just because they successfully deploy these very frames. That said,

some electoral and legislative systemsmost PR systems and some systems of separated powers

incentivize deliberation, which may then provide opportunities for mini-public-like contexts

(Steiner, Bachtiger, Sporndli, & Steenbergen, 2004). This leaves civil society actors and

democracy entrepreneursorganizations like America Speaks, or National Issues Forums, for

exampleto engage in the work of setting up public conversations to correct for anti-

deliberative frames. It is clear from this very abbreviated list of possible systematic roles for

deliberative minipublics that we as yet lack theory that is closely articulated enough to form and

guide researchable propositions.


Framing effects represent a deep challenge to deliberative democratic theory and practice.

Frames challenge deliberative democracy on its own ground: talk-based politics. It is, after all,

talk that carries frames; whether used as political strategy or as part of how we conceptualize

political issues, frames carry with them meanings, symbols, and pre-reflective judgments that

undermine deliberative forms of influence, which should operate through the offering and

redeeming of claims. Here, we have sought to show that, however real and deep the challenge, it

can be theorized and practically addressed. From the perspective of theory, we have argued that it

is not framing in itself that is anti-deliberative, but a more limited set of problematic frame types

what we have called dominant, polarizing, and group-based frames. Once we theorize how


each kind of frame works, we can also see that there are practical responses. Designed

minipublics represent the most advanced kind of response to date, and their key features can be

adjusted to the specific challenges presented by each kind of problematic frame. But it remains to

be seen how minipublics might function within broader deliberative systems. Addressing this

problem will require us to further develop the concept of deliberative systems, within which

minipublics might have roles that would include mitigating the effects of anti-deliberative


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