Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Walther, J.C. (2013). Transformative Engagement in Deliberative Democracies: Exploring a Framework for Engagement Using a Creative, Braided Approach. MA thesis. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Damien Smith Pfister. Lincoln, Nebraska: November, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Janell C. Walther


Policymakers, scientists, academics, and organizational leaders have long been interested in the best way to engage, persuade, and educate stakeholders, no matter the topic (e.g., Mazer, 2013; Bell et al, 2013). While exploration of information dissemination and presentation is growing (Jones, 2013; Gutkind, 2005), particularly within highly mediatized networked societies (Castells, 2008), the necessity for engaging, persuading, and educating citizens in the public sphere through diverse approaches is increasingly obvious. In particular, it is important and relevant to creatively engage stakeholders and decision-makers in an interactive dialogue to allow for fuller understanding about complex topics, especially in the realm of science and technology. At a policy level, it is valuable to engage the public through narrative techniques to debate or support new policy issues and create an atmosphere of transparency and dialogue (Jones, 2013).

In this thesis, I explore the use of narrative—specifically, creative nonfiction—in engaging publics in participatory deliberation and discussion to see how public engagement is affected by the presentation of different kinds of evidence. I examine how individuals and groups make sense of complex scientific topics, through both deliberation and feedback, when stimulated by creative nonfiction. This thesis looks to generate creative methods of increasing stakeholder knowledge and engagement with scientific concepts in participatory, deliberative settings through a comparative study using both deliberation insight and feedback from stakeholders to evaluate types of evidence presentation. Environmental sustainability science provides an important area for exploration, since it is both complex and polarized in the public sphere (Kahan, 2012). As science and technology policy decisions become increasingly central in public life, best practices for engaging the public sphere in deliberative decision-making are accordingly necessary. This thesis presents a sustainability science controversy through both creative nonfiction and newsletter accounts in order to engage individuals in deliberative discussion and to gather feedback about engagement.

Advisor: Damien Smith Pfister