Date of this Version
Published in Small Group Research 41:6 (2010), pp. 746–776; doi: 10.1177/1046496410377359.
One of the challenges facing public deliberation scholars and practitioners is to identify deliberative processes that address inequities in interaction and foster active participation among all members of ethnically or racially diverse groups. This study draws from cocultural communication theory and uses mixed methodology to examine the experiences of citizens assigned to racially/ethnically diverse small groups who participated in “By the People: Dialogues in Democracy”—a national/local initiative and public deliberation event. One hundred participants in a local deliberation in Omaha, Nebraska, completed a postevent questionnaire, and 20 participants were subsequently interviewed. Data were analyzed to compare the perceptions of White participants and participants of color (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American). Analysis of variance indicated that participants of color perceived greater communication quality and group effectiveness and experienced more satisfaction with their small groups than did Whites. Both White interviewees and interviewees of color said they valued being exposed to diverse group members and perspectives, the respectful tone of the group interaction, the facilitators’ ability to guide the interaction, and the opportunity to learn. Consistent with cocultural communication theory, participants of color specially praised the equal opportunity to speak in their groups and the experience of being heard. The results fortify the importance for public deliberation practitioners to take concerted steps to ensure racial/ethnic diversity and egalitarian interaction of members in deliberative small groups.