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Democs (Deliberative meetings of citizens)

Democs is a conversation card game. Players get hands of cards and take turns to play them. But instead of playing to win, they are playing to learn about an important new issue and inform their opinions about it.

A Democs game has five rounds with one person acting as the dealer. A kit is available, which is made up of several different types of cards with information, ideas or stories about the topic.  In rounds 1, 2 and 3, players get dealt different hands of cards which are read out and discussed.  The first round everyone is given a single story card to read out. In rounds 2 and 3, players are given information cards and issue cards, respectively. Each player is asked to look at his/her hand of cards and select the ones that they think are most important or interesting. They read them out to the group, say why these ones interest them, and place them on the table. The group can comment and discuss them.

It is the dealer’s job to explain the rules, ask the questions and deal the cards, but he/she is not expected to be an expert on the subject! Usually, the dealer will be the person who has organised the game.

As the discussion develops, certain topics will come out. In round 4, players are asked to focus these into opinions, questions or statements by grouping the cards into clusters about the subject area. There can be several clusters on different topics.  In the final round (round 5), each player votes on a range of responses that everyone in the group can live with.

This approach works best for six people over two hours, but it is flexible.  Time is required to develop cards with relevant facts.

PositivesNegativesWill deliverWill not deliverCase studies
  • It encourages people to form an opinion on complex topics and empowers them to believe that they have a right to a say;
  • It avoids the passivity that can come with experts lecturing people;
  • It provides a safe place that will appeal to inexperienced participants;
  • The game format helps people to enjoy themselves while they talk;
  • Can be used with established community groups;
  • Is useful to engage with hard to reach groups.
  • Can be costly to develop the cards;
  • A facilitator is required but does not need to be an expert in the subject;
  • Establishing common ground is not possible within a single game;
  • Representativeness is hard to achieve;
  • Democs cannot deliver lengthy deliberation, direct decisions, tangible outcomes or a follow up in itself;
  • Can create conflict between participants;
  • Can be hard to feed the results of a Democs process into decision-making.
  • People feel they can have a say;
  • Provides some information about common ground and preferences.
  • Lengthy deliberation;
  • In itself; it doesn’t deliver follow-up to people who have taken part and want more;
  • Tangible outcomes.

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