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Citation:McDonnell, L. M., & Weatherford, M. S. (2000). Practical deliberation in local school districts: A South Carolina experiment. Los Angeles. CA: Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, UCLA.

The purpose of this comparative case study is to examine how real-world deliberative dialogue experiences about school issues compare to the accepted standards of deliberation, and to examine variations in implementation and results. Four basic standards for deliberative dialogue were describedÑinclusiveness, equal standing, open-mindedness, and credibility. Three dimensions of variation between dialogue models were also described. Community-wide dialogue projects about school issues in three South Carolina communities were studied, two of them intensively. Researchers found that these sites showed higher inclusivity than conventional venues for citizen participation in education politics (such as school board meetings). The two intensive sites had some success in achieving equal standing among participants, although there were some racial differences in levels of participation. Also, certain issues raised by participants that were thought to be controversial were sometimes put aside and did not receive full consideration by the group. Both intensive sites seemed to achieve some level of open-mindedness and civility. Most of the participants indicated that civil discourse was maintained with little difficulty. Achievement of the last standard, credibility, was not discussed extensively. The authors reported significant variations in the implementation of the dialogue model, which reflected each communityÕs unique circumstances. Each of these variations demonstrated unique advantages and disadvantages that resulted in tradeoffs in the results achieved. Data were collected through interviews, observations, and a review of related documents. Comparisons were not made between sites. This case study provides good "how-to" information about implementing community-wide deliberative dialogue processes. It is very descriptive of the methods the project leaders used, and the results of the implementation decisions they made. However, the authors report that the study should be considered exploratory with only limited generalizability, since it was a pilot project and longer-term follow-up is needed to assess the overall impact.

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