Effects of a structured public issues discourse method on the complexity of citizens' reasoning and local political development
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This study was about adult and political development. Political development, here, means improvement in the publicly common ways of relating, which characterize a political culture. A small group of citizens participated in six sessions of a structured public discourse process for working on complex issues. The study's purpose was two-fold. It was an exploratory test of a theory-based hypothesis that when a group used the process, its average hierarchical complexity of reasoning about issues would increase. Anecdotal evidence had previously indicated that useful social benefits and more complex thinking about issues were connected with using this process method. The other purpose was to study what changes in the political culture of the small group, if any, would occur over the course of using the discourse process. The group sessions and pretest and posttest interviews generated data that were scored using the Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System. Scores on related measures of selected interview material provided the quantitative data to test the hypothesis. The null hypothesis was H0: P = .5, where P represented the probability of either no change or a decrease in the group's average hierarchical complexity. The alternative hypothesis HA: P > .5, p < .05 (one-tailed) was the dichotomous probability that there would be an average increase in the group's hierarchical complexity. The nonparametric binomial test was used to test for dichotomous observations of either an increase or no change/decrease. Results supported rejection of the null hypothesis, significant at p < .01, one-tailed. The average increase in hierarchical complexity of the related measures was significant at p < .01, one-tailed, with large effect size. Qualitative methods were used to analyze (a) changes in the group's political culture, (b) increases in participants' hope and motivation about addressing the issues they worked on, and (c) participant-reported benefits of participating in the process. The group's culture transformed from a fragmented negative tone to a positive, coherent, deliberative tone. The study informs research into fostering adult development, increasing the coherence of public discourse, improving public deliberation, and the role of structured public discourse about complex issues in fostering political development.
0620: Developmental psychology
0700: Social structure