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John Gastil Portrait


Communication Arts & Sciences and Political Science Senior Scholar, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy
The Pennsylvania State University


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Topic Map

Research Topic Map Civil society and protest groups Communication in small groups The Australian Citizens' Parliament Jury behavior The Democracy Machine (online platform) The Group in society Democracy in Small Groups Civic Engagment The Jury and Democracy Group Decision Making Governance Theory and Practice of deliberative democracy Political Communication and Deliberation Delib. Democracy Handbook Democracy in Motion By Popular Demand The Citizens' Initiative Review Public forums, civic education, political socialization Direct Democracy
Sortition as an alternative to elections Public opinion and civic attitudes Public Opinion and Atts. Elections Cultural Cognition Project Voter Behavior, election dynamics, and campaings

Communication in small groups

Though I have recently published a broad overview of group behavior--The Group in Society--my research career began at the intersection of group decision making and civic engagement. This is the area in which I published some of my earliest articles and my first book, Democracy in Small Groups: Participation, Decision Making, and Communication

I have published more articles on small group democracy with my former Ph.D. students, Kevin Sager and Laura Black. These studies further developed themes from Democracy in Small Groups, such as group decision rules, deliberative practices, and democratic norms. 

Democracy in Small Groups was the first attempt to illustrate, in detail, the workings of democracy in relatively small face-to-face groups. Previous works, dating back to the turn of the century, had stressed the value of small group democracy but had not tried to define it. Expanding on my M.A. thesis and a previous article, the first four chapters of Democracy in Small Groups identify the basic features of small group democracy and illustrate them using the weekly meetings of a co-operative grocery store.
Subsequent research led to a more focused definition and understanding of deliberation, which is one part of small group democracy. Stephanie Burkhalter, Todd Kelshaw, and I wrote a formal description of our understanding of the term in an essay which integrates diverse philosophical and empirical works to define deliberation and place it in a broader theoretical context. We define public deliberation as a combination of careful problem analysis, and an egalitarian process in which participants have adequate speaking opportunities and engage in attentive listening and dialogue that bridges diverse ways of speaking and knowing. In this work, we also place deliberation in a larger empirical theoretical framework and argue that the practice of deliberation is self-reinforcing. Among other things, deliberation directly reinforces participants’ deliberative habits and skills, and it indirectly promotes common ground and motivation by broadening participants’ public identities and heightening their sense of political efficacy. I developed these ideas farther in Political Communication and Deliberation.

The fifth and sixth chapters of Democracy in Small Groups address empirical questions regarding the difficulty of engaging in fully democratic decision making. The fifth chapter hypothesizes that groups striving to be democratic regularly encounter five serious obstacles—excessive meeting length, communication style and skill differences, personal conflicts, unequal levels of involvement and commitment, and the formation of disruptive cliques. The sixth chapter looks at other constraints on small group democracy, including unstable memberships, time pressures, and sociopolitical and economic forces outside the group.
Kevin Sager and I examined the extent to which a group member's personality might help or hinder a group seeking to make decision democratically. Kevin hypothesized that a more agreeable personality would be conducive to democratic group relationships, and we found evidence supporting this view. A recent article by Kevin Sager and me looks at decision rules—an issue I addressed in the third chapter of the book. Sager was interested in the relationship between individual styles of decision making and the ways groups work together.

Small democratic groups have intrinsic value, but deliberative group discussions can also have an indirect, positive effect on larger political systems. The seventh and eighth chapters of Democracy in Small Groups looked at some of the effects of small group discussions on society and large-scale political systems, and much of my research since has addressed this issue. A 2nd edition of the book was released in 2014 containing a substantial number of revisions and 40 pages of new and updated content.
The Jury and Democracy focuses on the civic impact of juries--a special and underappreciated form of small group whose actions often have a unique impact on unrelated political systems. Much of my recent research, outlined below, addresses the impact jury service has on an individual, including on their civic attitudes, their views toward legal institutions, and their opinion of deliberation itself. Although I continue to publish research related to jury service, I have created the Jury and Democracy blog, a more informal outlet wherein I provide occasional updates with news stories implicating the jury and its impact on society.
Drawing on my experiences at the Institute for Public Policy and my work in political campaigns, I wrote By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections. This book offers a new perspective on American politics and the democratic process. In the book, I challenge many conventional assumptions about public opinion, elections, and political expression. I argue that American citizens seldom deliberate to develop clear policy interests and candidate evaluations, rarely reject unrepresentative public officials, and speak with a weak public voice.

I propose addressing these problems by linking the general public's voting decisions to the reflective judgments of randomly-selected "citizen panels." For a current incarnation of such panels, see the Citizens' Initiative Review, a program implemented experimentally in Oregon which has now been adopted in numerous other states. I have recently published three articles evaluating the 2012 Oregon CIR, with one being a general field study and evaluation of the initiative, while the others sought to answer two questions: did it fit the definition of deliberation?; and did panel deliberation regarding the ballot initiative then translate into deliberation in subsequent mass elections?

Also see:
Johnson, C., & Gastil, J. (2015). Variations of institutional design for empowered deliberation. Journal of Public Deliberation, 11.

Reedy, J., & Gastil, J. (2015). Deliberating while voting: The antecedents, dynamics, and consequences of talking while completing ballots in two vote-by-mail states. Journal of Public Deliberation, 11.

Reedy, J., Gastil, J., Moy, P. (2015). From the secret ballot to the public vote: Examining voters’ experience of political discussion in vote-by-mail elections. Political Communication, 33, 39-58.

Bonito, J., Gastil, J., Ervin, J. N., & Meyers, R. A. (2014). At the convergence of input and process models of group discussion: A comparison of participation rates across time, persons, and groups. Communication Monographs, 81, 179-207.

Hans, V. P., Gastil, J., & Feller, T. (2014). Deliberative democracy and the American civil jury. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 11, 697-717.

Gastil, J., Fukurai, H., Anderson, K., & Nolan, M. (2013). Seeing is believing: The impact of jury service on attitudes toward legal institutions and the implications for international jury reform. Court Review, 48, 125-130.

Sprain, L., & Gastil, J. (2013). What does it mean to deliberate? An interpretative account of the norms and rules of deliberation expressed by jurors. Communication Quarterly, 61, 151-171.

Gastil, J., Lingle, C.J., & Dees, C. P. (2010). Deliberation and global criminal justice: Juries in the International Criminal CourtEthics & International Affairs, 24, 69-90.

Black, L., Leighter, J., & Gastil, J. (2009). Communicating trust, community, and process in public meetings: A reflection on what close attention to interaction can contribute to the future of public participationInternational Journal of Public Participation3(2), 143-159.

Gastil, J., Black, L., Deess, E. P, & Leighter, J. (2008). From group member to democratic citizen: How deliberating with fellow jurors reshapes civic attitudesHuman Communication Research, 34, 137-169.

Gastil, J., Black, L., & Moscovitz, K. (2008). Ideology, attitude change, and deliberation in small face-to-face groupsPolitical Communication, 25, 23-36.

Gastil, J., Deess, E. P., Weiser, P., & Meade, J. (2008). Jury service and electoral participation: A test of the participation hypothesisJournal of Politics, 70, 1-16.

Hickerson, A., & Gastil, J. (2008). Assessing the difference critique of deliberation: Gender, emotion, and the jury experienceCommunication Theory18, 281-303.

Gastil, J., Burkhalter, S., & Black, L. (2007). Do juries deliberate? A study of deliberation, individual difference, and group member satisfaction at a municipal courthouseSmall Group Research38, 337-359.

Sager, K., & Gastil, J. (2006). The origins and consequences of consensus decision making: A test of the social consensus model. Southern Communication Journal, 71, 1-24.

Sager, K. L., & Gastil, J. (2002). Exploring the psychological foundations of democratic group deliberation: Personality factors, confirming interaction, and democratic decision making.Communication Research Reports, 19, 56-65.

Gastil, J., Smith, M. A., & Simmons, C. (2001). There’s more than one way to legislate: An integration of representative, direct, and deliberative approaches to democratic governance. University of Colorado Law Review, 72, 1005-1028.

Gastil, J. (2000). By popular demand: Revitalizing representative democracy through deliberative elections Berkeley, CA: University of California.

Sager, K. L., & Gastil, J. (1999). Reaching consensus on consensus: A study of the relationships between individual decision-making styles and use of the consensus decision-rule. Communication Quarterly47, 67-79.

Gastil, J. (1994). A definition and illustration of democratic leadership. Human Relations47, 953-975.

Gastil, J. (1994). A meta-analytic review of the productivity and satisfaction of democratic and autocratic leadership. Small Group Research25, 384-410.

Gastil, J. (1993). Democracy in small groups: Participation, decision making, and communication. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

Gastil, J. (1993). Identifying obstacles to small group democracy. Small Group Research24, 5-27.

Gastil, J. (1992). A definition of small group democracy. Small Group Research23, 278-301.

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