A Reflexive Approach to Designing Small-Group Deliberation on Carbon Dioxide Removal: Integrating Public, Expert Stakeholder, And Scholarly Perspectives

Amanda C. Borth

Advisor: Chris Clarke, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Edward Maibach, Timothy Gibson

Commerce Building, #3006
November 20, 2023, 04:30 PM to 06:30 PM


Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)–a suite of methods for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it long-term–is rapidly emerging as a part of the broader climate change response in the United States. However, decision-making around CDR is laden with unknowns, environmental justice concerns, and low levels of public awareness. Academics and practitioners working on CDR see small-group deliberation as one tool for weeding through this issue's complexities toward more just and equitable decisions. Yet, limited guidance exists in theoretical literature on how to conduct a CDR small-group deliberation effectively in practice. In this dissertation, I take a reflexive approach to explore what ought to be done in and achieved through small-group deliberation. I begin my dissertation with a literature review identifying the ideal features and goals of small-group deliberation as expressed in deliberative democratic theory and small-group deliberation scholarship. Then, I conduct a descriptive analysis, multiple regression, and logistic regression on survey data to explore US voter interest in participating in CDR decision-making, particularly through small-group deliberation, and what predicts such interest. I then conduct thematic analyses on semi-structured interviews with members of the US public and expert stakeholders participating in the planning phase of a CDR small-group deliberation to uncover their views on the ideal features and goals of such deliberation. Finally, I compare insights from literature, public interviewees, and expert stakeholder interviewees. Throughout these studies, I found that most survey respondents were interested in participating in CDR decision-making, and some through small-group deliberation. Additionally, there were unique points of alignment and distinction in how literature, public interviewees, and stakeholder interviewees made sense of the features and goals of small-group deliberation. Overall, this dissertation exemplifies a methodological framework for reflexively designing small-group deliberation for a specific policy context and offers theoretically and practically relevant guidance for developing CDR small-group deliberation.