At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Length of process: 
2-6 months
Number of participants: 
20-40 members of the public plus experts
Participant selection: 
Representative sample
Online / Offline: 

Deliberative Mapping is designed to help specialists and members of the public weigh up evidence to reach a joint decision on a complex policy issue where there is no obvious way forward. It involves members of the public and topic experts in defining criteria, and then using these criteria to rate different policy options (policy options likely to have been developed by experts and policy makers in advance of the engagement process). 


Deliberative Mapping involves citizens and topic experts considering and discussing complicated issues. The citizens' panels and the experts both consider the issue separately from one another to begin with, and then feed back to one another.

The process is designed to demonstrate how support for a proposed course of action is weighed against different economic, social, ethical and scientific criteria. Deliberative mapping therefore opens up a problem to show a whole range of possible answers.

Deliberative mapping usually takes place over a series of meetings. Initially citizens and experts work separately before coming together for a joint workshop.

In the first stages citizen and expert groups follow the same basic framework for undertaking the optional appraisal:

  • Meeting 1: Introduce participants and facilitation team, agree ground rules, discuss initial thoughts about problem in question and provide information.
  • Meeting 2: Clarify, discuss and then agree meanings, definitions and implications of the options to be appraised.
  • Meeting 3: Discuss and agree a shared set of criteria to be used by the participants to judge the pros and cons of the different options.
  • Meeting 4: Participants score options under chosen criteria, reviews performance patterns then decides what issues to take to joint workshop.

The result is a ‘map’ of the way the performance of each option under consideration varies under different perspectives.

Joint workshop: Where citizen participants join specialists to discuss issues raised in their deliberations. In the joint workshop the goal is to compare, contrast and possibly integrate the appraisals undertaken by each group.

  • Meeting 5: Discuss workshop outcomes then all participants re-score options and weight criteria to reflect priorities.
  • Meeting 6: Participants discuss individual and full panel results. They evaluate the process.

This structure aims to allow both groups to learn from each other without the experts dominating. It does however mean that it can be time consuming for all participants and requires a high level of facilitation and co-ordination.

Used for

Deliberative Mapping is a methodology which can be applied to a problem to judge how well different courses of action perform according to a variety of economic, social, ethical and scientific criteria.

The Deliberative Mapping process is one of broadening out rather than focusing down on one ‘solution’. Rather than trying to reach consensus therefore it is intended to show how specialists and members of the public bring different perspectives to a policy process, and attempt to identify where there may be common ground.


  • The process only works if the group is made up of both ‘specialists’ and members of the public.
  • A sample of the public (often around 40 people) from varied backgrounds is recruited onto citizens' panels.
  • The experts (often around 20) are selected to reflect the full spectrum of specialist knowledge in an area.



Main costs: Numerous meetings + event costs; Facilitation; Expenses (citizens and experts).

Approximate time expense


  • This approach requires several months for the numerous meetings and workshops.


  • Good for dealing with complicated issues with a range of different considerations.
  • Can be useful when mapping out the range of values and priorities held by public and 'expert' individuals towards a particular controversy or series of policy options and understanding which options different groups in general would prefer if they had the chance to learn more about the issue.
  • Deliberative mapping can deliver greater legitimacy for decisions and information about public preferences towards policy options.
  • The results are considered opinions rather than gut reactions.
  • Citizens and specialists have the opportunity to learn from each other and work together.
  • Experts take a more active role than in many engagement processes however are prevented from dominating.


  • Difficult to involve large numbers
  • High in cost and time-commitment
  • The results of the process can be contradictory views that leave decision-makers without clear guidance.
  • Very few people have practical experience of running this kind of process.
  • Cannot deliver a consensus view or a shared vision.
  • It is not a very good at building better relationships between groups.


Developed from Multi-Attribute Decision Analysis (MADA) by academics to resolve problems such as expert-dominated discussion in other participatory methods. It was extablished by a multi-disciplinary research team based at SPRU (University of Sussex), ESRU (University College London) and the Policy Studies Institute (PSI). its development was funded by the Wellcome Trust under a programme to develop innovative methods for public engagement in the biosciences.

More information

The briefing papers produced by the reserach team to describe this method can be found here.

This research paper produced by the team further explores the method - Deliberative mapping: a novel analytic-deliberative methodology to support contested science-policy decisions



Image: (CC0)