Whereas the voting-by-home movement is well underway in several countries, pioneered by a few political and governmental leaders, as a method of further empowering citizens in a representative democracy, another impulse in this direction is also gaining speed and power. But this one is more experimental and has yet to be embedded in actual governmental processes as a way to COMPEL government to do anything, although on occasion some have been influential.
As a matter of fact, one of the major reasons given by those with or in political or media power to oppose voting-from-the-home is their belief and/or bias that ordinary citizens will be relatively uninformed on the issues and that they will be voting without the aid of a deliberation process that will refine their assumptions, temper their prejudices, correct their errors in fact, and the like.
This general idea of developing informed and deliberated public opinion has had a relatively lengthy history of highly successful experimentation ... beginning roughly during the 1970s in the U.S.A. However, much of it has relied upon the same method of participation as the electoral system and a traditional view of what might be called public deliberation.
Thus, experiments like the Kettering Foundation's National Issues Forums over the past 15 years or so brings together self-selected groups of public-spirited citizens to discuss issues in face-to-face settings using information and opinion presented to them in issue-pamphlets prepared by the foundation. These forums have minimal influence on anyone in the halls of power, but they have proved year after year that citizens who take the time and trouble to learn about complicated issues and to talk about them in small groups can come up with highly sophisticated answers to thorny policy dilemmas. Also, they have demonstrated in no uncertain terms that these citizens feel good about such processes--even if they have little to no official impact.
A more significant step in this direction has come in a number of projects that add something of great importance to the process of providing (a) basic information; (b) expert opinion on the issue; and (c) time, opportunity and encouragement to think about the issues to citizens before asking them to make up their minds. What is this added ingredient?
Instead of relying on those citizens who are most interested in this kind of process, the same kinds of active citizens who usually show up at public forums and public hearings anyway, these projects choose a RANDOM OR STRATIFIED SAMPLE OF CITIZENS to participate in the deliberative process. Thus, depending on the size of the sample, the results are relatively accurate, scientific representation of the ENTIRE public's considered opinion on perplexing issues ... including the proportional representation of citizens who usually shun public forums: young citizens, citizens who come from minority groups, and women (who are still highly underrepresented in the bastions of American governmental power).
What follows, then, are some of the most prominent examples of SCIENTIFIC, DELIBERATIVE POLLING/DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY ... all of which are still active and available for usage. They will be presented in this issue of TAN+N2 in chronological order, i.e., in the order in which they appeared on the political scene.
As far as we can determine, this is the first practical experiment in scientific random sample deliberative polling in the world, being founded by Dr. Ned Crosby in 1973 and continuing to the present time.
Here is the theory and methodology as it has evolved over the past score plus three years.
The idea is that the entire system of modern representative democracy needs a lot of help in involving representative bodies of American citizens meaningfully and creatively in a deliberative policy decision-making process. The American jury system was the model used. Here's the way it works:
The Jefferson Center staff selects a panel of 24 citizens from a city, state, or the nation via random telephone dialing. They also ensure, via an intense phone interview process, that important demographic variables (age, sex, race, education, socio-economic status) are proportionately present on each jury panel.
Those citizens who agree to participate as jurors are paid a modest fee for deliberating and their expenses are paid as well. They come together for a 4-5 period of time where they are instructed in the process, where they hear numerous advocates and experts argue for one or another position, where they deliberate among themselves over the best possible solutions to the problems, and then present their verdict.
The Jefferson Center has conducted about 20 of these jury projects over the years and the results have been predictable. First, the citizens perform extremely well and usually arrive at reasonable, thoughtful, and widely acceptable solutions. The media report favorably on the process and the results. Politicians also lavish praise on the process and its results.
Issues covered have included: national health care; peacemaking in Central America; low income housing; and the federal budget. Obviously these juries are designed to and succeed in tackling tough, controversial, and complex issues. Also, despite the rigor and success of the juries there is no evidence that any of the verdicts have actually influenced the vote of anyone in a position of power.
The Jefferson Center, a nonprofit organization, can use financial help to continue its work, which has been funded mainly through donations of ordinary citizens, foundations, and corporations.
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CIRWA is the next step in the development of the Jefferson Center (see above) Citizen Jury concept into an applied political context. Led by Ned Crosby and Pat Benn, as Co-Directors, CIRWA is working with the League of Women Voters in the State of Washington to use citizens juries as a new step in the citizen's initiative process.
In 2000, the League of Women Voters convened a Citizens Jury of 24 randomly selected citizens from the state of Washington. The issue was whether a citizens jury was a good method to insert into the citizens initiative process of Washington in order to improve upon what the sponsors of the initiative had submitted as their proposal. The role of the citizens jury was to hear arguments pro and con on this subject, which they did.
After 5 days of testimony, the jury voted 23-1 in favor of using the citizens jury as an intermediate step in the citizens initiative process. They found that such a step was a good way of clarifying and simplifying the verbiage in the proposed initiative so that citizens could better understand it.
At this point, CIRWA is trying to raise sufficient money to fund a citizens initiative campaign in Washington on this subject. They have about 2/3s of the amount necessary to mount such a campaign and expect to begin it in earnest in 2003.
|Australian Policy Juries in Local Government
The Institutionalized Policy Jury Experiments, Australia (1991-95)
Lyn Carson, Organizer
Faculty of Education, Work and Training
Southern Cross University, Linsmore, Australia
Lyn Carson is a mixture of political activist, political official, and political scientist. In her studies, but pursuant to her desire to increase the participatory base for important educational and political decisions, she decided to implement some of the work on policy juries done by the Jefferson Center in Australia.
There were three experiments. The first, in 1992, was sponsored by the Community Consultation Committee (CCC) of the Linsmore City Council and was related to the development of "precinct committees" -- as a method of consulting with citizens. The City Council agreed to use the policy jury method in one of these precinct committees.
Consequently, a number of citizens were selected randomly in this district and it took a great deal of persuasion to get about half of them to show up at the first meeting of this policy jury. Even these somewhat cynical, expressing views that they doubted that the "Council would either listen to them or act on their concerns."
They were correct. Within a couple of weeks of this meeting, a majority of the Council withdrew the minimal funding needed to continue the project.
The second, in 1993, used policy juries in a local school council so as to involve a broad segment of parents in setting goals for the school. A random sample was selected. The one evening meeting was facilitated. According to Carson, "evidence was presented. ... Each speaker spoke about their educational priorities and all avoided the use of jargon." Small group discussions followed.
At the end of the evening, the parents who attended learned a lot about how competent they were to participate in this policy jury. In addition, they recognized that there were many different yet equally valid viewpoints, and that the process was worthwhile.
Unfortunately, despite rhetoric to the contrary about empowering parents in educational priority-setting or decision-making, no school system has tried to continue this experiment.
The third was sponsored by a community information service in Ballina, a town on the east coast of Australia. This involved the planning of the future of the central business district and, once again, the citizens were selected randomly. The volunteers and coordinator of the service were trained in the citizen jury process and ran it themselves.
The citizen-jurors were asked to help envision the future. There were visual displays and many speakers who offered many different perspectives. Later, the jurors were allowed to relax, think and work with clay, crayons, and craft to create models of the future on their own. Once again, the jurors were creative, animated, dedicated and came up with "some wonderful suggestions." They also told the information center "that they found the process enjoyable."
Once again, though, there is no evidence that this policy jury had any impact on anyone with power.
Ms. Carson remains optimistic about institutionalizing policy juries in Australia (as planners, as those who help set priorities, as consultants of public policy) mainly because her experimentation demonstrated clearly, time and time again, how well it worked with and for the citizens who participated.
The problem remains: how to overcome resistance by those who hold positions of power in all forms and levels of representative democratic government ... whether elected or appointed.
Ms. Carson has suggestions as to how to minimize or penetrate that resistance. Contact her for information along those lines or for more info on the projects themselves.
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Televote is an innovative method of public opinion polling, one which is designed to and has successfully produced informed, deliberated public opinion on very complicated planning, policy and constitutional issues from highly representative samples among populations in the City and County of Honolulu, Southern California, the State of Hawaii and New Zealand. There have been 12 such experiments, which are discussed in great detail and depth in Slaton's book: Televote: A Quantum Leap in Citizen Participation (NY: Praeger, 1992)
Citizens are called on the telephone using random digit dialing. Most agree to receive in the mail a colorful, easy -to- read brochure that provides a basic level of information, a variety of expert opinion, and a wide array of alternatives to a major public issue. They agree to read the material and to take as much time as they need to discuss and deliberate this issue with their family, friends, co-workers, etc. before making up their minds. This is the ordinary process of deliberation used by most citizens in forming their opinions on almost all issues and candidates for office and therefore replicates and reinforces that process.
The Televote staff continues to be in close touch with all respondents throughout the process until a certain minimal size of the sample mirrors the population. Once the sample (anywhere between 400-1000) has finished and the results have been tallied, they are distributed widely to the press and to all government officials who may be involved or interested in that issue. Often , this process is embedded within a wider Electronic Town Meeting format, so that the public is aware of the Televote before it even begins. And the Televote provides a scientific public opinion core to the broader ETM discussion.
Issues of Televotes have included: (a) whether a state should institute initiative and referendum; (b) the national budget; (c) alternative futures for the country; (d) what to do about financing a local medical clinic that faced a state funding crisis; (e) various transportation options for the future. Citizen satisfaction with the process was extremely high (over 90%) and studies indicated that the poll was highly predictable of future voting patterns.
In addition, those Televote polls which were sponsored by governmental agencies helped them make key decisions in the areas of public health and public transportation. In others, due to their being widely publicized and their the results delivered to all relevant decision-makers, they were frequently used by decision makers in their public debate.
There has been a cluster of criticism emanating from a group of scholars located at Harvard, Brandeis and George Washington Universities in the U.S. The final chapter in Slaton's book Televote sets them forth and responds to them.
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Honolulu City Council Electronic Hearing
City and County of Honolulu
Coordinators: Henry "Hap" Freund and Sean McLaughling
On December 2, 1987, the Honolulu City Council sponsored an unprecedented public hearing on the issue of whether or not to renovate the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu. Previously, a wide variety of city council meetings had been aired over cable television, but this program was very different.
First, citizens who watched the hearing over cable TV were invited to testify live at the hearing -- by telephone. An electronic interface system was used to link the telephone callers with the city councils internal public address system. The rule was: three citizens who were physically present at the hearing were allowed to testify in person. Then, three citizens who were at home who called a certain telephone number put up on the TV screen and were told to wait their turn then got the opportunity to testify for 1 minute apiece. The rotation was: 3 witnesses present in the chamber; 3 witnesses from home; etc.
Another option for citizens at home was to vote on the issue itself. A computerized TV voting system was used which allowed the TV viewer to call one of two numbers flashed on the screen. One number was for those who favored the proposal. The other was for those who were opposed. However, no one was allowed to vote until the hearing was well under way. And the results were not made public until the final day.
There were many significant results of this experiment. First, nearly 7500 votes were cast for a public hearing. Based on previous experience with TV voting, an extremely conservative estimate is that roughly 10,000 people watched at least part of this hearing -- where only 100 could fit into the hearing room physically. This increased the public involvement by a factor of at the very least: 100! The QUBE public hearing experiment in Columbus, Ohio was hailed as a great success when it increased the public involvement by a factor of 10.
Second, the TV testimony was extremely well thought out and articulate. This indicated that while the home witnesses waited to speak, they wrote out their testimony.
Third, the public input into the process definitely had a major impact. It was clear that the City Council and those in the chamber (many of them who worked for the developer and were members of labor unions who would build the new amphitheater) were initially very favorable to the project. Those at home, however, were not. This showed in the difference between the testimony in the chamber and that from the home viewers. It also showed in the vote which was released the next day: The project lost by a 3-1 vote.
The Honolulu City Council did not try this experiment again.
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10 Carrera Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084 USA
Dr. Alan F. Kay, Director
Americans Talk Issues (ATI) was originally founded by Dr. Alan F. Kay to go into much greater depth on major national security issues than conventional public opinion polls. Thus, it was first called Americans Talk Security. From the start, it has been a non-profit foundation and remains so today. Although it has recently moved its operations from Washington, D.C. to St. Augustine, FL, it still maintains an office in the nation's capitol.
There are several unique features to ATI's process of scientific deliberative polling.
The goal of the ATI deliberative process is "Consensus Location." This is a search for the most widely held views in the public (over 70%, often over 80%) on even extremely complex and sophisticated issues, and it probes to make sure that these consensuses hold up when subjected to tough tests.
ATI has conducted 18 such surveys between 1987-94, and has helped many organizations design their own surveys. Issues covered include national security; global economic issues; foreign policy; the domestic economy; and the environment.
The final one, up to now, is a particularly interesting one concerning many important suggestions for democratic reform of the American representative system. The 80-page report called "Steps for Democracy: The Many Versus the Few" is almost out-of-print but can be obtained, photocopied for $10, including postage. It is a "Contract From America" that would strengthen both the representative and direct democratic systems in the U.S.A...and it has the consensus of over two-thirds of the American public.
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"The Deliberative Poll" was conceived, developed and is practiced by Dr. James Fishkin of the University of Texas. Dr. Fishkin's theory of democracy and deliberation is developed and assessed in his Yale University Press books Democracy and Deliberation (1991) and The Voice of the People (Yale University Press, 1996).
"The Deliberative Poll" works like this:
Fishkin has developed a relationship with a major English commercial TV network and they have already experimented several times with this format very successfully. In each case, the citizens were extremely cooperative, deliberated seriously, and were very pleased to participate in this process. He replicated this experiment on PBS in the U.S.A. in January of 1996--where the several hundred citizens asked questions of such political figures as Vice President Al Gore and Senator Phil Gramm (via teleconference). Dr. Fishkin went back to England in April 1996 to do another such project there.
Since then he has been using this method to help public utility/electric/power companies in Texas and Louisiana survey their customer base on future priorities in energy (conservation, solar and wind power, etc.). The 14 such polls (up to mid-1999) have been very successful in showing how the informed/deliberative sample changes its collective minds substantially from when they are first polled. In other words, the deliberation really makes them think, question their initial assumptions and accept different positions than when they first were polled.
The 15th "Deliberative Poll" is scheduled for Australia on the subject in the Fall of 1999 on whether Australia should cease being a member of the British Commonwealth and become an independent Republic.
A 1996 issue of Public Perspective out of the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut aired a number of criticisms of this kind of polling in a series of articles. The major flaw, according to them, is that this is not a "scientific" poll because the citizens are isolated from their natural environments, that is, their homes. Fishkin replies: "So what?" In his view, this is another type of public opinion, one evolved from a large face-to-face deliberative process., and probably superior to the superficial, off-the-top-of-the-head public opinion that passes as "scientific" in conventional polling We agree with Dr. Fishkin.
Further information on Dr. Fishkin's methodology and the results can be obtained by contacting him at the University of Texas or through his email address and/or website.
See also, Public Agenda Foundation in ETM section.
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The Danish Board of Technology is an independent governmental agency that works for the Parliament of Denmark. Its purpose is to advise and consult with the Parliament on issues involving new technologies. It does this by using its own method of scientific deliberative polling that it calls "Consensus Conferences."
Basically, the Consensus Conferences are very much like the Jefferson Center's Citizen Juries in their style and format. Instead of large random samples, the Consensus Boards use a "stratified sample" of citizens of Denmark. The way this is done is that advertisements are run in daily newspapers throughout the nation describing the content or subject matter of the next conference and that ask for volunteer lay persons to participate. Many applications come in and between 10-14 citizens are chosen to represent the general population's interest on the issue at hand as closely as possible. Thus, the claim is not that these panels are representative of the entire population but that they are somewhat representative of the level of public interest and thought in the topic.
The deliberative process is complex and comes in several stages, but the general idea is that the citizens get lots of materials to read about the subject plus an opportunity to listen to and discuss the problems with a substantial number of experts in the field under discussion. There is a lot of give and take between the citizens and the experts...all of which is facilitated by an expert in moderated group discussion. This moderator needs no special knowledge of the particular issue, but is experienced in helping people come to consensuses. This is done by deliberation among the citizens themselves and they then write up a report on their agreements on how the government should proceed on this issue.
Once completed, the results are released to the media so that the public may become aware of the results of the conference. The effect this has depends on the interest this particular issue has among the media and the public. If it is a "hot" issue, then it gets a lot of media play and the public is attentive. If it is more esoteric, then it gets less media coverage and less public interest.
The Executive Director, Lars Kluver, believes that this system helps make a strong connection between the citizens of Denmark and their elected representatives in Parliament. Over the time these conferences have been held, many of the recommendations of the lay panels have been adopted as legislation. This seems to be an excellent method to empower citizens directly to influence their lawmakers. The Loka Institute (above) has adopted this method and used it once as a demonstration project in Boston in the late 1990s--and advocates their use in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures.
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