This is an excerpt from a proposal on how 2.0 technology could be applied to deliberative forums. This was presented as a case study during the League of Technical Voters 48-hour code-a-thon. I’m proud to say that I survived a total of about 35 out of 48 hours and most of the time I was the oldest one left standing! (O.K. maybe I shouldn’t be so proud!)
But seriously…well, what follows is serious…
2.0 Technology Meets Old-Fashioned Town Hall Meeting
In its twenty-five year history of researching practices in deliberative democracy, the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums Institute have developed effective practices for framing issues in public terms that reflect people’s deeply held values, hopes, and concerns. Framing for deliberative dialogue is the process of identifying various perspectives on complex and potentially divisive issues in a way that does not reinforce typical divisions (e.g., left vs. right), authentically reflects the concerns of the people involved or affected by the issue, and promotes deliberation that can lead to a shared understanding of the problem, common ground and the ability to work together.
In May 2006, the American Library Association offered a six-week course on Library 2.0 to look at ways that libraries can take advantage of the growing Web 2.0 movement in order to better serve communities and the field of librarianship. A team from this workshop that has experience in National Issues Forums developed a research strategy to determine potential uses of 2.0 technologies to accomplish the steps in framing an issue for deliberative dialogue.
Description of Issue Framing Process
Briefly the steps in a National Issues Forums Institute Public Deliberation process are:
- A framing team selects an issue that is of public concern and has certain characteristics that distinguish it issue from a simple topic
- Using interviews, surveys and other instruments, the framing team identifies fundamental concerns people have about the issue
- List the concerns
- Group these concerns according to the underlying value they share
- Find the common thread that knits these groups together which may lead to a redefined definition of what is really at issue for people
- Write a summary of the framework – the overview of the issue
- Develop 3-4 approaches about what might be done according to the underlying values identified in the clustering exercise
- Test the framework in a forum- may use controlled tags in blog to test.
- Revise the framework as needed
- Volunteer moderators, recorders and conveners organize and conduct forums in community centers, libraries, synagogues, town halls, churches across the country using the framework. Some experiments have been conducted online, but not to the degree that 2.0 technology might afford.
- Collect the results of these forums and prepare a report to policy makers.
Once the issue has been framed to authentically represent the concerns of people, members of the National Issues Forums conduct forums to help to help the public deliberate the costs, consequences and benefits different approaches to the issue. The goal of these forums is to find common ground, identify points of divergence and additional work to be done, and to determine next steps.
Brainstorming potential 2.0 applications
There are several steps in the process that could be supported by 2.0 technology. Wikis could be used to identify the issues and the interview questions to be posed in stakeholders. Blogs could augment the in-person interviews and surveys and be used to solicit citizen concerns. Controlled categories that the participants could select to tag their comment could facilitate the framing team in identifying common threads. Wikis could be used to facilitate the development of the issue guide and hotlinks to the original data source for statistics used in the framing could enable members of the NIF network to localize the issue with their own data. The Texas Forums Opal Online Meeting Room could be used to facilitate the team process. The larger network could use social software such as MySpace or Around Me being tested by Texas Forums to self organize into ad hoc planning teams according to issue area interest, geographic interest or common field. Opal Online, Skype, Webcasts (synchronous) or even blogs (asynchronous with a separate post for introduction, each of the approaches and reflections could be used for online deliberation. Inidividual blogs created within the social software could become places of reflection by those conducting forums. Opal Online could be a space for the moderators and conveners to begin consolidating findings from the forums. Wikis could be used to create a common document or report on the findings.
Libraries are places where people can come together to discuss issues – as are associations. Unfortunately, there are too few opportunities for communities and association members to struggle through complex issues that are often framed in ways that divide us. Can ALA and libraries use 2.0 technologies to frame issues (association issues, library issues, social issues, public policy issues, community issues) in a way that will encourage open deliberation and create common ground?
How can 2.0 technologies be used to collect the results of in-person forums being conducted across the country? How can 2.0 technologies be used by members or representatives of those forums to summarize and prepare statements that reflects the public thinking – common ground, unresolved issues, policy directions that the public would support and would not support, and costs and consequences that are either acceptable or unacceptable.