1.0 WHAT ARE ELECTRONIC TOWN MEETINGS (ETMs)?
Town meeting democracy has a long tradition in the United States. Today, there are visible signs that we might be entering another era: the era of the electronic citizen. This era brings many experiments on the use of television (particularly interactive television) and more recently, computer technology, to enhance citizen participation in American democratic processes.
This summary focuses on the Electronic Town Meeting (ETM) and distinguishes that format from an Electronic Forum and an Electronic Hearing. Too often the press and politicians lump together anything that happens on TV between political leaders and citizens as an "electronic town meeting." Finer grained distinctions will be important in coming years as a potentially new medium for democratic deliberation is created in the American system, calling for new forms of political literacy and civic education. The following definitions aim to clarify the emerging differences in format and standards:
1) Program Format. A term referring to the way discussion and debates are planned and then conducted; the way town, studio, and remote audiences participate; the way polling and/or decisions are made; and the way follow-up is conducted.
2) Face-to-Face or New England Style Town Meeting. John D. Miller recalls that the New England town meeting was direct democracy in its purest form. One day each year, a substantial majority of the eligible electors would gather to review township affairs and to adopt a program for the following year. The issues were local and practical, and every elector was expected to understand the issues. Citizens were information presenters and decision makers, and collectively made final decisions for the community on matters of budget, policy, and town law. The moderator was and is any person from the community who leads the meeting.
3) Electronic Town Meeting: An electronic town meeting translates the face-to-face town meeting into a televised or on-line town meeting. However, there are major differences between electronic town meetings and the old New England Town Meetings which provide the metaphor. The purpose of electronic town meetings is to increase deliberation and consensus building among citizens, experts, and politicians-during and between elections-through a systematic process that includes electronic media (usually television, but also radio, computer, and telephone). This is very different from the purpose of a New England Town Meeting, which is to make final decisions for the community. Other emerging characteristics of the systematic process followed in an ETM, that distinguish it from the New England Town Meeting, are that in the ETM:
· Participants are selected to be representative of some defined population,
· Final decisions are made by elected officials,
· An opinion tally will be conducted, usually through a scientific sampling of residents or voters in a given area, before, during, and/or after the face-to-face discussions, to indicate the direction of consensus emerging and to provide advice to elected officials,
· Specially trained moderators aid deliberation and consensus building,
· An organization in or outside of government plans and sponsors the ETM, and
· A summary of the results of the polling and deliberations will be prepared (e.g., written or in video or other electronic form).
4) Electronic Forum and Electronic Hearing: Electronic forums and electronic hearings are more free form than electronic town meetings or New England style town meetings.
· Electronic Forum or Call-In Show. In contrast to an electronic town meeting, an electronic forum is an event, on television, radio, or computer, in which political leaders meet with citizens to answer questions about their policies and programs. It has a definite place in our public discourse, and will develop even further as talk-show hosts explore policy more deeply. There is no scientific sampling of citizens to participate, no systematic pre-post session polling, and no specially trained facilitator. The interaction is direct between politician and citizen, sometimes mediated by a talk-show host.
Electronic Hearing: The electronic hearing is an event, on television or radio or computer, in which political leaders obtain opinions and testimony on a particular issue, program, or legislative bill, but at which no decisions are made and no polls are taken.
1.2 Why Are Electronic Town
As a nation, we are rapidly introducing the electronic infrastructure that will permit greatly increased interactive communication, both within government and between government and citizens. But we are still at a very early stage of these developments, including how they can best be integrated into our system of governance.
A number of observers have called attention to problems of American democracy at all levels. They have also highlighted that current domestic and global challenges, and an era of rapid change, call for a more conscious democracy capable of engaging the public in an ongoing process of dialogue and consensus building.
Some Challenges of American Democracy at All Levels
Electronic Town Meetings, and the broader idea of electronic democracy are one element of response to such formidable problems. This is because they can facilitate new forms of democratic deliberation, not only between citizens and their leaders, but also among citizens themselves. They can help to sharpen the choices facing a polity, and to build consensus around one or more of those likely difficult choices. ETMs include various types of public opinion polling, which has become a high stakes component of American politics. ETMs are likely to become a major medium for public judgment about major issues. The challenge is to find ways to make use of television, computer technology, and other electronic media in conducting ETMs in a manner that will enhance our democracy.
1.3 Experimental or Prototype
Experimental or prototype Electronic Town Meetings have taken place at a variety of levels:
At each level, ETM experiments are associated with strategic planning and visioning (mostly local and state), the electoral process, building social consensus, and citizen or constituent education. ETM experiments can be identified at least since the early 1970s (for a list, see Jeffrey B. Abramson, Democratic Designs for Electronic Town Meetings, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 1993). In recent years the number of ETM experiments has increased. More experiments are likely as the 1996 election approaches and as demands to involve citizens more meaningfully in the decision making process continue.
There are many more experiments to be done, and much creativity to be focused on the design of ETMs. There is much that is unknown. For example, program formats are relatively undefined and certainly untested. At this stage, we do not even have a settled classification of formats. Some that have been slightly experimented with include the traditional debate format, attempts to build consensus, and formats devoted to agenda-setting. Various forms of opinion sampling (including multiple samples taken during the course of a single program) also need to be explored.
1.4 Topics Related to ETMs
Electronic Town Meetings are related to numerous other topics of reinventing government. Often ETMs are a tool within various broader processes, such as community planning.
ETMs in Small or Large Communities?
"Electronic town meeting formats offer great potential for expanding citizen involvement in public policy decisions. They use broadcast or cable television and touch-tone phones or audio linkages to connect studio audiences, remote groups of people, and/or viewers in their homes, so these groups or individuals can discuss and register their opinions on major issues or policy decisions. Some jurisdictions across the country are already using ETMs to augment local planning and visioning efforts. While ETMs may not be appropriate in small communities where it is easier to conduct face-to-face meetings, this technology holds great promise for large metropolitan communities or expansive, sparsely populated regions." (Oregon Visions Project, A Guide to Community Visioning: Hands-On Information for Local Communities, Portland, Oregon: Oregon Visions Project, 1993. Provided by the International City and County Managers' Association, Washington, D.C.)
Examples of topics related to ETMs include electronic democracy, infomercials, citizenship education, civic education, electronic citizenship, community relations, community visioning, community problem solving, civic and social infrastructure, computer networks, deliberative democracy, participatory democracy, ethics, political attitudes, polls and surveys, public opinion, push button democracy, video democracy, strategic planning, systems development, software and systems, global village, electronic village, telecommunications, television broadcasting, and voter behavior.
2.0 CONDUCTING ELECTRONIC
The technology to conduct ETMs increasingly is available and affordable, and politicians, public interest groups, and the media are seeing the potential of such approaches. The public is also starting to expect ETMs as a regular part of the governance process. What are the practical issues in conducting an ETM?
At present, there is no comprehensive "how-to" compendium that distills the best practices and the pitfalls of conducting ETMs. Appendix A provides a relevant bibliography on the subject. These sources and others identify the following practical issues that need to be addressed in designing and conducting ETM's:
1) Purpose and Agenda Setting. Deciding what the topic for discussion will be and how the agenda for the meeting will be set.
2) Who Needs and Wants to Participate.
3) Preparing the Audience.
Briefing the audience on the issue background and on the meeting protocol.
Ensuring an appropriate civic education process, before, during, and after the meeting.
4) Determining the Appropriate Technology.
5) Designing the Meeting Protocol.
6) Possible Pitfalls or How ETMs Can Go Wrong. An essential skill for the informed citizen will be to understand the requirements and vulnerabilities of truly democratic ETMs. ETMs will require a new kind of political literacy. For a list of 11 major pitfalls-including rigged ETMs, emotions overwhelming deliberations, stacked agendas, boring programs, and fair polling-see the article by Robert E. Horn cited in section A-3 of the annotated bibliography.
7) Other Design Issues.
3.0 NEXT GENERATION ETM
Some issues to be addressed in designing and conducting the next generation of ETMs include:
1) How to provide information and civic education before, during, and after an ETM, including the roles that should be played by all media (newspapers, television, talk radio, on-line services, etc.).
2) Much work needs to be done in the area of standards, including those for organizations sponsoring and conducting ETMs, and for people who moderate the deliberative process.
3) What kind of organizations should sponsor ETMs? There are arguments for and against special commissions (like the Presidential Debates Commission), nonprofits (such as foundations), and for-profits (like commercial TV stations). How are sponsoring organizations to be accountable to the public?
4) What key results should be expected from ETMs? Should they enable new leaders in the community to emerge? Should they aim to create community? Is it important that they be embedded in a process over time, rather than being a single, stand-alone event?
5) How will ETMs, over time, affect the relationship between the public and experts, and between the public and elected representatives? What sort of political literacy will informed citizens need if they are to play an active role in pressing for democratically sound approaches to ETMs? What are the limitations and problems in managing mass direct democracy? What is the right balance between these more direct forms of democracy and our representative system?
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF EXPERTS, BOOKS, AND ARTICLES ON ELECTRONIC TOWN MEETINGS (ETMs)
The following are illustrative references to:
This appendix is a combination annotated bibliography and identification of experts. Contact information (addresses and telephone numbers) is provided for selected experts.
PIONEERS / ADVOCATES
Tracy Westin (1994), Potential Impacts of Interactive Multimedia Technologies on Voter Information, paper presented at Electronic Democracy: Governance and Politics: The Annenberg Washington Program, June 3.
Dr. Tracy Westin
Center for Governmental Studies
University of California at Los Angeles
10951 West Pico Boulevard, Suite 206
Los Angeles, California 90064
Westin summarizes the work of the Democracy Network, a multimedia interface with election information, developed by the Center for Governmental Studies (see below). The Center claims that the Democracy Network will "substantially improve the nature and quality of voters' electoral decision making: by encouraging candidates to address specific issues instead of generalities; by forcing candidates to become more substantive; by reducing the financial disparities in candidate spending; by increasing voter participation; by exposing voters to contrasting viewpoints; by allowing voters to control the time of the communication; by allowing horizontal comparison of candidates through expanding the time period in which voters can review candidates' positions; by letting voters review the statements and questions of others; by letting voters review their decisions over time; and by giving minority candidates greater visibility.
Canada (1993-95). (1) Three ETMs for a Hospital, and (2) Reform Party Deliberations ETM.
15003 56th Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T6J 5B2
FAX (403) 434-7451
Hospital ETMs. Held in October 1993 through January 1994, the aim of these three ETMs was to provide deliberation for a public hospital on the services it provides. Each of the programs focused on one service: emergency, death and dying, and birthing. Each had a panel which included recent users of the service, the head of the hospital, and the head of the department involved. There was a studio audience for two of them and a random sample of the public who phoned in their responses.
Reform Party Deliberations ETM. In April 1994, the Reform Party (third ranking national party in Canada), conducted an ETM on physician assisted suicide for 8 to 10 constituencies, each with 80,000 residents. Five legislators agreed in advance of the ETM that they would vote on the bill in the Canadian Parliament according to the wishes expressed in a random sample poll taken after the ETM. The ETM included a pre-meeting random poll, followed by a television show that consisted of an expert panel, a moderator, and a welcome by Preston Manning, the leader of the Reform Party and a Member of Parliament.
In September 1994, via satellite community stations, the Reform Party also conducted an ETM on the Canadian-Quebec crisis, organized by Harry Robinson of the national reform party headquarters. It was simulcast in English and French, and followed essentially the same protocol as the April 1994 ETM.
In February 1995, on 84 cable stations, the Reform Party began another ETM series, this time on Canadian Fiscal Problems. Harry Robinson is the organizer. The February ETM issue was "Is Taxation Too High?" Another ETM will be conducted on "Spending Cuts by the Government." The idea is that participants will act as if they were Finance Minister. The Reform Party plans additional ETMs in the future. They charge $1 a call for people to telephone in their vote. They receive an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 calls in the one hour format, and they have about 184 people in the TV studio audience.
Ted Becker (1993). Teledemocracy Gathering Momentum in State and Local Governance. Spectrum: The Journal of State Government, 66, 2: 14-19.
Department of Political Science
7080 Haley Center
Auburn, Alabama 36849-5208
FAX: (205) 844-5348
Becker is a professor of political science at Auburn University; architect of a statewide electronic town meeting for Hawaii and of a nationwide electronic town meeting in New Zealand. With Robert E. Horn of the Meridian International Institute and Christa Slaton, he was co-convenor of a 1993 Meridian conference of persons developing the next generation of electronic town meetings. In the above article, Becker discusses projects that used an electronic town meeting format to advance democracy (e.g., Honolulu Interactive Cable Television City Council Project of 1987, and 1990 effort of Governor Roberts of Oregon). Becker believes the electronic town meeting format (including an opinion tally following sufficient time for discussion, vigorous debate and deliberation) can clarify issues and candidate positions and lead to a more deliberative democracy.
Duane Elgin (1993). Revitalizing Democracy Through Electronic Town Meetings. Spectrum: The Journal of State Government, 66, 2: 6-13.
107-A Holcomb Avenue
Larkspur, California 94939
FAX: (415) 927-9309
Elgin is director of Choosing Our Future and producer of Bayvoice, an early experiment in electronic town meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the above article, Elgin outlines basic requirements for revitalizing democracy via the electronic town meeting. He says ETMs are the most direct way for citizens and decision makers to discover "their own minds" provided the feedback is fast enough to enable citizens to give more than a single, knee-jerk response to an issue raised during a televised town meeting. Assuming public feedback is advisory, ETMs respect the responsibility of elected leaders to make decisions and the responsibility of citizens to communicate with those who govern. Elgin also notes that ETMs should be sponsored by nonpartisan community voice organizations.
Christa Daryl Slaton, Televoting in the United States, a paper presented at Electronic Democracy: Governance and Politics, The Annenberg Program, Washington, D.C., June 3,1994.
Dr. Christa Slaton
Department of Political Science
7080 Haley Center
Auburn, Alabama 36849-5208
FAX: (205) 844-5348
Slaton summarizes the results of the Meridian International Institute meeting in 1993, titled "Developing the Next Generation of Electronic Town Meetings" (see below). Especially valuable in this paper are checklists of important considerations and issues for developing ETMs.
Amitai Etzioni (1993). The Electronic Town Meeting. Current, 350 (February): 26-29 (Washington, D.C.), and Minerva: An Electronic Town Hall, Policy Sciences (1972), 3: 457-474.
As far back as 1971, Etzioni, now a university professor at The George Washington University, was among a group who foresaw it was only a matter of time until American democracy at the national level would feature a form of electronic democracy known as Electronic Town Meetings. In the 1993 article, he advocates ETMs as a prime means to improve democratic government in the United States. In the 1974 article, Etzioni works out concrete plans for how electronic town halls might operate. His work is predicated on the assumption that a "reasoned, informed, broadly shared position requires dialoguing." Without dialogue, even with those who disagree, Etzioni concludes that "the positions that citizens are likely to take tend to be impulsive, uneducated, and unnecessarily polarizing." He then develops specifications for a town hall he calls Minerva (Multiple Input Network for Evaluating Reactions, Votes, and Attitudes).
A-2. INTERESTED AND CONCERNED SKEPTICS
Jeffrey B. Abramson (1993). (1) Electronic Town Meetings: Proposals for Democracy's Future, and (2) Democratic Designs for Electronic Town Meetings. Washington, D.C.: Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.
(Document 1) Charles Firestone, Director, Program on Communications and Society at the Aspen Institute, and co-convenor of a series of conferences on Democratic Designs for Electronic Town Meetings, commissioned Abramson to write a background paper and summary of proceedings for those conferences. In the background paper, Abramson reviews the tradition of town meeting democracy in the United States and proposes ways to carry on that tradition with the help of modern electronic media. He notes recognized problems with ETMs and identifies practical issues that must be addressed.
(Document 2) The program then convened a 1992 meeting of 25 leaders and experts in affected fields to address the issues posed by Professor Abramson's paper and by Lloyd Morrisett's essay on electronic citizenship in the Markle Foundation's 1991 Annual Report. The purpose of the roundtable conference was to help design the elements of future electronic town meetings so that they would be likely to serve democratic objectives and values. The meeting resulted in recommendations for a series of experiments in electronic town meeting designs; an ETM Report Card for thinking through value-laden issues associated with ETMs; and an arrangement between The Markle Foundation and a software simulation company for the creation of a simulation software game SimHealth that is intended to teach public policy questions and processes through simulation technology.
F. Christopher Arterton (1987). Teledemocracy: Can Technology Protect Democracy? Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications
Arterton thinks advocates of teledemocracy (e.g., Becker, John Naisbitt, or Alvin Toffler) offer evidence that is largely anecdotal and non-systematic. He thinks the advocates bandy about the term teledemocracy as a catchword for the establishment of direct democracy through the use of communications media. Arterton outlines the debate over teledemocracy. He evaluates thirteen experiments in teledemocracy, concluding that technology can be used to improve the quantity and quality of citizen participation and to mitigate the inequalities of participation. But he concludes that the projects do not point to a superior technology, nor do they suggest that technological change will produce an inevitable transition toward direct democracy. Teledemocracy cannot be justified by rhetoric that suggests people are going to be empowered by technology. Technology, he believes, offers potential improvements, not a major transformation in American democracy.
A-3. THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS
Benjamin R. Barber (1984). Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
Dr. Benjamin R. Barber
Department of Political Science
Walt Whitman Center
401 Hickman Hall -- Douglas Campus
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903
FAX: (908) 932-1922
Barber thinks we suffer from too little democracy. He is concerned that as fewer and fewer Americans participate in public affairs, more and more public affairs are being relegated to the private sector. He argues that strong democracy is the only legitimate form of politics, meaning that to be free we must be self-governing, to self-govern we must participate as citizens. He discusses electronic balloting as a means to enhance democracy. The use of feedback polls (a video town meeting) in public debates on neighborhood-assembly issues or on national referenda can, he thinks, be a valuable instrument of civic education. The objective is not to canvass opinion or take a straw poll, but to catalyze discussion and to nurture empathetic forms of reasoning. Barber cautions that mindless, inadequately prepared "instant votes" are as insidious as interactive discussion questions are useful. He says "soliciting instant votes on every conceivable issue from an otherwise uninformed audience that has neither deliberated nor debated an issue would be the death of democracy (p. 290)." For similar reasons, Barber opposes the right of electronic home voting for all except those with physical disabilities. A suitable technology, if it is democracy's servant rather than its guide, will assist the citizen to act and preserve the public habitation that Barber believes to be the heart of democracy.
James S. Fishkin (1991). Democracy and Deliberation: New Directions for Democratic Reform. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.
What would it mean for the entire electorate to be engaged, even hypothetically, in face-to-face deliberation? Fishkin wants to achieve political equality and deliberation at the same time: how to bring power to the people under conditions where the people can think about the power they exercise. He puts forward the deliberative opinion poll as a mechanism and institution to do that with respect to candidate selection in the United States. It is statistically representative of the entire population, consisting of 600 or more people. It gives, to a microcosm of the nation, the opportunities for thoughtful interaction and opinion formation that are normally restricted to small group democracy. It brings the face-to-face democracy of the Athenian Assembly or the New England town meeting to the large-scale nation-state. He mentions a proposal by Robert Dahl to engage a "mini-populous" of a thousand citizens who would deliberate on a single policy issue for more than a year, connected electronically on an ongoing basis but otherwise continuing their daily lives. The advantage of electronic interaction is that the response rate can be kept high despite the time participants would have to devote to the project.
Robert E. Horn (1993). Needed: A New Political Literacy for Electronic Town Meetings. To appear in Electronic Citizenship, 2nd Edition. San Francisco, California: Pacific Bell.
Robert E. Horn
The Meridian International Institute
One Sansome Street, Suite 2100
San Francisco, California 94104
FAX: (415) 951-4660
Horn, Vice President of the Meridian International Institute, convened, with Ted Becker and Christa Slaton, a 1993 conference of people who had pioneered development of Electronic Town Meetings. In the above chapter, he discusses the ETM as a newly evolving institution of democratic countries, and he distinguishes the ETM from an electronic forum and an electronic hearing. ETMs involve the presentation of policy information and deliberation and are thus likely to become the focus for public judgments about major issues. Thus, he argues that ETMs will require citizens to have a new form of political literacy: to understand the requirements and vulnerabilities of truly democratic ETMs. Horn is also concerned about the many unanswered design questions in the methodology of ETMs.
Christa Daryl Slaton (1992). Televote: Expanding Citizen Participation in the Quantum Age. New York: Praeger.
Dr. Christa Slaton, Department of Political Science
7080 Haley Center
Auburn, Alabama 36849-5208
FAX: (205) 844-5348
Televote was first coined by psychologist Vincent Campbell in the early 1970s as a more effective way to involve parents and students in determining public school policy in San Jose, California. It gave voters questionnaires, along with detailed information on issues, allowed several days to think, and then enabled a response via a Televote hotline or answering machine. Researchers at the University of Hawaii saw Televote as an excellent prototype of technology and technique for a more participatory government.
Slaton sees Televote as a way to promote better representation in government as well as more and better direct democracy. She reports on 12 experiments (10 in Hawaii, one in Los Angeles, one in New Zealand) based on a new model of Televote she developed with Ted Becker and Jim Dator (who made it part of the 1982 Honolulu Electronic Town Meeting). She also defends the potential of Televote against Arterton's 1987 critique in Teledemocracy, which she regards as incorrect or misrepresented. She situates Televote in the history of expanding citizen participation in America and political science theories of the participatory state.
Daniel Yankelovitch (1991). Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.
Yankelovitch is a leading public opinion surveyor worried about the eroding ability of the American people to participate in the political decisions that affect their lives. He wants a better balance of power between the experts and the public, by strengthening the public's ability to contribute to self-governance. To reduce the expert-public gap, the public's freedom to contribute to self-governance must be built up, and expert resistance to having this happen must be reduced.
Yankelovitch does not focus on Electronic Town Meetings per se, but he would situate them as part of a three stage deliberative process that leads to what he calls "public judgment:" the most advanced form of public opinion. Public judgment involves (1) more thoughtful weighing of alternatives, more genuine engagement with the issue, and (2) more emphasis on the normative, valuing, ethical side of questions. He wants a deliberative democracy, in contrast to a mere representative or participatory democracy, with a thoughtful, active citizenship, which encourages people to listen to each other and to weigh each other's views carefully and seriously. He proposes a strategy to institutionalize techniques of doing choice work
John and Mary R. Markle Foundation. 75 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 1800, New York 10019. Phone: 212-489-6655.
Current emphasis on the following areas: the uses of the media to inform and facilitate political participation; the expanding role of information technology in the lives of older people; advances in interactive communications technology; and the development of telecommunications policy that serves the public interest. Recent grants to Emory University for the Carter Center Commission on Television Policy, which will explore how television might contribute more toward building a civil society. Sponsored the Aspen Institute Conference on Electronic Town Meetings in 1992.
Charles F. Kettering Foundation. 200 Commons Road, Dayton, Ohio 45459. Phone: 513-434-7300.
Fields of interest are education, science and technology, international development, international affairs, government. Except for research partnerships, the foundation does not make grants.
The Kettering Foundation has, for many years, conducted a program called the National Issues Forum. The National Issues Forum conducts locally initiated forums and study circles that bring citizens together in communities throughout the nation for nonpartisan discussions about public issues. More than 5,000 organizations convene these forums each year. Each year, the foundation produces issue handbooks used to provide information for discussion in these forums.
Benton Foundation. 1634 I Street, N.W., 12th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20006. Phone: 202-638-5770.
Encourages the use of the techniques and technologies of communication to advance the democratic process. The foundation works with public interest organizations to demonstrate new forms of interaction and self-determination and to gain an effective voice for social change. Fields of interest are media and communications.
A-5. THINK TANKS
The Aspen Institute. 1333 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Suite 1071, Washington, D.C. 20036. Phone: 202-736-5800.
Aspen's Communications and Society Program sponsored, with the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation, a series of conferences on electronic town meetings. Jeffrey B. Abramson, in 1993, prepared a background paper titled "Democratic Designs for Electronic Town Meetings." Conference proceedings are summarized in Democratic Designs for Electronic Town Meetings. The Communications and Society program seeks to advance communications and information policy-making to the greatest benefit of society. The program examines issues communications policy, societal impact of the information infrastructure, communications and education, and communications for global understanding.
Center for Civic Enterprise. Progressive Policy Institute, 316 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., Suite 555, Washington, D.C. 20003. Phone: 202-547-0099.
Examines the role of civic participation and individual responsibility in a democratic society. Mission is to illuminate and encourage the emergence of a "third sector" between business and government, a sector comprised of community institutions dedicated to solving social problems. Examples of these institutions include community development corporations that develop low- and moderate-income housing, voluntary national service, public-private partnerships like the Boston Compact, and nonprofit organizations that indirectly administer public programs. An integral unit of the Progressive Policy Institute, an independent, nonprofit educational foundation.
The Meridian International Institute. One Sansome Street, Suite 2100, San Francisco, California 94104. Phone: 415-951-4726.
Meridian convened, in 1993, the first gathering of pioneers involved in conducting ETMs and asked them to reflect on those experiences and begin the process of designing the next generation of ETMs. Conference Chair was Robert E. Horn, Vice President of Meridian. Conference Co-Convenors were Christa Slaton and Ted Becker of Auburn University. Meridian is a network of people joined to build bridges from present forms of governance to those required in a world of rapid change. Institute Fellows create a learning infrastructure, with leaders from government, business, science, and the media, to explore questions that are at the center of the revolution of governance that is underway. Meridian is planning future meetings that will continue to develop prototypes of ETMs as well as their implications (pro and con) for the future of democratic governance.
The Walt Whitman Center for the Culture and Politics of Democracy, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, 409 Hickman Hall, Douglass Campus, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903. phone: 908-932-6861.
Among the Whitman Center's many projects is "Conversations on Democracy: Civic Uses of New Tele-Communications Technology (Project Director: Helene Keyssar). Supported by the Benton Foundation and the Menemsha Family Foundation, the center has held two international conferences (which are also experiments in video town meetings) that included prominent political theorists, media people, and technologists. Together with the Humphrey Institute and the Kettering Foundation, the Whitman Center also is participating in a New Citizenship Project of the American Civic Forum which has recently issued a "Civic Declaration." The Declaration is a call for a new citizenship. The latter is obtainable from the Kettering Foundation.
Center for Politics and Policy, Claremont Graduate School and the Tomas Rivera Center, 241 East 11th Street, Steele Hall, 3rd Floor, Scripps College, Claremont, California 91711. Phone: (909) 621-8897. (Mr. Anthony Wilhelm, project coordinator)
The Center for Politics and Policy conducts research and policy and issues analysis of telecommunications including technology and democracy. The Center prepared a focus paper "Issues in Telecommunications and Democracy" for a November 19, 1993 symposium "Telecommunications, Governance, and the Democratic Process," sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation of New York, the Freedom Forum of Washington, D.C., the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of New York, and the Benton Foundation. The paper revisits some traditional media policy issues in the new context of the Information Superhighway. These issues include: first amendment protections, privacy and personal security, allocation of spectrum and equity of access (universal service). It suggests that new telecommunications technologies will enhance mass participation in politics and enhance citizen deliberation by permitting intensive citizen interaction, including dialogue between citizens and office holders, setting agendas, building consensus, and providing mandates.
Center for Governmental Studies, University of California at Los Angeles, 10951 West Pico Boulevard, Suite 206, Los Angeles, California 90064. Phone: 310-470-6590. Fax: 310-475-3752.
The Democracy Network is a working prototype of an advanced political communications system. It integrates interactive video, textual and audio information, and has been developed to provide interactive political activity on the information super-highway. It will provide citizens-through their TV sets or computers-the means to watch video, audio, and text from political candidates and from ballot measure committees; to view TV, radio, and newspaper material, editorials, and issue analyses; to talk with candidates and other voters in ETMs; and to do all of this multilingually. It will be available for the California State elections in 1995, and for the 1996 Presidential elections. The Democracy Network was developed by the Los Angeles based Center for Governmental Studies, a nonprofit research organization which works to improve the processes of media and democratic governance. In 1989, the Center launched the California Channel, the nation's first "state C-SPAN." The Democracy Network is funded by the Babcock, Carnegie, Cumings, Gerbode, Irvine, Joyce, and MacArthur foundations.
Community Design Exchange, 923 23rd Avenue East, Seattle, Washington 98112, Phone: (206) 329-2919, Fax (206) 720-6201 (Mr. Ron Thomas).
Community Design Exchange is a private consulting group that assists communities and regions with vision and strategic planning processes, economic and community development programs. It has used electronic town meetings as an integral part of overall community planning processes for several years. It was instrumental in the Savannah-Chatham County Vision 20/20 Electronic Town Meeting and more recently has been helping the city of Houston go through a process of renewing a vision for the city with participation from volunteer citizens groups. Part of the Imagine Houston process in March 1994 was an ETM broadcast live on network affiliate KHOU-TV Channel 11, which garnered a 12 percent share of the television audience, reaching 250,000 citizens in a city of 2.5 million. The ETM features two-way communication between citizens at five community meeting sites around the city linked by satellite with a studio panel. After the ETM, the citizens ranked 50 preliminary goals that had been developed by the citizen task forces in the months before the ETM. Later in the evening, a TV wrap-up reported on the task force recommendations on an extended report on the 10 p.m. news. The ETM was rebroadcast on the municipal channel.
The Electronic Town Meeting Company, Inc. (ETMCo), Larry Greene CEO, P.O. Box 2029, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, (360) 378-3123, FAX (360) 378-6106
The Electronic Town Meeting Company is a recently formed privately owned company that offers assistance in the design and running of ETMs and ancillary activities to governmental organizations (cities, towns, states, regions) and to private and nongovernmental organizations. ETMCo has developed a form of ETMs which includes methods for obtaining participation of relevant groups, specific meeting designs and polling techniques. ETMCo provides advanced communication systems and information analysis capability. It recommends six month cycles of of deliberation, including repeated polling, in order to achieve the widest consensus possible.
To create a community-wide Strategic Action Plan, ETMCo employs its community development, media and marketing teams who work with appropriate sectors of the community including media partners, corporate co-sponsors, community organizers and, most importantly, the dedicated citizens who have committed to achieving results. ETMCo also provides marketing programs to involve the greatest number of people possible in the process.
The Democracy Project, National Issues Convention, Department of Government, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712. Phone: (512) 471-5121. (Professor James S.Fishkin)
Austin, Texas and the University of Texas will host a major experiment in electronic democracy. They will provide the facilities and design for a National Issues Convention, January 18-21, 1996, the weekend just before the Presidential primaries begin in February. They will select 600 people in a random scientific sample, who will be flown to Austin, attend briefings and deliberate over the major issues facing the country. Polls will be conducted throughout the process. The process and results of this intensive forum will be televised in six to eight hours of programming on the McNeil / Lehrer Newshour. The participants will get a chance to quiz candidates for the Presidency during the process. The National Issues Convention is based on a successful prototype issues convention which Professor Fishkin did on British television last year on a single issue: crime.