Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has called for nationwide citizen deliberations. Calling them a "Citizen's Congress," he wants to convene 1 million Americans to deliberate and help inform policy in Washington D.C.
His announcement marks the first major recognition at the federal level of the growing deliberation movement - an attempt to bring citizens more directly into the policy-making process.
Organizations, such as AmericaSpeaks, have popularized deliberative efforts working with local and civic organizations to host deliberations. Researchers, such as James Fishkin, have advocated deliberative polls -- ways to poll Americans after they have become informed and deliberated with others on the issue before expressing their opinions. These efforts suggest that people learn more, develop more informed opinions, and become more politically engaged. Theoretically, citizen deliberations legitimize the policy making process by involving them more directly in identifying political problems and solutions.
This gives my new research an interesting potential life. I'm working with Peter Muhlberger, a political scientist, and Nick Webb, a computer scientist. Together we are trying to develop natural language software technologies that will help facilitate political deliberations that occur online. By providing tools to help citizens learn about the political deliberation before and during the deliberation, as well as facilitation tools to help citizens with the process and progress of the deliberations, we hope to enable better deliberations.
We just received a $450,000 National Science Foundation grant to bring these ideas to life.
Who knows. If we actually manage to make these technologies work, maybe we'll see them in action in Edwards' Citizen's Congress. Now, that's a thought!