Q and A
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the technical aspects of the project?
A: Our project is a multimedia documentary about 100 participants in a Deliberative Poll.
Q: How will people be picked?
A: The participants will be chosen to reflect the makeup of the US electorate, and gathered through a polling organization such as Knowledge Networks.The pool supplied by the polling organization will be of a census-mix of people who are interested and available. We will do the final casting ourselves within this group.
One of the features of our project, lacking in previous polls, is we can simultaneously present the participants with the chance to achieve some level of public recognition as individuals. Typically polls get a very weak response from young people (they are too busy going on dates) and a heavy response from old people (they are lonely and sit by the phone). The pollsters know this in advance and weight the responses accordingly. We have a built-in 'reality tv' aspect, which may enhance response rates and cooperation among younger people.
Once selected we supply each participant with a Mac or PC, a webcam, and broadband (a cable modem) and install video chat software allowing each participant to host six 'buddies' in video online chat. See GlowPoint for an example of commercially available desktop videoconferencing and collaboration.
Each group would be six participants and one moderator. For example, looking at my screen, I'd have five 'buddies' that are fellow participants, and one group moderator. Each group would reflect the diversity of the overall group of 100. If I went online with my group, I might be talking to someone from Texas, someone from Florida, maybe Nevada, Washington, another East Coaster perhaps. And a moderator.
Q: How many groups will there be?
A: 16 groups of 6 each would make 96. It seems worthwhile to have an even 100, so we could make a couple of groups larger as our software permits.
By comparison, the Stanford online poll consisted of 26 groups of ten (and a moderator for each). Ten people seems like a lot of people to have on an audio connection at the same time -- like a very big conference call. For details about this process you can play the audio link to a talk on the Stanford Political Communication Lab website: Creating Deliberative Democracy Online: Deliberative Polling and its Implications.
Each participant will get a stipend of $ 50 a week for four hours of participation. The weekly participation would include the one hour group discussion, and three hours to read, listen or watch the briefing materials (news sources) for upcoming dialogue. Also each person will keep a personal photo blog. As the project develops, we will send a mini-documentary team to each participant and begin to build elements for television by following them through their daily lives. And also see how the process of talking to other Americans looks from their side, out in an Iowa cornfield.
Most of America is no longer as photogenic as a cornfield, but we expect this side of the project will be endlessly fascinating. Life as it is lived. And yet linked. The question at the heart of democracy.
Q: What do you think is the time frame of the forum? Will it be continuous?
A: For each set of participants, a six month commitment will be the minimum requested participation. We will keep them in stable groups together so they get to know each other well. They will also be seeing each others weblogs, photo blogs and mini-documentaries, so they will have a much better opportunity to know each other than typical 'town hall' participants.
The project as a whole is continuous. New groups can form as the initial groups run their course.
Q: Will they talk via an online forum only?
A: As the project grows into television production, we plan face-to-face meetings.
Q: Are they given topics to talk about?
A: Yes, we schedule topics. However, we can build a tool that allows outside visitors to the site to suggest and vote on upcoming topics.
For example, the design of the dialogue site e-thePeople allows users to create their own polls.
By comparison, online polls like the Stanford project tend to be controlled by the research team. But participants were able to ask questions of experts on each topic (with the answers supplied by PBS/Newshour guest panels).
Q: How often do the participants talk?
Q: How do you measure the results?
A: The primary presentation would be highlights in video and text of the week's chats, edited and culled by the project staff into a top layer. Each group moderator would be responsible, like a broadcast producer, for highlighting the most compelling exchanges, and uploading to the central office the day following the discussions. The overall project editor would then select from the highlights. But visitors to the site will have as much access as we can readily provide -- you will be able to drill down into the site and get to the raw dialogue of any group. As far as statistical breakdowns, as shown in the demo pages -- this is an area to be discussed. There are pluses and minuses to graphs.
Q: Will the project create reports as it develops?
A: Yes. Beyond that, like any powerful form of media, we would hope a lot of other people will begin writing reports on it. And not only professionals or bloggers, but high school classrooms that can make use of a ready tool to look at America dynamically and track citizen conversations.