The Town Hall Returns:
Carnegie Mellon and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Host Deliberative Poll
For Immediate Release
(PITTSBURGH-Wednesday, December 17, 2004) Pittsburgh will be at the forefront of an exciting experiment in democracy on Saturday, January 24, when the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University host a Deliberative PollŪ at the Main Library in Oakland, beginning at 8 a.m. The poll will be one of 10 "Citizen Deliberations" to take place in communities across the nation as part of By the People: America in the World, a program sponsored nationally by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions (MLP).
A Deliberative Poll gathers a representative sample of the community to discuss and respond to questions on pressing national and local issues. While traditional public opinion polls solicit knee-jerk responses from people who are not informed on the topic, a Deliberative Poll represents what people think about an issue if they have had time to consider and discuss it with experts and among themselves.
"Most people know Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as a place to get books and research all kinds of subjects, but many may not realize the dynamic and active role the library plays in supporting a democratic and informed society," said Herb Elish, the director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. "By working with Carnegie Mellon University and the By the People project, we look forward to offering the people of western Pennsylvania a center for the exchange of ideas on critical national and local topics."
Participants in all 10 cities will consider two major aspects of foreign policy that will be discussed during the election year: How can the United States best ensure its security and how can the United States best ensure its economic well-being? Participants in each Deliberative Poll also will discuss questions pertaining to local issues. In Pittsburgh, poll respondents, for example, might be asked whether President Bush's decision to eliminate steel tariffs has affected them personally, and whether it changes their opinion of the president. To help formulate their positions on the issues, the poll respondents will be able to ask questions of a panel of experts.
"Carnegie Mellon is dedicated to helping citizens connect to their communities through technology as well as face-to-face interaction, and we believe that Deliberative Polls are a great innovation in self-government. We hope that the dialogue they spark will continue to grow long after January 24," said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon.
Developed by James S. Fishkin, the director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, about 20 Deliberative Polls have been held in the United States and across the globe, including Britain, Australia and Denmark. Deliberative polls give elected officials and policy makers a more accurate and dynamic picture of public opinion, and they give participants a sense that they have a stake and voice in their government. Deliberative Polls are true to the values of classical democracy upon which this nation was founded.
All Deliberative Poll participants will be randomly selected in advance from residents living at addresses with zip codes that begin with 152, which includes the city of Pittsburgh and about 42 suburban communities throughout Allegheny County. Carnegie Mellon will take Deliberative Polling to another level with software developed for its Public Informed Citizen On-Line Assembly project (PICOLA). The project uses technology to allow citizens to participate in community affairs via the Internet. PICOLA is sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Information Technology and Society (InSITeS) and the Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics (CAAE) at Carnegie Mellon. During the Deliberative Poll, 24 of the 150 participants will use PICOLA software to work in parallel with the other participants in the face-to-face sessions at the library.
"Technology and the Internet will undoubtedly change the way citizens organize and engage in politics in the near future," said InSITeS Executive Director Ronald Gdovic. "The software coming out of InSITeS and CAAE has the potential to change the way people participate in their government. Technology is poised to help us overcome the barrier of distance to have similar interactive and informed dialogue about national policy."
Several local community organizations are partnering with the university and the library to stage the Deliberative Poll, including the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and the National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is the sole metropolitan public library system hosting the Deliberative Poll.
At the national level, By the People aims to energize and enhance the conversation on America's role in the world through a series of nationwide and local broadcasts and events that demonstrate the relevance of foreign policy issues to local concerns. The project includes three national PBS specials, national and local forums for civic dialogue and an interactive Web site. Another round of the Deliberative Polls will take place in October, including one in Pittsburgh, and project organizers hope that communities will hold Deliberative Polls regularly to gauge public opinion on important local issues. For more information, go to www.pbs.org/newshour/btp/.