Travis Kriplean, Computer Science & Engineering, U. Washington
Jonathan Morgan, Human Centered Design & Engineering, U. Washington
Deen Freelon, Communication, American University
Alan Borning, Computer Science & Engineering, U. Washington
Lance Bennett, Political Science, Communication, U. Washington
There are surprisingly few intuitive tools for supporting large groups in making decisions together, whether they are citizens, employees, or even program committee members. This is problematic if we are to address challenges that we face as a society. We have invented a new model of public deliberation and have implemented it as the ConsiderIt platform. By encouraging people to think through tradeoffs together and consider the perspectives of others, we believe ConsiderIt can help build public trust while improving upon our collective ability to take more effective action on problems such as financial reform and climate change.
ConsiderIt focuses people on thinking through the tradeoffs of a proposal, such as a ballot measure in an election or whether an academic paper should be accepted to a conference, by inviting them to create a pro/con list which captures the most important factors in their decision. The twist on a traditional pro/con list is that beyond authoring their own pro and con points, participants can also include into their own lists the points others have already contributed. The pro/con considerations of others thus becomes grist for one’s own personal deliberations. By downplaying the role of direct discussion with others and instead focusing on augmenting personal deliberation, ConsiderIt mitigates the activation of political identity and personal attacks. In addition to crafting a personal pro/con point, users summarize their stance on the ballot measures on a sliding scale from strong support to neutral to strong oppose.
ConsiderIt also provides a novel model for participants to explore what other people think, in the form of an evolving guide to public thought on the respective issues. ConsiderIt surfaces the most salient overall pro/con considerations based on how many pro/con lists they have been included in and whether they are included by people with different stances on the issue. Moreover, participants can drill down into the salient points for different segments of the population: “What were those who strongly opposed this thinking???” Users can thus gain insight into the considerations of people with different perspectives, rather than making assumptions based on caricatures. ConsiderIt’s point ranking metric boosts pros and cons that resonate with both supporters and opposers, helping identify common ground.
Our flagship application to date is the Living Voters Guide (LVG), a crowd-sourced voters guide for electoral deliberation, deployed for Washington state’s 2010 and 2011 elections (browse the 2011 LVG). The LVG has been, in our humble opinion, a success, attracting ~20k Washington residents from across the state through its first two election seasons. Average time on site is over five minutes, suggesting that once citizens come to the guide, they are engaged by the experience. Our analysis indicates a number of normatively desirable outcomes, such as nearly 50% of all pro/con lists containing both pros AND cons. As we found in a user study, citizens were surprised to see people with whom they disagreed recognizing the importance of both pros and cons, even some of the same points that they themselves thought were important. This highlights that (1) in our current mass media environment, we are so used to hearing strong, uncompromising advocates on either side lash out at each other that we are surprised when we hear someone recognizing tradeoffs; (2) there is hope that we can build a more trusting civic space and political discourse by circumventing mass media and relying on direct communication between citizens.
We are currently working to find an institutional home for the Living Voters Guide in libraries nationwide, starting with a collaboration with the Seattle Public Libraries. Aside from helping scaling the LVG up across the country and sustaining it over time, the libraries will be developing a fact-checking service for user contributed pros and cons.
ConsiderIt has potential application beyond the electoral context. We are particularly interested in civic learning applications such as facilitating classroom deliberation about current events, potentially connecting classrooms from different parts of the country. I have also created an extension of ConsiderIt suitable for academic paper peer review. Look for this in the coming months.
Let us know about your ideas for extending the model and where else it might be applied!