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Community dialog technology

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1 Author(s)
Sheridan, T.B. ; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

For the past three years, the M.I.T. Community Dialog Project has facilitated approximately 200 group meetings, settings ranging from high schools and universities to political and industrial organizations, from senior citizens groups and rotary clubs to state and national assemblies of government officials, scientists and businessmen. Using electronic voting technology and specially designed meeting procedures, every participant is enabled to make an anonymous coded response to questions posed by the moderator or another participant, and to observe instantaneously a tally of how many people voted in what category. The purpose is to get a rapid appraisal of where there is consensus and where there is controversy, to allow participants to reveal their ignorance, to deal with controversial questions without intimidation, and generally to make the discussion more responsive to real interests and needs of the group. In special cases, quantitative procedures are used to rate alternatives against criteria and find group utilities, but mostly these procedures are regarded as an augmentation of normal free discussion and idea formulation, not a means for commitment to final decision. The paper evaluates the usefulness of these techniques as a function of the type of topic and questions used, the personality and experience of participants, the style of the moderator, and other factors. It poses fundamental questions regarding the democratic process especially in view of rapidly increasing capabilities for large scale community communication, such as are provided by two-way cable TV.

Published in:

Proceedings of the IEEE  (Volume:63 ,  Issue: 3 )