Online Deliberation

Can we encourage citizen participation in governmental policy-making through online deliberation? This is the question that the Online Deliberation project team, headed by A/P Weiyu Zhang, has been trying to answer in the past couple of years. They have been involved in the development, testing and operation of an online deliberation platform. The platform attracts its members through random sampling (for national representativeness), after which they undergo weeks-long online deliberative sessions. The entire process is gamified with incentives to encourage better participation. To ensure deliberative quality, members are trained on online educational materials and provided with an IBIS based argumentation-support system. The platform provides support for argument visualization through a deliberation graph — a mind-map of salient arguments organised as an abstract topic-model. Separate access points are provided to policy-makers, wherein they can view anonymised meta-data of past deliberative sessions and carry out automated textual analysis to glean relevant insights. Currently, the platform helps citizens share their opinions and articulate policy suggestions regarding the issue of national population, but in the future the Online Deliberation team hopes to expand to other usage scenarios as well.

 

What

 

This is a multi-disciplinary research that brings together communication, human-computer interaction, and policy studies to address theoretical and implemental issues in collective decision-making.

 

Why?

 

This research aims to:

  • Better understand ways of  increasing the effectiveness of digital deliberation and the legitimacy of collective decision-making.
  • Enable decision makers at various levels to understand and incorporate citizen participation.

 

So What?

 

The final outcome includes:

  • A comprehensive digital deliberation design that can be used in future policy-making processes.
  • An undertanding about how citizen users and policy makers respond to such new practices.

 

Unique Points

 

  • Educational Slides on the usage of platform and the policy issue
  • Tree structure interactions
  • Graph summary of the points of discussion
  • Reward system for active users
  • Online polls

 

How?

 

Phase 1 : Pre-Survey

 

  • A nationally representative sample is surveyed and recruited to participate.
  • The survey questionnaire measured existing views and opinions regarding the policy issue.
  • Incentives are used to encourage participation in the online deliberation platform.

 

Phase 2 : Deliberation

 

  • Citizen users went through an online education phase in which two sets of interactive materials trained them (1) to use the technical features and behave in a deliberative session; and (2) to understand the background knowledge about the policy issue.
  • Citizen users participated in a three-week long deliberation to discuss three sub-issues under the generic policy issue.
  • An online poll was opened at the end of each round of discussion.
  • The policy maker interface was also made open for the policy makers to do quick and easy analyses of the discussion.

 

Phase 3 : Post-Survey

 

  • The survey questionnaire measured again views and opinions regarding the policy issue, as well as subjective evaluation of the deliberation experience.
  • Briefing meetings are held with the policy makers to present initial findings and elicit their feedbacks regarding the usage of the platform.
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