Thanks for the discussion about the Unified New Orleans Plan and AmericaSpeaks' opportunity to contribute to the process. I wanted to offer an alternative view to what often happens at a town meeting to complement Kenoli's take.
For those of you who are not familiar with the process, participants at a 21st Century Town Meeting -- sometimes as many as 2,500 or more in a single room -- are seated at discussion tables of ten. Throughout the day, participants will discuss a range of topics relevant to the policy matters at hand, and will be asked to come to a consensus at the table around policy recommendations they would like to make. These consensus responses are typed into a laptop and fed electronically to a "theme team." It is the role of this team to identify the strongest themes across all of the tables in the room.
It is these "priorities" or "themes" that are, as Kenoli, subject to a "majority rules" scenario.
Two points to consider:
1) A table with a strong "minority report" or dissenting view are encouraged to enter those into their keypads
2) Theme teams will often look for these insights and report them to the lead facilitator to share with the group
They are not, however, subject to the "majority rule scenario." They are, however, captured in the report that goes to the sponsoring organization.
The most important caution Kenoli raises, in my opinion, is the question of "speed." It is a challenge that there are often dense, complex policy issues on the table, and 20 or 30 minutes for discussion of that issue among 10 individuals is rarely enough to get to that "deeper" level of dialogue where one has the opportunity to understand the trade-offs and underlying values implicit in such decision-making.
I do believe, however, that with our increased sophistication in the development of discussion guides, expert presentations, diverse participants, and the use of multimedia presentation tools we can get much closer to developing "informed decision-making" by the true public than has been seen in any urban democracy before our time.
Lars Hasselblad Torres
Researcher & Web Developer
Download AmericaSpeaks' Latest Report,
On Jan 23, 2007, at 1:17 PM, Olya Kenney wrote:
On the other hand, because it's a "majority rules" scenario, I think that the most creative, and therefore often least popular ideas, never have a chance to be fully discussed or presented.