Both professor Bennett and professor Borning are visiting European academic institutions from their departments at University of Washington in Seattle: Professor Bennett from Departments of Political Science and Communication, Professor Borning from Department of Computer Science & Engineering
Public engagement and deliberation play key roles in democratic society. Yet, there are significant problems in both of these areas at present, both in America and elsewhere. Civic engagement is uneven at best, and thoughtful public deliberation about major issues is often displaced either by apathy or shrill and extreme voices. Another important trend is the decline of traditional mass media, and the simultaneous rise of alternatives such as blogs and social networking tools for political engagement as well as other purposes. Yet, civic discourse in these media is often shrill and disrespectful as well.
In a new research project, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, we are investigating the design, implementation, deployment, and testing of innovative ways for citizens to communicate with each other and with elected officals about civic issues. Our first major activity has been the Living Voters Guide (www.livingvotersguide.org), a citizen-generated guide to a set of ballot measures in the recent election in Washington State. The system includes a number of novel features designed to encourage more respectful listening and engagement with diverse opinions, while at the same time providing an alternative to both the official voters' guide and those of existing (partisan) organizations. In our colloquium, we will first present an overview of the landscape of civic participation and new media, followed by a more detailed look at the Living Voters Guide and our findings so far.