Friday, 20 May 2011

America Speaks - Democracy in Action

photo by Erin & Joe

The value of conferences is increasingly being found in their ability to bring people together to collaborate and generate new ideas, the rise of unconferencing is testament to this. Fostering collaboration demands a very different approach to designing and facilitating events, America Speaks' Town Hall style meetings are an interesting blueprint.

America Speaks is a not-for-profit Washington DC based organisation that exist to 'engage citizens in the public decisions that impact their lives'. They run public events for up to 5,000 participants and are designed for discussion and deliberation rather than delivering speeches. In 2007 they ran an event programme called California Speaks, with the intention of gaining citizens' input to the health care debate. Eight events were held on the same day with a total audience of 3,500 people. People were seated at round tables and provided with discussion guides, computers on which to input the main points of their conversation and voting key pads. The output from votes held at various points and the discussions shared via the computers enabled the facilitation team to dynamically direct the overarching conversation towards areas considered of greatest importance.

This graphic outlines the main steps that America Speaks use in running their meetings.

I'm not aware of a similar organisation in the UK but the approach feels like it would be a popular way of giving people a more direct voice in policy making.