21st century town meetings

“21st Century Town Meetings” was a deliberative democracy format developed by AmericaSpeaks, an NGO that aims to bring citizen voices to the table. These town meetings bring together between 500 and 5,000 people, to discuss local, regional or national issues. They have been used in the U.S. to create recommendations around a number of different issues, including: the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site in New York and the rebuilding of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. The meetings combine face-to-face interaction with technology. The participants, normally selected to be demographically representative of the whole population, are split into groups of 10–12 people, where they take part in facilitated small-group discussions. Each facilitator uses a computer to instantly collate ideas and votes from the table. This information is sent to a central point where a team summarises comments from all tables into themes that can be presented back to the room for comment or votes. Each participant also has a keypad which allows them to vote individually on themes or questions. The results of these votes are presented in real time on large screens for instant feedback from participants. The computers and voting pads generate volumes of useful and demographically-sortable data. This information is often quickly edited into a report which is printed and given to participants, decision-makers and journalists at the end of the event.