AmericaSpeaks organized a multi-site day of participatory meetings across the state of California in August, 2007 on health care, called CaliforniaSpeaks. Like the ad slogan, *Not your father’s Oldsmobile*, this is not your father’s public hearing. AmericaSpeaks wired the different sites together and wired small tables into a central software system that let individuals converse in small groups but also be cognizant of what all the other small tables were discussing both in their site and others. More specifically, “some 3500 Californians convened in eight sites across California: San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, and Eureka. The eight sites were linked to one another through voice and data connections so that, in a sense, the event was one very large meeting.”
Taeku Lee, an outsider and associate professor at Berkeley, was invited to observe the event and examine its impact. He concluded that:
- As a group, participants’ substantive discussions about health care priorities and reform proposals reflected a high degree of sophistication and closely matched the two reform proposals that were
ultimately submitted to the state legislature.
- Participants’ opinions on health care reform itself, however, changed very little as a consequence of the deliberative event, or five months after the event.
- Participants’ views about politics itself changed more significantly – specifically, their trust in government and their political efficacy increased appreciably.
- Participants’ level of political engagement – at least on the issue of health care reform – rises markedly as a consequence of the deliberative event.
To see Taeku’s whole post, click here. It was especially interesting to see Taeku’s 3rd and 4th bullet points. One wonders whether there is a multiplier effect on these changes. Does the increased trust, for example, in government extend only to those participating in these events, which while large in terms of public meetings is tiny compared to the state of California? Or conversely, as they discuss this with family, friends, colleagues, does the impact of the increased trust extend out to others? Similarly, does their increased sense of efficacy enable them to persuade others to get involved?
Note: they have an interesting control group, people who said they were going to come but then didn’t show up. However, as one should note, there may be differences between these two groups beyond their exposure to the CaliforniaSpeaks event. It might be that the the no-showers are less trusting or efficacious people in general, or more likely to lack commitment. It could be something about these people that both caused them not to show up at the meeting and to show less trust and efficacy than the people who did attend the CaliforniaSpeaks meeting.