PBS Deliberation Day

Already in the 2004 election campaign, citizens and voters are being bombarded by the rhetoric of attack and counter-attack. Politics defined as horse race, fundraising and ad wars occupies center stage.

On October 16, up to 3000 Americans will have the opportunity to meet in communities around the nation for simultaneous Citizen Deliberations where they will reflect, discuss and deliberate on key issues facing the nation. This democratic dialogue will focus on what, not who, is at stake. A national PBS broadcast will complement the distinctly local Citizen Deliberations that will be linked together under the banner "PBS Deliberation Day."

The participants will be drawn from carefully selected random samples of citizens from each community joined in parallel discussions among members of participating community groups and alliance organizations. The participants will come together to talk in small groups, meet with experts who also represent a cross-section of the nation?s political dialogue and share their substantive opinions about key issues on the nation?s agenda.

This will be a local-national event in the fullest sense. PBS Deliberation Day ? which will have national importance because of its scope and reach ? can also be grounded and shaped by local concerns about jobs and economic growth.

The collective views of these citizens will provide local and national media with an extraordinary ?poll with a human face? that illuminates a building block of our democracy: the willingness of Americans to participate in a civil exchange where the contrary views are respected. The Citizen Deliberations have a demonstrated ability to draw local media coverage; they will be coordinated with national Deliberative Polling? data on what people from all over the country think, on reflection, after they too have had a chance to become informed about the issues.

PBS Deliberation Day is built on public broadcasting?s unique local-national base, its commitment to public affairs programming and its mission as the convener of civic dialogue. PBS Deliberation Day presents an unusual outreach opportunity for stations to join forces with other community organizations ? foundations, civic groups and media. Some funding assistance will be available to stations for local production and substantive content inserts into the national PBS broadcast. Matching funds will be offered to local conveners.

The Citizen Deliberations link multiple local organizations ? civic groups, educational institutions, student organizations and media partners -- in high visibility efforts. With this template for invigorated civic dialogue, these activities and partnership relationships can be redirected to other issues on the community?s agenda.

The Vision

- On a single weekend in October, three weeks before the election, a national random sample and local citizens in 30 communities will engage in deliberation about America?s role in the world and the implications for Americans: not who is running, but what is at stake.

- The views of an informed and reflective citizenry enrich public discussion ? locally and nationally -- of challenges facing America.

- At the local level, citizen deliberators in 30 communities consider both a salient issue of national security, and an aspect of the international economic situation.

- Participating sites may, if they choose, adapt the economic topic to local conditions by focusing that part of the day on local concerns about jobs, outsourcing, etc.

- Capacity and commitment for continued broadening and highlighting of civic engagement is reinforced at the local level.

- A sustainable local/national partnership for civic engagement (on domestic as well as foreign policy questions) is created between MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and local coalitions of PBS stations and civic groups.

What is a Citizen Deliberation?


A random sample of citizens in a defined area are called, and given a brief survey that establishes their demographic and attitudinal profile (and makes it possible to determine if those who attend are representative of those who were sampled). They are told about PBS Deliberation Day and invited to attend the local Deliberation, and informed that they will be paid a stipend for their time. Those who indicate they would like to participate are sent informational background materials on the issues at least a week in advance. They come together on a particular day, and are randomly assigned to moderated small groups to discuss the issues; they develop questions for a balanced panel on each issue; and fill out a survey at the end of the day.

What makes a Citizen Deliberation different from other approaches to civic engagement?

Randomness. Participants are randomly invited: not the usual suspects, no ?stacking the deck,? everyone in the community has an equal chance of being invited; no special interests, an opportunity to talk to people other than those they usually talk to, and to break down the ?polarization? we hear so much about; a broadening of involvement in civic dialogue, a new constituency for civic engagement going forward. Payment of participants increases breadth of participation.

Balance. The conversation is structured, non-partisan, broad-ranging: balanced background materials are provided in advance; small-group discussions are moderated to ensure all voices are heard; participants have a chance to question panelists representing a range of perspectives; there is no attempt to achieve consensus.

Documentation of opinions. At the end of the event, participants are asked to complete a survey about their considered judgments on the issues; these results are shared with the larger public and with opinion-leaders and policy-makers; these informed views may well challenge received wisdom about public priorities and concerns.

Broad public awareness. Local PBS stations and local press feature the event; other citizens see people like themselves articulating their views and being listened to; a national broadcast highlights these deliberations, and local footage is provided by local public television stations to be inserted into a ?sleeve? on the national broadcast, for local airing.

Elements of Local Citizen Deliberations on PBS Deliberation Day

1. Day-long deliberation by a randomly-invited sample of approximately 100 citizens, on October 16 or 17. Discussion of two issues: national security, defined by MLP, with uniform background materials; an economic issue, discussed in terms of the international economic situation (with materials provided by MLP), or adapted to address local jobs issues identified by local partners, with supplementary materials prepared locally. The following characteristics must obtain:

2. Local partners are also encouraged to organize simultaneous Alliance group gatherings in same venue, using same materials, listening to same panels, and, if they wish, completing the same survey. The purpose of these parallel events is to:

3. Local public television and additional press coverage

To Learn More or Get Involved

For more information, consult www.by-the-people.org or contact Cynthia Farrar at .

To read more about Deliberative Polling, go to the page on Deliberative Polling in our Models & Techniques feature.


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