Carnegie Mellon Press Release: May 27, 2004
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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
May 27, 2004

Carnegie Mellon Poll And Online Discussion Will Focus on City School Consolidations

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for the Study of Information Technology and Society announced today that it will conduct a large-scale public survey and research study whose cornerstone will be a discussion and citizen survey about school closings and consolidation in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Ron Gdovic, director of the institute, said that over the next few weeks, Carnegie Mellon researchers will be calling on randomly selected Pittsburgh residents to participate in the study. The first phase of the experiment will be conducted on Carnegie Mellon's campus and will involve more than 500 participants selected through a telephone survey to represent a cross-section of city residents.

The survey will take place between July 10 and Aug. 1, 2004, and will include polling, presentations and deliberation using a groundbreaking software application developed by the researchers specifically to support this project.

"Public schools are integral to the communities in which they serve. The success of the Virtual Agora Project depends upon the active participation of those who are fortunate enough to be randomly selected to take part in the research," said Gdovic, director of the Institute for the Study of IT and Society (InSITeS). The poll is jointly sponsored by InSITeS and the Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics (CAAE) at Carnegie Mellon with financial support from the National Science Foundation.

The second phase of the experiment entails a year-long continuation of the deliberations among 452 of these participants online. Three successive Web "congresses" will involve participants identifying successive topics of public concern. The citizens will then engage in an online discussion and survey of each issue. The research team will try to determine which online practices and technologies best promote vigorous and respectful deliberations.

Prior to the first phase of the experiment, a pilot study will be held on Saturday, June 5, involving past study participants. Researchers will work to ensure that the pilot study sample is representative of the participants who will take part in the larger project.

"Deliberation is a unique form of public communication whereby individuals from different backgrounds and with different interests and values learn more about an issue, then, through discussion, consider each other's points of view on that issue. Through a structured deliberative process, community issues can be defined and understood. Then solutions can be developed and action plans put into play," Gdovic said.

This project is not intended to endorse particular policies or points of view. "Rather, the project seeks to give voice to the many diverse opinions on issues affecting the local community while testing a new method of democratic deliberation enhanced by information technology," Gdovic said. For more information, contact Gdovic at 412-268-9858 or

About Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mix of programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, the sciences, business, public policy, fine arts and the humanities. More than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students receive an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions to solve real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.

About InSITes: InSITeS is dedicated to promoting teaching, research and public outreach with regard to the social, economic, political and legal impacts of information technology, combining Carnegie Mellon's expertise in social science with its leadership in science and technology. InSITeS' key fields of interest include electronic democracy and civic engagement, e-commerce policy, privacy and public information policy, the impacts of information technology on development, telecommunications policy and regulation, and cybersecurity policy.


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