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Press Release

Jonathan Potts
Carnegie Mellon University

Lane Cigna
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

For immediate release:
September 21, 2004

Democracy in Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh And WQED Multimedia Team Up for the City's Second Deliberative Poll

PITTSBURGH—With the presidential election just weeks away, Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will host the year's second Deliberative Poll® at 8 a.m. Saturday, October 16, at Carnegie Mellon's campus in Oakland. The poll will be one of many "Citizen Deliberations" to take place in 17 communities across the nation as part of By the People: America in the World, a program sponsored nationally by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions (MLP) and in conjunction locally with WQED Multimedia.

A Deliberative Poll gathers a representative sample of the community to discuss and respond to questions on pressing national and local issues. While traditional public opinion polls solicit knee-jerk responses from people who are not informed on the topic, a Deliberative Poll represents what people think about an issue if they have had time to consider and discuss it with experts and among themselves.

Participants in all 17 cities will consider two major issues that confront the nation as it prepares to elect a president: national security and global trade. To help formulate their positions on the issues, the respondents will be able to ask questions of a panel of experts. Participants will have answered a series of questions before taking part in the poll, and they will answer the same questions afterward to see if their opinions have changed. For the Pittsburgh event, 200 Allegheny County residents will be recruited through random sampling to participate.

"We take pride at Carnegie Mellon in being innovators, and Deliberative Polls are great innovations in self-government. Working with our partners at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, we hope to be able to continue to help the residents of this region become more engaged in civic affairs," said John Lehoczky, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon.

Developed by James S. Fishkin, the director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, Deliberative Polls have been held in the United States and across the globe, including Britain, Australia and Denmark. They have recently been employed at the local level in New Haven, Conn. Deliberative Polls give elected officials and policy makers a more accurate and dynamic picture of public opinion, and they give participants a sense that they have a stake and voice in their government.

"We're pleased to partner with Carnegie Mellon and WQED Multimedia to bring Pittsburgh the next Deliberative Poll. Our form of government depends upon a really informed populace, one in which there is light rather than heat and truths are discovered," Library Director Herb Elish said. "The Library's participation is a reflection of who we are as a repository of information, a neutral place and a place where people can freely discuss ideas and exchange views."

Pittsburgh's first Deliberative Poll took place in January at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Main Library in Oakland. At the conclusion of the January event, a majority of the 100 participants said that the war in Iraq had gotten in the way of the war on terrorism; before the Deliberative Poll, fewer than 50 percent of the respondents held that opinion.

Carnegie Mellon has taken Deliberative Polling to another level with software developed specifically for use in online versions of Deliberative Polls. In collaboration with Fishkin, the Department of Philosophy's Digital Media Lab has created PICOLA (Public Informed Citizen On-Line Assembly). The software was successfully employed in last January's event and a group of 10 people will be participating in the online poll on October 16.

"This software represents the next generation of multimedia-based Internet communication tools, which are designed to support structured online conversations and to encourage a high level of citizen participation," said Robert Cavalier, director of the Digital Media Lab and an associate teaching professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon.

Several local community organizations are partnering with the university and the library to stage the Deliberative Poll, including the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh; the Pittsburgh chapter of the League of Women Voters; Global Connections of Pittsburgh; and Chatham College's Pennsylvania Women in Politics and Public Policy. In addition to these community organizations, Carnegie Mellon's College of Humanities and Social Sciences; its departments of Philosophy and Social and Decision Sciences; and the Institute for the Study of Information Technology and Society (InSITeS) in the university's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management are lending support to this event. For more information, go to

At the national level, By the People aims to energize and enhance the conversation on America's role in the world through a series of nationwide and local broadcasts and events that demonstrate the relevance of foreign policy issues to local concerns. The project includes three national PBS specials, national and local forums for civic dialogue and an interactive Web site. The project organizers hope that communities will hold Deliberative Polls regularly to gauge public opinion on important local issues. For more information, go to


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