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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
September 21, 2005

Bringing the Town Hall into the 21st Century

Carnegie Mellon and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Form Deliberative Democracy Center

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are teaming to create the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy, which aims to overcome citizen apathy by giving local residents an opportunity to discuss and influence major public policy issues that face the Greater Pittsburgh community.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy will host two "Citizens Forums" each year, and each forum will include a Deliberative Poll, in which a representative sample of the community comes together to discuss and respond to questions on pressing national and local issues. While traditional public opinion polls solicit reflexive 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. Deliberative Polls give elected officials and policymakers 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. Research has shown that participants in Deliberative Polls continue to stay involved in community affairs.

"Carnegie Mellon is deeply devoted to ensuring that the Pittsburgh region remains a vibrant community with a strong sense of civic pride. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy will give citizens the tools to affect change in public policy and ultimately improve their own quality of life," said John Lehoczky, dean of Carnegie Mellon's College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Guiding the Program for Deliberative Democracy will be a 15-member advisory board composed of representatives of some of Pittsburgh's leading civic and public policy organizations, including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the League of Women Voters, the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, the Mon Valley Progress Council and the RAND Corp. (A complete list of members can be found below.) The program's media partner is WQED Multimedia.

"Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh sees the great potential of bringing people with varying viewpoints together to express their ideas in a new constructive and meaningful way. Thanks to our distinguished advisory board, funders and partners, WQED Multimedia and Carnegie Mellon University, this unique effort will gauge public opinion on a range of important regional and national issues giving area policymakers a more accurate snapshot of public opinion and giving citizens a more productive form of civic engagement," said Barbara K. Mistick, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh director.

More than 20 Citizen Forums have been held in the United States since the mid 1990s, and Carnegie Mellon and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosted two in 2004, each to discuss globalization and the war in Iraq. The Program for Deliberative Democracy will focus on regional issues, and on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2005, the university and the library will hold a Citizens Forum that will examine rising health-care costs and the impact of the region's aging population and its growing biotechnology sector. Several other communities across the nation will hold similar events the week of October 22 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. The Benedum Foundation has provided an $18,700 grant to help defray the costs of the Citizen Forum.

Pittsburgh has put its own stamp on Deliberative Polls through an online version using software called PICOLA (Public Informed Citizen On-Line Assembly), which was developed by the Digital Media Lab at Carnegie Mellon's Department of Philosophy. Participants in the online polls work in parallel with the other participants in the face-to-face sessions.

"Our tripartite approach to deliberative polling—public libraries, online tools and media broadcast— can serve as a model for implementing this aspect of deliberative democracy across the nation," said Robert Cavalier, director of the Digital Media Lab and an associate teaching professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon.

Cavalier is the co-director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy, along with Mistick and Karlyn Voss, associate director of the library.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy Advisory Board

  • Barry Balmat is director of the Pittsburgh office of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization providing independent and objective analysis of complex issues facing the public and private sectors around the world.

  • Gregg Behr is president of The Forbes Funds, which advances capacity-building within and among the region's nonprofit organizations. He also serves as founding director of The Content of Our Character Project, a nationally acclaimed ethics initiative, and is a trustee for the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

  • Gregory Crowley is director of research at the Coro Center for Civic Leadership in Pittsburgh. The center works through a series of initiatives and programs to deepen the involvement of emerging leaders in the civic and political institutions of southwestern Pennsylvania.

  • Catherine DeLoughry is project manager for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which, with its affiliates, leads a collaborative effort to bring new jobs, capital investment and a better quality of life to the 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania.

  • Aradhna Dhanda is president and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc., which works to enhance the Pittsburgh region's quality of community leadership through programming focused on awareness of community issues. Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. offers unique programs and a network of more than 1,200 influential graduates, which provide individuals with exposure to the region, skill development and community service opportunities.

  • Jim Fishkin is director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy and professor of communication at Stanford University. He is best known for developing Deliberative Polling—a practice of public consultation that employs random samples of the citizenry to explore how opinions would change if they were more informed.

  • Joseph Kirk is executive director of the Mon Valley Progress Council and chairman of the Mon/Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway Alliance, a coalition of businesses, economic development organizations and labor groups.

  • Allyson Lowe is director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy and assistant professor of political science at Chatham College. The center is devoted to advancing the status of women in public life by developing leadership potential in students and in women across the commonwealth, while studying the interactions of public policy and women.

  • Tracy McCants-Lewis is president of Urban League Young Professionals of Pittsburgh, a nationwide network of young professionals who provide leadership development, economic empowerment and community volunteer opportunities for other young professionals. The organization educates young professionals to take leadership roles within the National Urban League, the civil rights movement and society-at-large.

  • Teresa Miller is deputy director of the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics, an independent, community-supported and non-partisan source of educational programs and services for elected officials.

  • Evelyn Murrin is involved in the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

  • Martha Raak is the retired dean of adult education at Seton Hill University and founder of the Martha and Ramen A. Raak Family Fund. The fund awards grants to a variety of organizations in Pittsburgh, including the Quantum Theater, where Mrs. Raak is a member of the board of directors.

  • Kathy Risko is board chair for the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Program (PUMP), which advances issues affecting young and young-thinking people in Pittsburgh in order to make the region a more dynamic, engaging and diverse place in which to live.

  • Dan Simpson, a retired U.S. ambassador to Somalia, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is now associate editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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