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NPR Covers Deliberative Polling Efforts in Tanzania

We recently read a fascinating article from NPR on the cutting edge work being done by NCDD member James Fishkin of the Center for Deliberative Democracy when he shared a link to the article a few days ago on our NCDD Discussion Listserv. It’s a story that we think would interest many of our NCDDers, especially those doing D&D work across cultures.

James and the CDD have been advancing the technique and process of deliberative polling for years. They have recently been experimenting with deliberative polling in Tanzania around questions of how to spend the African nation’s forthcoming natural gas income, and the process has been filled with expected and unexpected challenges, which the article explores.

Here’s how the article starts:

It’s Not A Come-On From A Cult. It’s A New Kind Of Poll!

You get a visit by someone you’ve never met before. You’re invited on an all-expense paid trip to your country’s biggest city for a two-day meeting on natural gas policy.

Oh, and if you show up you get a free cellphone!

It might sound sketchy. But it’s actually an innovative strategy that is being tested by researchers at a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, the Center for Global Development, or CGD, to help the African nation of Tanzania decide how to spend its expected windfall from new discoveries of natural gas.

Participants listened, they asked questions and then they went home, where they’ll be polled on their views.

The approach was actually first developed in the late 1980s by James Fishkin, a professor at Stanford University. Fishkin has devoted his career to persuading leaders to consult their citizens before making difficult policy decisions. But he says you can’t just do a poll.

“If you have ordinary polls people usually are not well-informed. You don’t want to follow public opinion when the public just has a vague impression of sound-bites and headlines.”

So Fishkin created what he calls a “deliberative poll.” You gather a representative sample of a population for a one- or two-day meeting. You give them tutorials on the issue and a chance to question experts from all sides. Then, you send them home and poll them…

The article gets much more interesting from there as it goes into the challenges of literacy and low education rates in Tanzania as well as some of the unusual cultural hurdles that James and his team had to overcome in getting rural Tanzanians to participate.

We encourage you to read the full article, or you can listen to the radio version of the story by clicking here.

You can find the original NPR story by visiting www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/05/18/406462789/its-not-a-come-on-from-a-satanic-cult-its-a-new-kind-of-poll.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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