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Report on Online Town Hall Meetings from the Congressional Management Foundation

Be sure to check out Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century (2009, Congressional Management Foundation), which tackles the lack of information out there about how the internet might facilitate and enable conversations between citizens and Members of Congress.

The report is based on 20 online town hall meetings facilitated in 2006 with U.S. Representatives and one event in 2008 with a U.S. Senator, with a total number of participants in excess of 600. The “online town halls” were not remarkable process-wise; the Member of Congress and moderator spoke over VOIP (internet phone, like Skype) and constituents typed in questions and comments online (yep – online versions of the typical town hall meeting). But the research is solid, and if you’re looking for data to help you convince a Member of Congress to engage their constituents using basic online technology, look no further.

Researchers found that:

  • The online town halls increased constituents’ approval of and trust in the Member of Congress.
  • The online town halls increased constituents’ approval of the Member’s position on the issue discussed (in this case, immigration was the most popular issue discussed).
  • The town halls attracted a diverse array of constituents–including those not traditionally engaged in politics and people frustrated with the political system.
  • The town halls increased engagement in politics (voting, following elections, persuading others to vote).
  • The town halls increased the probability of voting for the Member.
  • The discussions in the town halls were of high quality (quality of information, use of accurate facts, respect for different points of view, etc.).
  • The sessions were highly rated by constituents; participants wanted to see more of these types of sessions.

What do folks think of these findings (from the Executive Summary)? How can we build on this data to make an argument for higher-quality forms of online engagement?

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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