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Report on Online Town Hall Meetings from the Congressional Management Foundation

The Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century report (2009, Congressional Management Foundation) tackles the lack of information available 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. 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.

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  1. Lucas Cioffi Says:

    The post above mentions that the online townhalls in the report “were not remarkable process-wise” but that they still gave the members of Congress a significant boost. Imagine if the processes actually were remarkable– what a tremendous boost these townhalls would have been for the members of Congress!

    Our company is OnlineTownhalls.com and I’ve been an NCDD member for a few years. We’re exploring a hybrid model of online, telephone, and in-person townhalls. If you’re an NCDD member and you’re interested in engaging members of Congress, please feel free to drop us a note and we’ll be happy to share our experiences with you! lucas[at]onlinetownhalls[dot]com