Equality of Participation Online versus Face to Face: An Analysis of the Community Forum Deliberative Methods Demonstration
19 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2015 Last revised: 21 Aug 2015
Date Written: June 9, 2015
Public deliberation involves informed discussion by groups of citizens, representing a general public. Such groups are sometimes convened by decision makers or nongovernmental organizations as inputs to public policy. These groups have traditionally met face to face (F2F), requiring considerable time and expense. Online deliberation environments may provide a more cost-effective and/or less inhibiting environment for public participation. But do online deliberation methods (e.g. discussion boards or Internet-enhanced teleconferences) bias participation toward certain individuals or demographic groups? We compare F2F versus online contribution levels of participants in a large-scale, random assignment, U.S. deliberation experiment that allows for within-participants and cross-modal comparisons. For English speaking adults who were required to have Internet access as a condition of participation, we find no negative effects of online modes on equality of participation (EoP) related to gender, age, or educational level. An asynchronous discussion board/forum appears to have improved EoP for gender relative to F2F discussion. The data suggest a dampening effect of online environments on black participants, as well as amplification for white participants. Synchronous online voice communication EoP is on par with F2F across individuals (measured by Gini index). But individual-level EoP is much lower in the online forum, and greater online forum participation predicts greater F2F participation for individuals. Measured rates of participation are compared to self-reported experiences, and other findings are discussed.
Keywords: public deliberation, participation equality, discursive equality, e-participation
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