Foreign Policy by Canadians: a unique national experiment

Blogpost by James Fishkin: “…Foreign Policy by Canadians was a national field experiment (with a control group that was not invited to deliberate, but which answered the same questions before and after.) The participants and the control group matched up almost perfectly before deliberation, but after deliberation, the participants had reached their considered judgments (while the control group had hardly changed at all). YouGov recruited and surveyed an excellent sample of deliberators, nationally representative in demographics and attitudes (as judged by comparison to the control groups). The project was an attempt to use social science to give an informed and representative input to policy. It was particularly challenging in that foreign policy is an area where most of the public is less engaged and informed even than it is on domestic issues (outside of times of war or severe international crises). Hence, we would argue that Deliberative Polling is particularly appropriate as a form of public input on these topics.

This project was also distinctive in some other ways. First, all the small group discussions by the 444 nationally representative deliberators were conducted via our new video based automated moderator platform. Developed here at Stanford with Professor Ashish Goel and “Crowdsourced Democracy Team” in Management Science and Engineering, it facilitates many small groups of ten or so to self-moderate their discussions. It controls access to the queue for the microphone (limiting each contribution to 45 seconds), it orchestrates the discussion to move from one policy proposal to the next on the list, it periodically asks the participants if they have covered both the arguments in favor and against the proposal, it intervenes if people are being uncivil (a rare occurrence in these dialogues) and it guides the group into formulating its questions for the plenary session experts. This was only the second national application of the online platform (the first was in Chile this past year) and it was the first as a controlled experiment.

A second distinctive aspect of Foreign Policy by Canadians is that the agenda was formulated in both a top-down and a bottom-up manner. While a distinguished advisory group offered input on what topics were worth exploring and on the balance and accuracy of the materials, those materials were also vetted by chapters of the Canadian International Council in different parts of the country. Those meetings deliberated about how the draft materials could be improved. What was left out? Were the most important arguments on either side presented? The meetings of CIC chapters agreed on recommendations for revision and those recommendations were reflected in the final documents and proposals for discussion. I think this is “deliberative crowdsourcing” because the groups had to agree on their most important recommendations based on shared discussion. These meetings were also conducted with our automated deliberation platform….(More)”.