A group of nonprofits are trying to create a virtual kitchen table in Oregon that allows self-selected participants to offer their perspective on major policy questions facing the state.
Called Oregon's Kitchen Table, it invites participants to reflect their policy priorities by divvying up a symbolic $100 budget in areas such as education, health care and job growth. Its online survey also asks about taxation.
People who offer their views are promised a look at the findings. More online consultations are planned in the future.
The website for Oregon's Kitchen Table features a video by Governor Kitzhaber encouraging participation. It has a star-studded bipartisan advisory committee.
This is another example of applying technology tools to political engagement. An extreme case of the same idea is in use by the German Pirate Party, which employs "liquid feedback" to obtain the real-time views of its typically younger, tech-savvy members before it settles on a policy direction. (See our story on the Pirate Party here).
CFM pursues constituent engagement from a different vantage point. It combines the power of Web-based research using databases with PR outreach and engagement strategies. Using databases, as opposed to self-selected participation, is a more reliable way to ensure participants in research and engagement activities reflect a target population — and produce credible research findings and engagement insights.
The impulse behind Oregon's Kitchen Table is to spawn discussion of critical issues with a level of sophistication possible with technology tools. Even if participants don't mirror the state as a whole, the collective effort of putting your money where your sympathies lie is a useful exercise in shaping policy.
Another strong virtue of this enterprise is to give Oregonians statewide a common table for policy discussion, without the inconvenience of long travel distances or time conflicts. One of the leading forces behind the project is the Rural Development Initiative, a nonprofit devoted to stimulating conversations on issues affecting rural communities.
Digital democracy empowers people from all walks of life, in diverse circumstances and with different incomes to participate as equals in making policy choices. But before people become empowered, they need to be convinced that somebody is really listening so they aren't wasting their time.