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For more subtle, and less rushed deliberation, arrange ongoing discussions, rather than quick chats. Any technology that facilitates a relay of responses or conversations can be used. Dialogue can be public—-in an open environment which anyone can join-—or private-—between selected groups of participants.

Some years ago David Newman studied how students discussed controversial issues online and in face-to-face seminars.[1] It turned out that discussion forums helped people link ideas together and justify them. There were fewer distractions than in face-to-face meetings, and the online record let people reflect on the issues, and write in a more deliberative style.

If you want to get the reactions of different people to each others views on an issue, and get some reflection as well as immediate argument, then online deliberation is what you need. Such ongoing discussions allow people to take part in longer debates over several days or weeks, joining in whenever they have time.

If you don't need discussion and reactions, but just the ordinary opinions of people who haven't deliberated on a subject, then use online surveys for measuring needs and preferences or collect their stories for identifying issues.

Electronic mailing list

All subscribed individuals automatically receive e-mails sent to the list. Their replies go to everyone on the list.

So they get reminded to participate whenever they check their e-mail. This can speed up participation, unless there are so many messages people leave.

There are two types of mailing lists:

  1. E-mail newsletters - email information releases - one to many - not for deliberation, for telling people about the consultation.
  2. E-mail discussion lists - many to many - support ongoing discussion.

It is the second type that concerns us here.

discussion on Dublin

Discussion forum

This is an on-line service that allows registered users to post questions and responses to other posted questions. In a discussion forum participants with common interests can exchange open messages and develop their arguments.

To read messages, and reply to them, participants need to visit the discussion forum web site. Few people do this more than once every day or two. So the discussion can move at a slower pace than in a mailing list (particularly if there are not many participants). But as people choose to visit at times convenient to them, they are not overwhelmed by the volumen of messages.

  • Newman et al. (1997) Evaluating the quality of learning in computer supported co-operative learning