In the last few years it has become possible to use newer technologies in public consultation. In particular, online videoconferencing has become more reliable, so some of the techniques used in face to face meetings can be done online.
21st Century distributed meetings
America Speaks used to run 21st century town meetings. They got 6000 people together in a hall, sat around 600 tables of 10 people. At each table there was a facilitator and a note taker. The note taker typed into a computer points from the discussion on that table. Notes from each table were read by a team who picked out themes and ideas common to several tables. These were fed back to the whole hall who could vote on options. By the end of the day in New York they had come up with a set of ideas on what to do with the Twin Towers site. 6000 New Yorkers wanted tall skyscrapers.
Now imagine using the same process, but distributed over scores of houses scattered around a country. Consider the way the Bernie Sanders campaign got thousands of people to set up local meetings to view his campaign launch speech over the Internet. In each town a volunteer invited people to a place to see the speech then run a local discussion on what to do there.
There are video conferencing tools that are now reliable enough to connect hundreds of such local meetings. For example, Zoom videoconferencing has been used for webinars and online discussions by GlobalNet21 and in David Gurteen's knowledge cafés. It has good audio quality, shares video or computer screens and lets people be split up into breakout groups.
So we could use such a video conferencing service to introduce the topic to dozens or hundreds of rooms simultaneously. The participants could then discuss the topic face-to-face or in breakout groups. The technographer in each group would record points in a twitter-like (but private) channel. A topic team will then tag these points to classify them. A few people will take these filtered points to write up proposals to be presented back to the whole meeting.
I will be discussing how to make this happen (including technology, organisation, funding and purpose) during the Online Facilitation Unconference, 16-22 October.