Individual Impacts

The experience of participating in a 21st Century Town Meeting® has had a demonstrated impact on the individual citizens who participate. Independent evaluations of our work have shown that citizens gain an appreciation of other points of view, learn new information, change their opinions, increase trust and a personal sense of efficacy, and change personal behavior.

  • A Northwestern University study of a series of AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meetings® on Social Security found significant individual effects compared to a control group:

“Not only did attendees say their understanding of facts of Social Security increased as a result of their participation in the forum, but also their responses to a series of six factual questions showed their overall knowledge really did increase.”

“After the forum, attendees were dramatically more likely than others to say they spent time thinking about talking about, and reading about Social Security.”

  • A Columbia University study of AmericaSpeaks’ 21st Century Town Meeting® to shape the future of the World Trade Center site after 9/11 found significant shifts in points of view:

“A respondent who described herself as politically conservative said she was “amazed at what came out of my mouth. I said there should be low income housing down there.”

“She explained that the discussion gave her “time to really think about things I’ve never thought about very much” and she came to believe “this could be a new beginning for a lot of—for our city and for all of us—and to have low income and middle income housing…would be a new beginning.”

“One of the most striking findings from our research so far is that those who participated in the CaliforniaSpeaks town meeting were far more likely to engage in a range of political acts on the health care issue — such as contacting public officials, volunteering for organizations, signing or circulating petitions, calling in to a radio station, and contacting other media. For one of these acts — contacting public officials — it seems that many participants were asked by some third party to initiate such contact and subsequently did so. For all of the other political actions about which we inquired, some other aspect of the town meeting experience — such as the people they met there, the discussions they had, or the mere experience of attending — made them more likely to engage in the politics of health care reform.”

“Overall, the Our Economy, Our Budget Event (OBOE) appears to have achieved its goals of bringing together a diverse group of ordinary Americans to engage each other in constructive discussion. Both liberals and conservatives appear to have moderated in their policy views regarding spending cuts and tax increases. And the organizers appear to have been quite successful in creating a forum for open and balanced discussion, based on the self-reports of participants as well as the extensive observation by our 19 on-site research assistants.”

“On different policy items, liberals and conservatives seem to have given ground on their specific priorities in order to help achieve this goal over the course of deliberation. For example, conservatives became more supportive of raising taxes on the very wealthy (liberals began with high levels of support for this measure and didn’t change much). To a similar degree, liberals became more supportive of a 5% across the board cut to discretionary programs after one day of deliberation.”

“We find in our analysis of table-level options packages that decision making for the recommendations was not strongly ideological in structure. The OBOE participants were nearly unanimous that the discussion at the events was constructive and engaging, and we find that this assessment was the same even for those who were seated at tables with citizens that were very different from themselves. The lack of ideological structure in the table packages strongly suggests that the packages were the result of creative and compromise processes at each table.”

“Community Congress II was a remarkable event in a challenging setting on the road to participatory democracy. In a city plagued by racial divisions, economic disparity, and the trauma of natural disaster, the event demonstrates that inclusive public deliberation does more than provide reasoned input and a public voice into difficult policy decisions. It does more than legitimate new public initiatives. It can spark a sense of common purpose, connect one another through a shared love of place, and rekindle faith in the future of the beloved community.”