In September 2021, Helena and the Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy conducted the largest Deliberative Poll in history.
America in One Room (A1R): Climate and Energy took place online using proprietary AI moderation. The project provided an unprecedented forum for Americans to discuss in-depth climate policy areas with a representative cross-section of the US voting electorate.
In the lead up to the 26th UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, while forward momentum on climate initiatives stalled in Congress, A1R: Climate and Energy demonstrated that everyday citizens can grapple with nuanced legislative issues and arrive at viable solutions.
Americans want climate action and they want it now. A1R: Climate and Energy showed that they also largely agree on how we should get there.
Pre and post deliberation results showed significant increase in support for substantive interventions to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Participants moved in the direction of wanting to do more to combat climate change on 66 of 72 policy proposals under discussion.
A1R: Climate and Energy provided a comprehensive roadmap of actionable solutions supported by the American public. While Helena and partners worked with legislative and private sector stakeholders to translate key takeaways into real-world real-world impact, media coverage of the project drove home the message that Americans are capable of coming together and reaching consensus on complex issues.
We believe A1R is a vehicle for participatory democracy at scale. Creating opportunities for repeated convenings around key issue areas over time, the platform offers a framework for a new era of government for the people, by the people.
In 2019, Helena organized an historic event alongside members Jim Fishkin and Larry Diamond and the Stanford Center for Deliberative Democracy. America in One Room (A1R) brought 526 everyday Americans together for three days in Dallas, Texas to debate policy issues central to the 2020 presidential campaign.
A1R produced a landmark data set representing the “will of the people” when given the opportunity to engage deeply with the issues in conversation with diverse others. World leaders including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton cited the project as a salve for an ailing democracy; it was widely covered in media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, FiveThirtyEight, and The National Interest.
The event resulted in dramatic depolarization and increased civic engagement. In a follow up study conducted on the one-year anniversary of the event, this deliberative effect was still evident.
Believing the power of Deliberative Polling to combat the extreme polarization dividing the nation and resulting in political gridlock in Washington, Helena and the Center for Deliberative Democracy have been working to scale A1R to reach many more Americans and provide real-time data inputs for policymakers and stakeholders within the private sector . In September 2021, we expanded the project to meet citizens where they are using a proprietary online platform developed in collaboration with Stanford’s Crowdsource Democracy Team.
The first in what will be a series of issue-specific convenings over time, A1R: Climate and Energy took place in the wake of a summer of catastrophic weather events and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most damning report on record. In it, the authors asserted that while significant global warming is inevitable, there is a brief but viable window to take aggressive steps to curb the most devastating effects of climate change.
Facilitated by a broad coalition of partners that included California Forward, The Greater Houston Partnership, The Center for Houston’s Future, and In This Together, A1R: Climate and Energy proved that everyday Americans could grapple with some of our most intractable policy issues and create a strategy for impactful climate action.
A1R: Climate and Energy was the largest Deliberative Poll ever assembled.
Recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago, 962 participants were rigorously vetted to represent a statistically accurate microcosm of the American electorate. Californians and Texans were deliberately oversampled, with results weighted accordingly, to provide a robust comparison of where the largest blue and red states in the nation stood on climate policy.
Participants received comprehensive, balanced briefing materials evaluated by a bipartisan Advisory Council containing arguments for and against specific policy proposals on climate and energy. Over the course of 6 days, 104 small discussion groups debated dozens of policy issues and formulated nuanced questions for a panel of diverse experts. Their conversations were aided by an automated moderator designed to increase engagement, eliminate bias, and encourage participation. In plenary sessions, scientists, policymakers, energy executives, and NGO leaders answered questions formulated during the deliberations. Participants and a demographically consistent control group took an in-depth questionnaire before and after the event.
Post-deliberation, opinions converged across political party affiliation, age, income, race, ethnicity, and geography — with surprising convergence among Californians and Texans — in support of nearly all proposals to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (No such convergence was evident in the control group despite devastation wreaked by recent severe weather events throughout the US.) And though Americans were in favor of aggressive action on climate change, their discussions emphasized integrated solutions that would limit the impact on low-and-middle income Americans and maintain US competitiveness abroad. They supported a mixed technology approach, investments in innovation, and private sector flexibility, and called for a durable bipartisan approach, including a long-term budget that demonstrates how much the transition will cost and who will pay for it.
Full results can be found here.
Critically for the future of America in One Room, participants were united in their approval of the Deliberative Polling process and the online platform itself.
Over the course of 12 hours of deliberations, the automated moderator guided respectful conversations that omitted tribal cues, facilitated equal participation, and allowed Americans from across the political spectrum to discuss polarizing issue areas with extreme nuance and in great depth. An overwhelming super majority (91%) found the event as a whole valuable and the methodology helpful in clarifying their positions. At a moment when our digital ecosystems are optimized to foster discord and sow misinformation, A1R: Climate and Energy demonstrated the power of AI to unite rather than divide us.
Central to the mission of A1R is translating its results into action. As global leaders prepared to present themselves on the world stage at COP 26, Helena and partners worked to brief impact-drivers including stakeholders within government, non-profit organizations, and the energy sector. We collaborated with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to release the results in an open-to-the-public event that included a policy discussion around the issue areas with Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Media outlets including The Washington Post, Fast Company, Forbes, and Newsweek, reported on the event. Against a backdrop of hyper-partisanship and political infighting, the coverage drove home the message that Americans want immediate and substantial climate action.
A1R: Climate and Energy proved that Deliberative Polling at scale is possible. The online platform provides a vehicle to convene continuing and timely samples of the American people, creating meaningful inputs for decision makers within the public and private sectors, and laying the groundwork for solutions based on the balanced deliberations of informed citizens. A proven vehicle for dramatic and lasting increases in civic education and engagement, repeated iterations of A1R over time have the potential to unlock the enormous power of civically invested constituencies and rewrite the terms of engagement for American Democracy.
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