Will you be watching the presidential debate tonight? Alone, or with others? Many folks will be watching at public or private debate parties and gatherings, and many will be hanging out online via chat rooms or Twitter, or they’ll be live blogging. We’re seeing a real surge of civic engagement attributable to sustained support for conversation and participation via the Internet – conversations are happening online, and offline conversations are being organized online.
It’s great to see this profound interest and engagement, but bringing more people together in more places for more conversation doesn’t necessarily lead to some ideal democratic ferment that will ineluctably result better governance. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, too much conversation is happening in echo chambers, reinforcing the profound polarization of the U.S. electorate. We need conversations that are structured to be effective, which means we need better-informed participants and skilled facilitators and natural leaders who will guide those conversations and cultivate a vision and sens of direction within their groups and communities.
The National Conference on Dialog and Deliberation suggests methods for organizing effective and meaningful conversations. Broad adoption of these methods could result in more effective mobilizaton of the intelligence and energy of groups at every level. However these approaches require time and energy, and these have a cost. How many of us will commit to development of whatever qualities of leadership and facilitation we might have? How do we make deliberative work and democratic participation as compelling as television?
Have fun watching the debate, and be thinking of the larger conversations we can have.