Deliberative Polling® Project on transportation project and priorities and funding underway

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Metropolitan State University has launched a unique Deliberative Democracy project on transportation priorities and funding. The project addresses transportation issues in both roads and public transit, and will present a variety of priorities and funding choices in areas such as traffic congestion, road and bridge safety, and tax vs. user-fee approaches. The project began in January with a large-scale random sample survey of residents in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, and will include a day-long deliberation with policymakers and transportation experts, and follow-up survey at Metropolitan State University’s Saint Paul Campus on March 15, 2008. Results of the initial survey are expected at the end of February, with results of the follow-up survey in mid-March.

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The University hopes to provide citizen input for the up-coming legislative debate on transportation, as well as for the 2008 update of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Policy Plan. The project also examines how participants’ opinions are affected by engaging in deliberation about the topic.

“Civic engagement is a long-standing tradition of Metropolitan State,” said Frank Schweigert, Ph.D., assistant professor of Public and Non-Profit Administration in Metropolitan State’s College of Management. “We want to demonstrate that ordinary citizens can understand the key priorities and alternatives at stake and give informed input to our political leadership. That is why we are using the Deliberative Polling® process, with a random sample survey of public opinion, followed by a day-long deliberation on the issues, and concluding with a post-discussion survey.”

Deliberative Polling® has been developed by the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University in San Palo, California. Under the leadership of Prof. James Fishkin, the process has been an effective way to break legislative stalemates on issues as diverse as energy policy in Texas and Catholic-Protestant school cooperation in Northern Ireland. The most recent initiative convened citizens from all countries in the European Union to discuss the proposed—and hotly debated—European Constitution.

Metropolitan State University’s transportation survey includes an invitation to participate in the day-long deliberation on March 15th. The University can accept up to 200 respondents from the initial sample to participate in the discussions. All participants in the discussion will receive a briefing document in advance of the March 15 event, as well as a stipend for their participation. They will be randomly assigned to small groups to discuss the issues, and each small group will have three opportunities throughout the day to present questions to a panel of transportation experts and local policy-makers. The aim of the process is not to try to reach agreement, but to become informed through discussion of different views among fellow citizens. At the end of the day, participants will re-take the initial survey. Results of the second survey will be compared against results of the first, representing the most likely priorities of the public at large if given the opportunity to be exposed to diverse viewpoints and to become more fully informed on the issues.

This project is being led by Metropolitan State University’s Master of Public and Nonprofit Administration program and the Center for Community Based Learning, with sponsorship from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. It is being funded with grants received from the F.R. Bigelow Foundation and the Saint Paul Foundation and Metropolitan State University’s Office of the President. A number of individuals with expertise in transportation have served as an advisory board in the planning of this project. For more information, contact Frank Schweigert (612-659-7296) or Susan Shumer (651-793-1292).

Metropolitan State University (www.metrostate.edu), a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, provides high-quality, affordable academic and professional degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. It is the only state university in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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