Studies of facilitating online policy deliberation usually focus on participant perspectives. Dmitry Epstein and Gilly Leshed instead examine the role of the moderator in ‘The Magic Sauce: Practices of Facilitation in Online Policy Deliberation’, published in the Journal of Public Deliberation.
Epstein and Leshed consider the moderator or facilitators’ viewpoint in the context of the experimental civic engagement platform RegulationRoom, a consultative space for public feedback on federal policy proposals. Developed by the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI), RegulationRoom is designed to enable deliberative participation by citizens, and is stewarded by trained human facilitators. Epstein and Leshed interview RegulationRoom moderators for insights on their practices and their view of the participant community.
In their findings, Epstein and Leshed identify two types of primary activities as practiced by moderators. The first is focused on monitoring and managing the commentary to maintain quality of the discussion. The second type is focused on interacting directly with the participants to sustain and nurture meaningful contributions from the public into the policymaking process.
While both activities aim to improve public commentary in the short term, tensions emerge when it comes to the long-term goal of improving broader participatory literacy. Epstein and Leshed examine their findings in light of this conflict, illustrating the tensions surrounding these goals by way of limitations and constraints, and offer a number of design recommendations.
Dmitry Epstein is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago, in addition to serving as Communication Officer and Program Committee member at the Steering Committee of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet). Gilly Leshed is Senior Lecturer and Director of the MPS Program in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University.