I put together a proposal to fund research for a book about automated public opinion gathering from the Net and sent it off to the Smith Richardson Foundation. The executive summary follows:
This project proposes a series of research questions aimed at better understanding the ways in which citizens use information technologies to deliberate and express their opinions, and ways in which policy-makers can more effectively gather and make use of this communication.
The introduction of new media technologies, and especially the Internet, has led to a great deal of speculation regarding how both public policy and the operation of government will be affected. Research has begun to emerge related to how governments can better convey information to their constituents using these technologies, how policy must be designed to help regulate networked media, and how such new channels of communication affect election campaigning. Far less attention has been paid to what is arguably the most important potential use of such technologies: their use in better communicating public consensus to policy-makers. The research proposed here attempts to contribute to this area by exploring the ways in which public opinion and deliberation can be expressed and summarized, while avoiding the increasingly common problem of information overload among those who must try to come to terms with an increasing flood of information from stakeholders and constituents.
Though few argue that there is a voluminous and complex set of opinions being expressed on the web and through email lists, ways of making use of this large-scale conversation are not yet clear. Using examples from my current research on discussion surrounding the events of September 11, and augmenting these with an analysis of debates over intellectual property and students� rights movements. In addition to establishing a method of extracting public opinion in real-time from these open sources, the proposed project will engage those involved in evaluating public concern in legislative and agency offices in order to evaluate how these new sources of public communication are being managed now and how they may be better utilized.
By better understanding a set of methods for extracting and managing public opinion from the collection of conversations publicly available via the Internet, the proposed research should indicate a set of recommendations for those who are charged with collecting public opinion and comments on policy changes.