21st Century Town Meetings
What situations is this tool used in?
21st Century Town Meetings combine features of small scale face-to-face discussions with large scale group decision making – combining talking with technology. They tend to be used to bring together large groups of people to discuss local, regional or national policy issues and often garner media attention due to their scale.
Who is this tool aimed at?
The 21st Century Town Meeting is a trademarked process developed by AmericaSpeaks, designed to provide a direct unbiased link between citizens and decision makers. Decision makers and leaders are expected to be closely involved throughout the process to ensure citizen input leads to action.
How Is the Tool Used?
The AmericaSpeaks’ model is based on six principles:
Diverse representation – to ensure accurate representation of the community
Informed participation – using highly accessible, neutral materials
Facilitated deliberations – to enable high quality dialogue
Shared priorities – as a key output, using keypad polling to prioritise ideas
Link to action – through the close involvement of decision makers
Sustaining citizen engagement – via ongoing support, tools, and opportunities for citizens to act on issues they care about
Each meeting brings together between 500 and 5,000 people. Table discussions to generate ideas and themes are interspersed with keypad voting to determine priorities. Between 2-5 months is recommended for planning, which involves agreement of scope, development of materials, and management of venue and technology.
Who has used the tool?
The UK Department of Health oversaw an extensive process of engagement with members of the public in its Your Health, Your Care, Your Say initiative from 2005 to 2006. The process involved a range of engagement tools, including a 21st Century Town Meeting with 1,000 citizens. After seeing the output from the meeting, the Prime Minister at the time (Tony Blair) committed to a number of measures, including improving local access to treatment options and giving doctors greater control of the National Health Service’s budget.
Evaluation of Your Health, Your Care, Your Say: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_4138622
Key findings from Your Health, Your Care, Your Say:
Where to find out more
Overview of 21st Century Town Meeting process: http://www.pgexchange.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=150:21st-century-town-meeting&catid=54:education-and-deliberation&Itemid=144
Film of AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meeting:
Case study of 21st Century Town Meeting from NHS in Durham, England:
 AmericaSpeaks folded as an organisation in early 2014, see here for a blog on its work and legacy: http://www.democracyfund.org/blog/entry/farewell-to-americaspeaks