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Equality of Participation Online Versus Face to Face: Condensed Analysis of the Community Forum Deliberative Methods Demonstration

December 06, 2016 by Eric Showers, Nathan Tindall, Todd Davies

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Online deliberation may provide a more cost-effective and/or less inhibiting environment for public participation than face to face (F2F). But do online methods bias participation toward certain individuals or groups? We compare F2F versus online participation in an experiment affording within-participants and cross-modal comparisons. For English speakers required to have Internet access as a condition of participation, we find no negative effects of online modes on equality of participation (EoP) related to gender, age, or educational level. Asynchronous online discussion appears to improve EoP for gender relative to F2F. Data suggest a dampening effect of online environments on black participants, as well as amplification for whites. Synchronous online voice communication EoP is on par with F2F across individuals. But individual-level EoP is much lower in the online forum, and greater online forum participation predicts greater F2F participation for individuals. Measured rates of participation are compared to self-reported experiences, and other findings are discussed.