In 2002, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced legislation that called for a national conversation on health care reform. The two senators challenged AmericaSpeaks to develop a plan for how such a national conversation could be scaled up to engage more than one million people.
In order to respond to this request, AmericaSpeaks convened more than a dozen leading citizen engagement practitioners to develop a blueprint to involve more than a million Americans in deliberations that would identify shared priorities for reforming the nation’s troubled health care system – or any other matter of pressing national importance.
Millions of Voices is an articulation of the plan that emerged. The strategies described in these pages represent the best collaborative thinking in the citizen engagement field, and offer a blueprint for holding National Discussions on issues of great importance to us all. This blueprint is based on the premise that in order to reinvigorate American democratic institutions and engage citizens in the nation’s policy-making, we will need new structures and processes. Put into action, this plan will transform not only how we think about democracy, but how we experience it.
At the core of the Millions of Voices strategy are six approaches to engaging the public that could engage millions of Americans if combined together effectively. National and local 21st Century Town Meeting® would serve as high-profile events that will focus media attention and create momentum for the process. A Proxy Dialogue will use television to take viewers through a deliberative process and then solicit their views over the web. Online deliberations would engage people in small group facilitated discussions distributed over the Internet. Finally, decentralized Community Forums and Self-Facilitated discussions would be convened in communities all across the country.
The Blueprint in Action
Since the publication of Millions of Voices in 2004, AmericaSpeaks has had multiple opportunities to experiment with how it could be implemented. Most notably, in Northeast Ohio, AmericaSpeaks engaged 21,000 residents in a regional discussion on the economy of the 16-county area. The Voices & Choices process used 21st Century Town Meetings, citizens interviews, decentralized community conversations, leadership workshops, online dialogues, and television programming to educate and engage the public.