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TCS, Carnegie Mellon in pact for online political forum
A Correspondent in Bangalore | November 21, 2003 17:13 IST
Tata Consultancy Services will team up with Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for the Study of Information Technology and Society (InSITeS) to develop and test software that will allow citizens to use the Internet to participate in the political process in innovative ways.
"Technology and the Internet are proving to be vast and untapped resources for organising and conducting our political life," said InSITeS executive director Ronald Gdovic, in a press statement.
"Building upon InSITeS success with our Pittsburgh Policy Issues Online Forum, the software coming out of InSITeS has the potential to change the way people participate in their government," he said.
The Pittsburgh Policy Issues Online Forum is a free resource to help citizens to better engage in civic life. It combines discussion boards for the general public, as well as 'Weblog' bulletin boards for office holders who want to share their ideas and respond to citizen comments.
TCS, India's first billion-dollar IT major, will lend its software development expertise to $2.1 million research project on how information technology can improve the democratic process.
Beginning November 10, a TCS software engineer will work with Carnegie Mellon researchers to build a Web-based system called Delibera that will facilitate online debate and deliberation of public policies through video and audio elements as well as searchable text bulletin boards.
The software will have a variety of potential applications including the ability to group participants into 'Web congresses.'
Each congress would have the ability to choose an individual to represent it in cross-group deliberation. And because discussions can take place both in real-time and asynchronously, online comment periods for proposed government policies could be extended, encouraging more people to participate in the process.
"Delibera will allow individuals to express their views and exchange ideas in a variety of ways," said Peter M Shane, principal investigator for the project and chair of the InSITeS board of advisors.
"It will enable groups to engage in discussions of even controversial issues in a well-informed, genuinely deliberative manner. We're very excited to see how people respond to and use these tools."
Delibera is part of Carnegie Mellon's Virtual Agora Project, a $2.1 million InSITeS study that seeks to identify how technology can most effectively be used to support electronic democracy and build inclusive political communities.
Carnegie Mellon officials believe that the software could eventually lead to new forms of online civic government, including public hearings, public opinion polling, and new tools for community organisation and problem solving.
Through the Virtual Agora Project, faculty members will conduct a variety of experiments, including some involving Delibera, using online and face-to-face dialogue to determine the effects different types of communication have on decision-making and ultimately public policy.
The three important areas that will be addressed are: designing online communication to facilitate the discussion and understanding of complex issues, understanding how online participation affects civic engagement, and integrating online deliberative experience into actual government decision-making.
Following Delibera's Phase I construction, which is scheduled to be completed in early 2004, the team will conduct controlled experiments in two stages.
The first will be performed on Carnegie Mellon's campus, with more than 500 citizen volunteers participating in a process of survey taking, information gathering, and decision-making.
The second stage will likely be a long-term continuation of these deliberations with a select subset of the original group.
"TCS's long-standing partnership with Carnegie Mellon University has proven to be a great resource for both organizations and we are excited to contribute to a project of such social significance," said Arup Gupta, TCS America president and a member of the InSITeS board of advisors.
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