Salon Politic: Using Digital Technology to Bridge the Divide in Political Dialogue

Salon Politic

There is a widespread and growing acknowledgement of the negative impact polarization, disinformation, and mistrust have taken on democracies in Canada and around the world. The growth of populism springs from feelings of futility regarding political change and distrust of elected politicians. Challenges in organizing groups in the era of social media and the related echo chambers that stem from them have led to a degradation of political dialogue and engagement.

In the Spring of 2019, the eDemocracy Network launched the "Salon Politic" initiative to explore an alternative method of bridging the polarization around political dialogue. In starting Salon Politic, we wanted to determine whether there was a way to create more informed in-person discussions that could extend to an online platform—a way to bring comprehensive dialogue to the digital era. If this approach is successful, we see an opportunity to disrupt current political systems for the better.

Salon Politic consisted of 15 small group dialogues on public policy issues, hosted in the living rooms of generous hosts around the City of Vancouver. Each conversation included between four to eight participants and was aimed at discussing public policy solutions to social and environmental challenges. These conversations were facilitated by trained moderators and policy ideas were recorded.

Over the course of the 15 different Salon meetings, 31 policy ideas were proposed and discussed. They covered topics such as community, education, energy, environment, food, health, government, housing, indigenous rights, jobs and economy, and transportation.

Those policies were then uploaded to the Ethelo online group decision platform for collective discussion and evaluation. The ideas were prioritized and became the grist for further deliberation in subsequent Salons.

One participant stated: "We created a list of potential items for local politicians to take action on. Normally, the only contact you have with a politician is through the ballot box. This was an opportunity to participate in direct democracy."

The overarching goal of Salon Politic was to prototype a more democratic, inclusive and efficient way of crafting public policy and promoting conversation.

While limited in resources, it succeeded in shining a light on a new model that could combine the best of both on- and offline engagement. However, the project's major success was in identifying the key challenges that must be overcome to make the effort a success on a larger scale.

Want to learn more? Get the Salon Politic report here.