Public Participation Guide: Computer-Assisted Processes
Computer-assisted processes use computer-based tools to facilitate interaction and documentation at large group forums. Examples include keypad polling or networked computers, where individuals enter responses to questions on numerical keypads or networked computers and the composite results are displayed. These processes are best used in large settings. They encourage everyone to participate, provide for real-time input and displaying of the results of that input, and allow for obtaining as much quantitative information as possible in a given time frame.
Participants in computer-assisted processes express preferences to several scenarios. They press buttons corresponding to questions associated with the scenario, using a preference scale to respond to a question, e.g., high to low, like to dislike, one to five, etc. The questions have been carefully selected and sequenced to allow analysts to infer preferences and/or special interests among the scenarios and discussion topics. From the voting, reports may be provided instantaneously or only votes collected instantaneously, with the results presented at a later time through a pre-arranged feedback mechanism. More sophisticated methods allow for the real-time adjustment of subsequent scenarios based on the immediate responses of voters.
- Encourages participation because voting is anonymous
- Useful when seeking preferences quickly from an audience
- Allows for real-time input and immediate feedback in large group settings
- Honors minority views
- Discourages individuals from dominating the group process
- Facilitates documentation at large group forums
- Can be used with other parts of the project or plan development cycle to improve the agency's understanding of community preferences
Challenges to Consider
- Are expensive to implement and often require technical support
- Software can limit design options
- Emphasizes quantitative data at the expense of qualitative information
- Only takes the opinions of those voting, which may cause for skewed interpretation of preferences and results
- Participants may be reluctant to use the devices for fear of new technology, accuracy, anonymity, or similar factors
- May not be appropriate for all communities
Principles for Successful Planning
- It is important to not let the technology drive the participation process. The choice of technique and who participates should depend on the objectives of the public involvement process.
- Determining appropriate representation is critical. Participants may be selected to be representative of a special subpopulation or representative of the more general population. At other times, there maybe no pre-selection or screening of voters and those who have access to the devices or voting sites are allowed to cast a preference
- The questions to which participants respond have to be well-structured and specific to obtain useful information
- Computer-assisted processes can be stand-alone events to obtain public input on preferences, or the information obtained through computer-assisted processes can serve as the baseline or foundation for stakeholder dialogues.
- A team is needed to plan for and organize the large public forum
- A facilitator
- Technical staff to support the computer-assisted process
- Interpreters, if necessary
- Computers and software
- Voting keypads for all participants
- Meeting venue to hold large numbers of participants
- Large screens for projecting results
- Computer-assisted process can require substantial planning time to determine who should participate; the kinds of questions that will yield important information; to obtain, pilot, and trouble-shoot the technology; and to secure a large meeting venue
- Computer-assisted processes typically last up to a day. Analyzing the results can take longer
- Only limited by size of the room and availability of technology.
- Typically high due to large number of participants and the need for computers, software, keypads and on-site technical support
Most relevant participation levels:
- Consult, Involve, Collaborate
Explore the full Public Participation Guide.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460