Common Ground for Action (CGA) has been utilized as a tool in wide variety of award winning scholarly research projects across academic disciplines.

Innovations For Teaching The Deliberative Experience Online: Our Experiences and Experiments in Using Common Ground for Action (CGA) And Other Teleconferencing Tools [2021]

Kara Dillard, Kara Lindaman, Jay Theis, and Verdis Robinson
Presentation for Campus Compact National Webinar Series.


Repairing Democracy Using Civic Technology: How Design Features in Deliberative Games Can Encourage Democratic Participation [2021]

Kara Dillard
Presentation at the Virginia Humanities Association annual (virtual) conference.


Civic participation in our democracy is costly: physical meetings are held at times that require time off work and childcare, are held in buildings away from public transportation or require substantial travel time. Beyond actual expenses, civic participation has psychological and performative costs too: people need to speak the “right” language, look professional, and act civil even when facing injustice. Often, those whose lives are most directly impacted by government are the ones who can least afford these costs to participating in democracy. Civic technology offers the possibility of reducing the financial and performative costs to participating in political life. This paper explores the development, innovative features, and uses of the online deliberation software Common Ground for Action (CGA) that can combat inequalities plaguing traditional methods of civic participation in political life.  CGA was created using agile methodology, a practice common among software developers, with iterations developed in consultation with a wide range of deliberative democracy practitioners, facilitators, and serious game designers to create software specific and exclusive to small group public deliberation at a scalable level.  We will discuss how CGA’s purposefully designed anonymity and moderated small group chats alongside visual representations of the group’s discussion can create more equal participation in democratic decision-making.


Common Ground for Action (CGA): A Case Study in Design-Build Innovations in Online Deliberation [2020]

Kara Dillard
Presentation at the European Consortium for Political Research annual (virtual) conference.

Understanding how online deliberation platform designs interact with their citizen-users in ways that shape democratic practice and talk is critical to advancing the field of deliberative democracy. The scholarly trend of exploring questions of design impact on online citizen deliberation has fielded a wide variety of results. Online deliberation positivists argue that such spaces encourage more politically indifferent people to participate and that talk will be free and equal, whereas cyber-pessimists posit barriers like access, speed, and anonymity make online deliberation problematic. At the microlevel, explanations of deliberative talk online has mainly fallen into two categories: Shoehorning different online talk into deliberative frameworks or ideals; and taking the Habermasian ideals of deliberative talk and assessing whether online talk matches those ideals. All of these overarching strategies of assessing online deliberation often ignore the software design and features that enable and constrain deliberation in these spaces. As many studies have argued, design matters, but much of what we know about online deliberation stems from platforms not intentionally designed to encourage deliberation. This essay explores the development, innovative features, and uses of the online deliberation platform Common Ground for Action (CGA). CGA’s design was created using agile methodology, a coding practice common among software developers, with iterations developed in consultation with a wide range of deliberation practitioners, public issues facilitators, and serious game designers to create a platform specific and exclusive to small group public deliberation. Two animating questions based on deliberative theory drove the game-design process, making CGA a unique study that challenges previously supported hypotheses and hallmarks of online deliberation: (1) how can we best ensure citizens talk and adopt deliberative attitudes in a space where they can’t see or hear each other; (2) how can we encourage and make visible the choicework process that is at the heart of deliberation. Using three meta-case studies of major projects utilizing Common Ground for Action as the primary deliberation treatment this essay examines the utility and function of the deliberation theory-based design features of CGA as well as the drawbacks and constraints of game design as they relate to promoting deliberative talk and choicework. Results show that deliberating participants were less likely to use uncivil and outrage language when dialoguing and more likely to adopt deliberative attitudes such as empathy, reflexivity, political efficacy, and finding agreement as well as promoting high quality civic behavioral outcomes such as increased voting rates. This research offers a new way to think about online deliberation design methodology, a new methodological assessment of talk and forum structure, and as a result, advance new lines research for online deliberation.

Demographics and (Equal?) Voice: Assessing Participation in Online Deliberative Sessions [2020]

Ryan Kennedy, Anand E. Sokhey, Clare Abernathy, Kevin M. Esterling, David MJ Lazer, Amy Lee, William Minozzi, and Michael Neblo
Political Studies

Critics of deliberative democracy have worried that deliberation may mirror (or even exacerbate) inequalities in participation across categories such as gender, race, and age. Accordingly, we investigate the potential for technology and design to ameliorate these concerns, looking at the extent to which online deliberative sessions facilitate inclusive participation. In a large study of online deliberation (over 1600 participants nested in hundreds of online sessions), we examine differences in the amount and nature of participation across demographic categories, as well as the effect of forum characteristics on such differences. Though our results are mixed, we read them with cautious optimism: the online format is not immune to inequalities in participation and satisfaction, but we do not observe differences across some demographics, and most observed differences are substantively minor. Moreover, features of online deliberation environments show promise for addressing some of the problems plaguing in-person designs.

The New Town Hall:
Deliberating Online to Connect Constituents and Lawmakers [2019]

Amy Lee
National Civic Review

Bringing Citizens and Policymakers Together Online:
Imagining the Possibilities and Taking Stock of Privacy and Transparency Hazards [2018]

John Gastil and Sascha D. Meinrath

The authors make the case for creating a common architecture that interconnects otherwise disparate civic portals. They distinguish among core functions, complementary tools, and future features that could go into such a system, and consider its potential to create positive feedback loops that boost civic capacity and public legitimacy.

Common Ground for Action Software and Professional Development to Support Online Deliberation in Classrooms [2017]

Andrea Christelle, Kara Dillard, and Kara Lindaman
Journal of Political Science Education

The Common Ground for Action (CGA) online deliberation platform is a dynamic tool designed to encourage diverse group members to identify collective responses to deeply controversial or “wicked” public problems that have no simple solution. The program promotes authentic deliberation, while minimizing the tactics of horse-trading and negotiating. We detail the structure of the CGA platform, including how deliberative talk is encouraged, outline a sample assignment that can be used with CGA, and professional training offered to faculty and Teaching Assistants.