THE CHAOS at town-hall meetings this month was just a vivid symptom of an older and much larger problem. Even at the outset of American democracy, the framers and average citizens alike were concerned about communication between elected officials and their constituents.
Working with colleagues Kevin Esterling and David Lazer, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the Congressional Management Foundation, I conducted Internet town halls as alternatives to screaming and scripting. We recruited 13 members of Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – who were interested in finding a better way to consult with constituents. The idea was to bring elected officials together with a good cross-section of the public through a sophisticated Internet chat room.