Sunday, November 04, 2007

Random? Hell No! Why "Vermont's Energy Future" Conference Made Me Feel Like A Rat In A Cage

This past weekend has been extremely interesting.

I was a "random participant" in a deliberative polling conference held at the University of Vermont designed to involve residents of the State of Vermont in the issue of Energy.

Although participants were told that their selection was random - and technically, it might have been - I am beginning to suspect that very little about this poll or conference was actually random.

I think the conference was very cleverly engineered to have the maximum effect of stimulating civic engagement on the issue of Energy Policy in Vermont.

This is a good thing. We need to talk about Energy in Vermont.

I don't have the whole story - yet. I'll get it. Even though I feel like a lab rat, I'm going to run on the wheel until I figure a few things out:


Just how socially engineered was this "deliberative poll"?


Were there any hidden agendas? If so, why were they hidden?


Why did the state and the energy utilities spend around $500,000 on this unique weekend event?


Most importantly, what decisions do Vermonters need to make about our energy use and production?

I'm in the library now reading the academic papers of the Stanford and University of Texas research teams who designed this event, and I'm going to stay up all night following this trail.

There is a VERY big story here.

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6:20 AM  
Anonymous David O'Brien said...

Hi, my name is David O'Brien, Commissioner of the Department of Public Service. We embarked on the deliberative polling weekend as part of an ambitious public engagement process on VT's energy future. This project was developed in partnership with the VT Legislature, most notably Speaker of the House Symington who originally called me with the idea right before Christmas in 2005.

The Speaker's motivation for a dialog on energy was because of the expiration of major supply contracts in the next decade and the high level of interest in the Legislature. Also, to her credit she wanted to take the discussion out of the heat of politics in the statehouse.

There was no hidden agenda whatsoever. To the contrary we wanted the deliberative poll to be done so that we had the best access to average Vermonters, as opposed to those interest groups etc. that most often engage on the topic. To get this whole process right, especially the deliberative polling (paying honorariums, hotel rooms, meals etc) led to the large price tag.

The organization of the event was done by an advisory group of utility professionals, environmental groups and our department. The educational materials and the composition of the panels was the result of consensus by the bi-partisan advisory group.

I am sorry you may have felt like a lab rat in the process. I can see how it might have felt that way at times. I know for us it was one of the more gratifying experiences for a public servant. And the participants I got a chance to talk to seemed energized (excuse the pun) by the experience.

Hope that bit of background is helpful and thank you for participating.

1:04 PM  

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