Helping the public come to terms with tough issues in today’s digital and divisive world

In this time of endemic mistrust, fake news, extreme rhetoric and technology-enhanced manipulation of public opinion, it is increasingly difficult for the public to think through complex issues and come to meaningful conclusions and decisions. Yet our democracy depends on people’s ability to do exactly that.

Public Agenda’s Sounder Public Judgment Working Paper Series offers fresh thinking on this profound challenge facing our democracy, and explores potential solutions. The papers draw on the thinking of leading researchers and practitioners in the fields of communications, public opinion, public engagement, digital technology, and social change.

The Series is supported by a lead grant from the Ford Foundation, and additional funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Rita Allen Foundation.


Latest Release

Toward a More Democracy-Friendly Internet

This paper draws on expert interviews and recent studies and analyses to explore the potential for artificial intelligence on social media—particularly algorithms that shape machine learning outcomes—to support the American public’s ability to come to sound judgment on important decisions in our society. In exploring these questions of AI and public discourse, we are, in essence, asking what a more “democracy-friendly” internet might look like and how it might perform. By a “democracy-friendly” internet, we seek platforms that are not only free from hateful speech and blatant misinformation but with the positive attributes that help citizens act as citizens by providing:

  • User-friendly access to trustworthy information
  • Exposure to a wide range of political and social perspectives and value propositions
  • The ability to exchange ideas productively, with both the likeminded and those who think differently
While touching on a wide range of topics, this paper centers especially on the role communications can play in addressing the challenges the Public Judgment Working Papers Series takes on.
This paper offers a forceful argument that our best shot at fostering public judgment and reinvigorating democracy today is to focus on creating strong systems of public deliberation, engagement and participation in the towns and cities where people live their lives and learn to become citizens.
This paper examines the importance of slowing down decision making and creating space for ambiguity in helping communities engage complex and novel change, such as the application of new technologies in public life.
This paper explores the important role social movements can play in helping society come to sounder public judgment and how to help them do so.
This paper examines Dan Yankelovich’s original concept of public judgment, its relevance to the challenges facing democracy today, new thinking that enriches the concept, and potential directions for its further development and more powerful application.