The Americans Discuss Social Security (ADSS) was a national initiative to engage American citizens in deliberations on the reformation of the United States Social Security System. This was the first national use of the 21st C Town Meeting method.
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Problems and Purpose
The Americans Discuss Social Security (ADSS) was a non-partisan initiative that engaged Americans from all walks of life in a series of national conversations on the future of Social Security. It was hoped that the views and opinions collected would influence policy-makers and help shape new social security legislation.
Background History and Context
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The ADSS was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent non-profit and non-governmental organization founded in 1948 with the mission to serve the public interest. The Trusts are the successor and sole entity of seven charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by the adult children of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. They are based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and were reported to have reported over US$5.8 billion in assets in 2008.
The ADSS project was overseen by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, founder and director of AmericaSpeaks and the 21st Century Town Meeting method.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The initiative engaged nearly 45,000 Americans in every state in direct discussions on Social Security reform and reached more than twelve million through the project’s media and public education efforts.
The National Dialogue on Social Security
Between the dates April 19, 1999 and June 4, 1999, the National Dialogue on Social Security took place online. It was hosted by the ADSS in collaboration with Information Renaissance. It brought thousands of Americans together to participate in a national discussion with policy makers and experts on Social Security. The Prudential Foundation sponsored the project.
Participants were allowed to take part in any of five online forums that spanned across all different issues. The first forum was on Social Security reform and served as an introduction for users to the website and lasted the entire duration of the time frame.
The second forum presented the question of why the system needs reformation now. It made participants question whether the system meet the needs currently or if it were in desperate need of change. This forum took place between April 26 and May 7, 1999.
The third online forum focused on the options available for reform of the Social Security system. It took place from May 3 – May 14, 1999.
The fourth forum presented the idea of having a Social Security Trust Fund that invested in the stock market and whether it would be a good idea to invest a portion of Social Security in the market to generate income. It asked what the risks and costs of doing so as well as presenting the problem of who would control the investments. This forum took place between May 17 and May 28, 1999.
The fifth forum discussed the significance of Social Security to women and minorities and whether it held any special standing amongst the members of those groups. It also provided discussion for the effects of Social Security reform on women and minorities. This forum took place between May 24 and June 4, 1999.
A final forum was held during May 24 and June 4, 1999 that included Members of Congress who were introducing proposals on Social Security reform.
One survey the ADSS conducted examined the tradeoffs some Americans may make in regards to Social Security. The question was whether to raise the full-benefit age to 70. 74 percent of Americans were against this proposal, including those between the ages of 18 and 49. But the opposition declines when they survey asks them to choose between increasing the full-benefit age and reducing benefit amounts. 54 percent chose to raise the age of eligibility instead of decreasing benefits.
Another survey showed that 63 percent were in favor of keeping a trust fund over investing in the stock market. 66 percent claim a safe investment is more important than a riskier investment with the potential to make more money.
After all the surveys, it is became apparent that Americans believed maintaining benefit levels and guaranteeing those benefits for everyone were the most important items.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
According to AmericaSpeaks whose co-founder, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, was executive director of ADSS, "ADSS demonstrated the value of citizen voices and the positive impact citizen deliberation can have on public decision making."
Analysis and Lessons Learned
21st Century Town Meeting
Jason Barabas, "Americans Discuss Social Security: How Deliberation Affects Public Opinion" PhD diss., Northwestern University, December 2000, UMI Microform (9994609).
Americans Discuss Social Security, Report to Congress, (Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trust),. Retrieved from http://www.americaspeaks.org/wp-content/_data/n_0001/resources/live/adss_final_report2.pdf
Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer and Steven Brigham, “Taking Democracy to Scale: Large Scale Interventions - for Citizens,” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 48, no. 1 (March 2005): 54, http://ncdd.org/rc/wp-content/uploads/TakingDemoToScale.pdf.
"Case Studies: Social Security," AmericaSpeaks. Retrieved from http://www.americaspeaks.org/projects/case-studies/social-security/index.html
Dan Froomkin. “Social Security Special Report.” Washington Post Archive, February 25, 1999, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/security/security.htm.
This entry was originally submitted as an organization by user Evanschmitt and was converted to a case to meet Participedia's definitional standards.
Lead image: ADSS Final Report, pg. 5 https://goo.gl/rXCCnn