Audience Response Systems (ARS)

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Audience response systems (ARS) are a kind of information and communications technology used in deliberative contexts to gather participant feedback using wired or wireless digital devices. In most instances, each participant is given a wireless keypad or mobile device which allow them to communicate an answer to a receiver (a base station or, a cloud/software depending on the wire setup).

Problems and Purpose

Audience response systems have become common methods of preference articulation in large group meetings and deliberations such as 21st Century Town Meetings. ARS allows presenters to ask a question to the room and to gather immediate feedback in a short amount of time which can then be instantly displayed on a screen or recorded in real time. Serial numbers on the remotes allow organizers – but not other participants – to identify individual voters.


According to Wikipedia, audience response systems have been in use since the 1950s especially in the field of advertising and marketing (“Audience Response”, n.d.). The use of ASR in a deliberative context is perhaps most easily traced back to AmericaSpeaks21st Century Town Meetings which began in the mid 1990s and continue on as a method of participatory democracy.

Participant Selection

The selection of participants varies depending on the context in which this tool is employed. For example, 21st Century Town Meetings often takes advantage of this technology but the selection of participants depends on the topic and goal of the organizers. The DC Citizen Summits were open to all while the DC Youth Summit specifically recruited those between the ages of 14 and 21.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The use of networked computers or electronic polling devices record the ideas developed either in groups or individually.

According to Moynihan, the use of ASR during the DC Citizen Summits fostered discussion and consensus among the individuals in each group about the messages to be entered into the computer” (Moynihan, 2003, p179). As well, the recording of serial numbers means data can be used at both the aggregate and individual-level which allows results to be cross referenced with participant demographics. It is thus possible for organizers to identify clusters of preferences among groups or individuals and so move deliberations in a consensus focused direction (Hall, 2011).

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The “polling keypads allowed citizens to rank preferences, which facilitated an iterative consideration and prioritization of specific policy trade-offs and preferences” (Moynihan, 2003, p179).


Analysis and Lessons Learned



Secondary Sources

Audience Response. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Hall, S (2011), ‘The District of Columbia Neighbourhood Action Initiative’ Participedia, Available From:

Moynihan, D (2003), ‘Normative and Instrumental Perspectives on Public Participation: Citizen Summits in Washington DC’, The American Review of Public Administration, vol.33, no. 2, pp. 164-188

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