The Virtual Agora Project was launched in Fall, 2002 at Carnegie Mellon University with a three-year National Science Foundation grant (since extended for a fourth year) to develop and test video, audio, and text-based tools to support collaborative information sharing and structured public discussion about civic issues. Central to the project is an extensive multidisciplinary program of research to help identify the factors that contribute to effective community engagement and individual empowerment through computer-mediated communication.
Originally housed at the Institute for the Study for Information Technology and Society (InSITeS) at the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, the Virtual Agora Project was led by Principal Investigator, Peter M. Shane, and co-principal investigators Peter Muhlberger and Robert Cavalier. (In the third year of the study, Professor Shane moved to the Ohio State University, but all research activity other than his own remained at Carnegie Mellon.) Although their concerns overlap, each investigator brought a distinctive set of interests to the project. Dr. Muhlberger designed the social science program, directed its implementation, and is principally responsible for data analysis. Dr. Cavalier is especially interested in the design of high telepresence online environments that help render complex issues subject to meaningful discussion by the public at large. Professor Shane is particularly interested in the incorporation of Virtual Agora-type tools in actual processes of government decision making.
The purpose of this site, created in November, 2006, is to make the methods, findings, and products of the Virtual Agora Project more directly accessible to researchers, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other interested persons. Members of the team continue to pursue, through separate initiatives, the avenues of inquiry launched in the VAP. We welcome inquiries and requests for more detailed information.