Understanding opposing viewpoints.
City of Miami Beach commissioners leveraged a Project LISTEN survey to better understand community attitudes toward crime levels.

Project LISTEN pro-actively engages opposing viewpoints to better understand them.

The initial motivation was that there are viewpoints we do not understand, and want to.

Someone on one side has an opinion that is unpopular on the other. The propensity on the other side often is to dismiss the person as stupid or selfish. Experience tells us that is rarely an accurate explanation, especially if that opinion is held by tens of millions of people. So we want to understand the actual explanation. Hence, Project LISTEN.

Second, if we are going to advocate for open-minded cooperation across ideologies, we need to “walk that walk.” We need to, ourselves, be able to listen to and understand people we disagree with. Hence, Project LISTEN .

Third, as we got into building the methods and tools of accomplishing this (tragically, it’s not as simple as just bellying up to a bar to gab politics, especially during COVID), we realized that some of the tools might be useful to other people, in understanding opposing viewpoints.

So the current phase of Project LISTEN is to refine those “Tools of Understanding.” We started out with less controversial topics, in manageable settings (example: within Miami Beach, discussing the closure of Ocean Drive). We are gradually expanding their application to more controversial issues and broader regions.

The Goal: Our objective is to refine a system that, whenever a new controversial topic emerges, can be rapidly and efficiently deployed to objectively understand _why_ people think differently on the topic, across ideologies and geographies. A second objective — TBD if this will be possible — is to also influence those same audiences to themselves better understand opposing viewpoints, with the intent that this reduce poorly-formed ill perspectives of others that can obstruct collaboration. We shall see …


The project’s “Phase 0.1” launched early May, 2021.

  • Near abject failure.
  • It didn’t get anywhere, and in true start-up fashion, we learned a lot from that. The most important learnings were some surprising ones around human psychology, people’s motivations for what they choose to invest their time/resources in and how to leverage those realities to achieve engagement.
  • Incorporated lessons into next iteration.

We iterated and launched “Phase 0.2” in July, 2021.

Figure 1: Understanding viewpoints on Ocean Dr.
  • Success!
  • This release targeted an issue of acute concern local to Miami Beach, the city’s closure-to-vehicles of an iconic tourist thoroughfare as a response to COVID.
  • We achieved significant engagement, characterized how people felt about the closure, why they felt that way (see Figure 1) and identified a large degree of common ground/potential for compromise, which we had not expected and which caused us to revise subsequent survey tactics to better allow for such expression of compromise views.
  • You may review the results here.
  • Again learned a lot, incorporating lessons into the next release.

We iterated again and launched “Phase 0.3” in October, 2021.

Figure 4: Sample surveybot interaction.
Figure 3: City government engagement.
Figure 2: Understanding viewpoints on crime.
  • Smashing success.
  • This release targeted an issue of even more intense local concern, recent changes in the local crime situation.
  • Before launching this iteration, in September we surveyed the local community around issues of greatest concern. Crime led with 43% of the vote. Two months later crime became, as one candidate put it “The first, second and third most important issue” in the local municipal election. In October, less than a month before that election, we launched Iteration 0.3 on this topic.
  • We secured broad engagement, sufficient for a 10% margin of error (95% confidence) and successfully characterized how people felt about the crime situation and what they blamed it on, with a very clear consensus on both (see Figure 2).
  • Results were subsequently — unsolicited — reviewed by city leaders (including commissioners, the City Manager and Chief of Police) and have been referred to subcommittee for additional discussion (See Figure 3). City Commissioner Mark Samuelian commented, “Here in Miami Beach e.pluribus.US gives city leaders better insights into how the community thinks about our most controversial issue in the recent election, crime, and importantly, why the voters think what they do.”
  • One of the innovations in this iteration was the ability to measure the degree to which participants considered others’ viewpoints while engaged with the tool. This allowed us to not only validate that people were indeed engaged by the project, but — most exciting — that the tool was having the effect of causing people to explore opposing viewpoints. That latter development is nascent, but HUGE.
  • You may review the results here.
  • Once again, learned a great deal, incorporating lessons into next release.

Iterating again, we launched “Phase 0.4” in December, 2021.

  • Yet further success, extremely pleased with insights gained.
  • This was the first iteration deployed in multiple geographic locales, across conflicting ideological perspectives. That enabled us to measure and understand differences in viewpoints among ideologically different geographies.
  • Status:
    • Launched December 10, 2021 in first geo (Miami-Dade County)
    • Completed gathering data for Miami December 31
    • Posted responses for Miami December 31: See the Viewpoint Map
    • Finished interpretation of the Miami results January and published findings in the blog
    • Launched in second and third geos in February (Hattiesburg, MS and San Francisco Bay area).
    • Completed gathering data for all geos March, 2022.
    • Finished interpretation of all results April, 2022
    • Posted findings in the blog April 27.

You can follow regular updates on Project LISTEN in our journal, “Updates and Learnings from Project LISTEN.”

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Thoughts from across the aisle...

“You know, I went right at those things — guns, God, and Trump — and I was very moved by what I found there. I hope that people who watch the show will feel the same kind of empathy and respect, and will be able to walk in somebody else’s shoes, or imagine walking in somebody else’s shoes, for a few minutes in the same way that hopefully they do with one of my other shows.”

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