Professor Goldberg receives Chancellor's Faculty Award for Research in the Public Interest
April 12, 2018

Professor Ken Goldberg has been awarded the Chancellor's Award for Faculty Research in the Public Interest for his work with a team of postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students that have spent the last four years developing the Collaborative Assessment and Feedback Engine (CAFE).

CAFE team members include:

  • Brandie Nonnecke, Postdoc, CAFE Team Program Manager, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
  • Camille Crittenden, Deputy Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
  • Sanjay Krishnan, Graduate Student, EECS, UC Berkeley
  • Jay Patel, Graduate Student, EECS, UC Berkeley
  • Mo Zhou, Graduate Student, IEOR, UC Berkeley
  • Shrestha Mohanty, Graduate Student, School of Information, UC Berkeley

The peer-to-peer CAFE model allows people to directly provide input into decisions that affect them and explore and evaluate the input of others. This open source, e-participation platform provides participants dynamic visual feedback about their position on key social issues, applies statistical models and collaborative filtering to rapidly discover emerging trends as data is collected, and presents emerging insights back to participants and decision-makers in near real time. By fostering open-ended dialogue and facilitating a more nuanced assessment of public opinion about complex issues, CAFE enables more informed organizational decisions while increasing participant engagement in decision-making processes. The team has worked with the US State Department, the California Lt. Governor's Office, and groups in Mexico, Uganda and the Philippines to ensure the questions and methodology used to analyze and present the data are culturally appropriate. 

In a crowded and often chaotic media environment, synthesizing public opinion on timely issues is a challenge. Traditional surveys are time-consuming, error prone, and lack peer-to-peer evaluation by participants themselves. Goldberg and his team at UC Berkeley developed the Collaborative Assessment and Feedback Engine (CAFE) to streamline and structure quantitative and qualitative data and present emerging results back to participants and decision makers, enabling participants to see where they stand in relation to their peers on important issues and providing decision makers with insights into the changing needs and priorities of their constituents (see The team has successfully implemented CAFE to address a variety of social issues, from the effectiveness of family planning measures in Uganda to the political context of midterm elections in Mexico. Altogether, the platform has gathered feedback from over 25,000 participants across four countries: The United States, Mexico, Uganda, and the Philippines.

This builds on a decade of research beginning with Opinion Space in 2009 and the California Report Card in 2015 to gather ideas for priority state-level policy issues from over 20,000 participants in California in both English and Spanish, CAFE was used subsequently in Mexico to gather feedback from over 3,500 participants on priorities for the June 2015 midterm elections (see CAFE has also been applied to empower mothers participating in programs in rural Uganda to collectively evaluate the effectiveness of family planning trainings and, most recently, in the Philippines to gather ideas for how local government units can improve disaster risk reduction strategies.

The CAFE platform has successfully empowered participants to identify priority issues for their communities and streamline the delivery of this feedback to those who make decisions on their behalf. The California Report Card implementation surfaced widespread concern for earthquake preparedness. As a result, the team continued a partnership with the Office of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to develop QuakeCAFE, collecting ideas for how California state leaders could help residents better prepare for a major earthquake. Mexico Participa enabled the National Electoral Institute to identify priority issues in advance of the 2015 election, including concerns regarding corruption and strategies to mitigate its impact. In Uganda, CAFE enabled insight into barriers to effective family planning, offering administrators of the trainings new ideas for improving their efforts. And in the Philippines, CAFE has facilitated community-driven strategies for typhoon and flood preparedness; the platform has been developed with local university students and faculty, who have also gained insights from the application of new technology and social science methods.

The California Report Card is a mobile-friendly web-based platform that streamlines and organizes public input for the benefit of policymakers and elected officials. The report card allows participants to assign letter grades to key issues and to suggest new ideas for consideration; public officials then can use that information to inform their decisions.

In an experimental version of the report card released earlier this year, residents from all 58 counties assigned more than 20,000 grades to the state of California and also suggested issues they feel deserve priority at the state level. As one participant noted: "This platform allows us to have our voices heard. The ability to review and grade what others suggest is important. It enables elected officials to hear directly how Californians feel."

Social Media has tremendous potential for innovation and problem solving, but existing tools such as blogs, wikis, and comment lists can be quickly overwhelmed by extreme viewpoints. Developed at UC Berkeley, "Opinion Space" is a social media technology designed to help communities generate ideas and discover insights into important issues and policies.  A version of Opinion Space was used by the U.S. State Department for 3 years, attracting thousands of participants from around the world to contribute, visualize, and review constructive new ideas on foreign policy.

"Opinion Space will harness the power of connection technologies to provide a unique forum for international dialogue. This is [...] an opportunity to extend our engagement beyond the halls of government directly to the people of the world." - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2010)

For information about the CAFE platform click here. 

To read an Op-Ed about the CAFE platform click here.