Voters will be given a chance to grill preselected candidates about what matters to them during next year’s federal election campaign.

Citizens’ Agenda — a tie-up between Margaret Simons’ Melbourne Uni Centre for Advanced Journalism, Fairfax and social media group OurSay — was launched amid heaving antipasto plates at Federation Square’s Beer Deluxe in Melbourne on Saturday Night.

The tributaries of Twitter and Facebook will be tapped to discover the real issues Australia’s voters want placed on the agenda in a direct assault on horse-race journalism. The results will then be fed back into the university to be analysed by the centre’s roster of academic staffers.

“There is a great deal of discussion about the potential positive impact of social media on democracy and journalism,” Simons said in a press release issued this morning. “But few pieces of research that actually measure whether it can live up to its promise.”

The experiment will hope to circumscribe the usual problem with crowdsourced initiatives — the normative assumption that the public is actually an untapped wellspring of feisty opinion and ignored directives rather than easily manipulable mass trapped inside ideology.

Fairfax national managing editor Mark Baker was on hand on Saturday to announce that his suite of papers and websites would be key participants in the OurSay project whenever Julia Gillard decides to pull the poll trigger.

Meanwhile, the CAJ’s in-house online publication The Citizen, to be launched early next year, will “soon” announce its founding editor, according to Simons. Several very high-profile names have been bandied about, however a Crikey fishing expedition to find the lucky ed failed to bear immediate fruit this morning.