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Issues Forums Webinar


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Part 2 of the Citizen Media and Online Engagement Webinar presented by E-Democracy.Org. This section goes in-depth with Issues Forums - a model for effective local online engagement. Visit …

Part 2 of the Citizen Media and Online Engagement Webinar presented by E-Democracy.Org. This section goes in-depth with Issues Forums - a model for effective local online engagement. Visit for information on accessing the audio version.

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  • 1. Citizen Media and Online Engagement: Webinar Part 2 – Issues Forums Steven Clift, E-Democracy.Org Listen to this webinar from:
  • 2. E-Democracy.Org Issues Forums Steven Clift, Founder and Board Chair E-Democracy.Org
  • 3. The Problem
    • Lack of Participation in Local Democracy
      • Time
      • Trust and accountability
      • Loss of civility
      • Sense your voice won’t be heard
  • 4. The Problem
    • Need to Make Participation More Effective
      • Timely access to information and opinions when it matters
      • Openness and inclusion
      • Building social capital
      • Need more deliberative opportunities
      • People need to experience lasting power and influence
  • 5. We Are Building
    • Any time, anywhere democracy
    • Two-way online town hall meeting
      • NOT typical male-dominated political blogs (Hyde Park) or reactionary anonymous reader comments on news sites
    • Demand for local information and news in a democracy
    • Low-cost, volunteer-based, network of service club like local democracy committees – 15+ communities
  • 6. World First – Democratic Roots
    • We created the world’s first election web site way back in 1994 …
    • After the election, people kept talking in our Minnesota Politics forum.
    • We realized that it was our job to be a trusted, neutral host of ongoing dialogue among those from diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
    • Talk is cheap. Actually, “Conversation is cost-effective.”
  • 7. Blogs are not everything. Need to pick and choose among multiple tools based on your goals. Goal: Two-way local dialogue. Tool: E-mail list/web forum
  • 8. Need Public Spaces – Online Versions of Town Halls, Capitols
    • Online public spaces, not just “public” commercial spaces
    • Need
      • Decorum and civility
      • Local relevance
      • Agenda-setting and impact on decision-makers
      • Real names and accountability
    • <- The Minnesota Capitol Rotunda
  • 9. Local Issues Forums
    • The online town hall
      • City-wide, neighborhoods as well
      • Where is local power? – We place an online public space in the center
      • “ Government websites don’t have sidewalks.” (Or public hearings online.)
      • Need for independent online spaces for media accountability
      • Locally “owned” by civic-inspired citizen committee as part of E-Democracy.Org
  • 10. Some Stories
    • Dairy Queen in the public parks
      • Park board members starts discussion
      • Daily paper absent from board meeting
      • Vigorous debate online gets in paper
      • Decision reversed at next meeting packed with the public
  • 11. Dori from St. Paul
    • Active citizens and “average” citizens raise their voices
    • Ten minute “GSE” (Gopher State Ethanol) video at
    • Dori Ullman raises her voice about the stench
  • 12. Jamal from Minneapolis
    • Large Somali community in Minneapolis
    • Their “voice” was missing despite past outreach
    • Bus strike provided motivation and real world reason to join and post to forum
    • Contacted by Mayor, media after forum posts
  • 13. Mayor Rybak from Minneapolis
    • In 2001, RT Rybak announced mayoral candidacy on forum before press conference
    • More video clips
      • The Seven O'clock Meeting
      • Budget Issues - Informing
      • Let’s Ski - Gathering Ideas
      • Two-way Won’t Kill You
    • More video:
  • 14. Issues Forums – E-Democracy.Org Recent Topics
    • Local schools
    • Support for area war veterans
    • Neighborhood park changes
    • Water quality and shortage
    • Crime and policing
    • Candidates and elections
    • Feral cat problem
    • Racetrack noise pollution
  • 15. Issues Forums
  • 16. Local Issues Forums Today
    • Bemidji, MN – 100 members, Just opened
    • Cass Lake Leech Lake – 153 members, New
    • Cook County, MN – Opening soon
    • Grand Rapids, MN – Opening soon
    • Minneapolis, MN – 1051 members
      • Cedar Riverside – 103 members, Just opened
      • Seward NHood – 192 members
      • Standish-Ericsson NHood – 310 members
      • Powderhorn Nhood – Opening Soon
    • St. Paul, MN – 628 members
    • Roseville, MN – 197 members
    • Winona, MN – 87 members
    • Las Vegas, NM – 112 members
    • Central Ohio Region – 126 members
    • Brighton and Hove, UK – 280 members
    • Newham, UK – 177 members
    • Bristol 2 NHoods, UK – 220 members
    • Oxford 3 NHoods, UK – 318 members
    • Canterbury (Christchurch), NZ – 223 members
  • 17. How Issues Forum Work, Starting One Steve Kranz
  • 18. How Issues Forums Work C i t i z e n s Starting with “private” citizens moving toward public e-citizens Extensive personal online networks exist – friends, family, co-workers Personal Networks
  • 19. How Issues Forums Work Local E-Democracy group creates the public “space”, defines charter (scope) C i t i z e n s Issues Forum GroupServer e-mails posts web view Personal Networks
  • 20. How Issues Forums Work C i t i z e n s Issues Forum GroupServer e-mails posts web view Subscribe once Commitment secured Recruit citizens, elected officials, media, etc. with “sticky” opt-in Personal Networks
  • 21. How Issues Forums Work
    • Participants agree to rules
      • Sign real name
      • Post no more than twice a day
      • Stay within scope of local charter
      • Understand they can be suspended for violations
      • Forum is facilitated, NOT pre-moderated, those posting content are 100% responsible for what they post
  • 22. How Issues Forums Work Position forum in center of real power Political Activist Reporter Citizen #1 Mayor Citizen #2 Candidate Researcher City Council Neighborhood Leader Student Forum Manager Citizen #500 Gadfly C i t i z e n s Issues Forum GroupServer e-mails posts web view Post via e-mail/web e-publish, many-to-many Personal Networks
  • 23. Issues Forums Agenda-setting discussions, “e-mail leaks,” facilitation and rule enforcement key Political Activist Reporter Citizen #1 Mayor Citizen #2 Candidate Researcher City Council Neighborhood Leader Student Forum Manager Citizen #500 Gadfly C i t i z e n s Issues Forum GroupServer e-mails posts web view Online discussions in the heart of local power Subscribe once Commitment secured Post via e-mail/web Leader’s Office “ Secondary Networks ” e-mail forwards media agenda-setting Council Department Personal Networks Local Media Coverage
  • 24. GroupServer – E-mail/web
    • Easy to find
      • By geography
    • E-mail or web - your choice
    • Technology enhancements
      • Share through open source
      • Leveraging blogging standards, web feeds
      • More:
  • 25. Sample Forum – Web View Entering reply here
  • 26. Sample Forum – E-mail View
  • 27. Our Approach
    • Leverage democratic information from government, media, political sectors
    • Open sharing of lessons, how-to
    • Open source software
    • Local up – do not colonize
    • Low cost – volunteer driven, shared infrastructure and org. identity
  • 28. Start Up Overview
    • 5-10 Person Steering Committee
    • Volunteer Forum Manager
    • Other participant roles
    • Recruit 100 initial participants
    • Open forum and facilitate
    • Enforce civility/scope rules
  • 29. Form Steering Committee
    • A local “democracy committee”
      • based on the service club model – Lions, Rotary
    • Can form in association with related efforts
      • e.g. KAXE’s online community media initiative
    • Needs convening spirit
      • Key to community trust is a mix of public members not all part of one political faction
  • 30. Drafting Your Charter
    • Two-three sentence description will determine scope, set tone for years
    • Longer charter is your local detailed description that guides the forum
    • Supported by universal E-Democracy.Org rules (terms of participation)
    • Use charter drafting to involve the community in a “what do we really want” conversation to ensure broad sense of ownership
  • 31. Mapping Local Power
    • Recruitment to make the forum “matter” politically is essential, best upfront
    • Elected officials, community leaders, local journalists, active citizens
    • “ Average” citizens will not waste time in a forum that does not matter
    • Work from the “center” and avoid marginalization
    • Gives the deliberations reach and local agenda-setting power
  • 32. Recruiting 100+ Members
    • Build it and they will NEVER come
    • Most similar efforts fail on recruitment not technology
    • One at a time – In-person recruitment, community events
    • Outreach - local media, “virtual door knocking”
  • 33. Forum Facilitation
    • Forum manager guides the forum, enforces the rules
    • Selected and held accountable by local steering committee
    • Peer training/support with E-Democracy.Org’s network of forum managers
    • Issues Forum guidebook chapter, Minneapolis lessons:
  • 34. Participant/Volunteer Roles
    • Readers – Active “listeners” are crucial to forum’s value
    • Opinionators – Everyday talkers, often have views on everything
    • Starters – Discussion starters, look for topics in the news, etc., ask questions
    • Seekers – Seek out and share community announcements, links to government agendas, documents, etc.
    • Goal – A mix, with 15-20% posting participation rate of registered users each month
  • 35. Open the Forum
    • Introductions – Humanize forum with round of introductions
    • Seed Discussion Topics – If/as needed
    • Special Events in Forum – Guest speakers (Canterbury), State of the City Text/Video (St. Paul)
    • Build “e-citizen” skills of community overtime
    • Think long term, encourage sense of community ownership, value based on what people contribute not how they are served
  • 36. Local E-Democracy Committee
    • Define and assign ongoing volunteer roles, meet ~quarterly
    • Set twice a year outreach/new member goals
    • Help Forum Manager raise quality of discussion when needed
    • Hold Forum Manager accountable, review complaints/rules appeals
    • Promote local “e-democracy” improvements in government and media and through special projects
  • 37. Conclusion
  • 38. What Makes Us Different
    • Many to many with real names and civility
    • Strength in people-based model and processes that allow us to adapt technologically
    • Agenda-setting – Real world pragmatic approach versus empowering citizens isolated from influence
    • Recruitment process leads to far deeper geographic participation that pure blogs or social networks
    • Technology choice – e-mail, web, blog feeds, future social network application
  • 39. One final story …
  • 40.
    • Steven Clift posted humorously about the “public health risks of a large squirrel population” in the Minneapolis forum’s early days.
    • From Southwest Journal newspaper
    • by Martiga Lohn
    • Most days, mpls-issues is a substantive discussion of important public policy issues…
    • However … here are a few excerpts from this burning issue …
    • > Go to hardware store…buy trap…set track…kill squirrel. End of public policy question.
    • > Grab a trap and KILL the squirrel????????? Why must we destroy a living thing as a solution?
    • > Rocky and his friends are out of control. … If you want evidence, try to eat a sandwich on a bench in Loring Park.
    • > Quit telling people to move their nasty attack squirrels to wooded areas (i.e., Minneapolis parks) — we already have our fair share.
    • > I ran on an anti-squirrel platform for Student Legislature at Syracuse University in my freshman year in college. I promised to eradicate the nuisance squirrel population. It was my first election loss.
    Squirrel Story
  • 41. Conclusion
    • If this inspires you …
      • Let’s form a steering committee
      • Find a local forum manager
      • Draft a charter
      • Recruit 100 people
      • Open to dynamic and useful local public issue discussions online – any where, anytime participation
      • Change local democracy forever
  • 42. Act Now
    • Visit
    • Read, watch, then fill out worksheets:
  • 43. Additional Training Slides
  • 44. What Makes Us Different
    • Some comparisons
      • Blogs – Hyper-individualistic and more male, democratize national punditry more than empower locally – Our model equitable two-way conversation with greater female participation
      • Citizen media/online news – Vastly more expensive starting point per community – Our model create demand for better local news, brings stories to the surface
      • Social networks – Publicize private life – Our model make real geographic public life accessible anywhere, any time
      • Independent efforts – Often fail due to lack of knowledge or use of inappropriate technology – Our model is tried and tested over a decade with a shared network for support and proven technology that reduces volunteer burn-out and help local democracy online efforts launch successfully – That said we hope that for every community that joins our network, 10 other projects will learn from or be inspired by us including citizen media projects
  • 45. Small Groups
    • Come up with a rule and a technology feature that would:
      • 1. Increase the diversity of opinions
      • 2. Increase participation by women/youth/older citizens – diversity of participants
      • 3. Make posting by elected officials more likely
      • 4. Increase respect for those with differing opinions, increase trust or civility among members
      • 5. Help readers/posters find value more quickly
      • 6. Move participants toward consensus or allow group to agree on what they disagree about
      • 7. Avoid alienating political minorities while allowing majority positions to become known
      • 8. Hold forum managers/hosts more accountable to their responsibilities
      • 9. Troll group – List strategies for destroying an online community, technologies you prefer
  • 46. Your Questions/Challenges
    • What do you need to know?
    • What are you concerned about?
    • Have you had a different experience you’d like to share?
    • There are 5 right ways and 95 wrong paths. How do you choose which is better?
  • 47. Report Back
    • Small groups – Write down:
      • One rule
      • Best tech idea
    • Questions:
      • Top question
      • Best advice/example
  • 48. Who makes a good Forum Manager?
    • Sincere belief in value of dialogue
    • Respect for diverse ideologies
    • Patience
    • Thick skin, can handle public criticism
    • People skills – easier to teach tech skills
    • Not intimidated by technology
    • Common sense approach to facilitation, ability to ask questions, guide diplomatically, act quickly when required
    • Time available, committed
  • 49. Forum Management Tasks - 1
    • Keeping the space “safe” or civil for all participants
    • Encouraging/enforcing compliance with forum rules
    • Keeping discussions on topic (within scope or purpose of forum)
  • 50. Rules
    • Rules summary -
      • 1. Sign Posts - Use your real name.
      • 2. Limits on Posting - Two per member per day in most forum charters.
      • 3. Keep Topics within Forum Purpose - Local issues on a local forum, for example.
      • 4. Be Civil - This is a public forum with real people. Respect among citizens with differing views is our cornerstone.
      • 5. No Attacks or Threats - This keeps the forums safe. If content is illegal it will be forwarded to the proper legal authorities.
      • 6. Private Stays Private - Don't forward private replies without permission.
      • 7. Avoid False Rumors - Asking for clarification of what you've heard in the community can be appropriate if issues-based. You alone are responsible for what you post.
      • 8. Right to Post and Reply - Sharing your knowledge and opinions with your fellow citizens is a democratic right.
      • 9. Items Not Allowed in Forums - No attachments, etc.
      • 10. Public Content and Use - You are sharing your content, but you retain your copyright.
      • 11. Warnings - You may receive informal or official warnings from the Forum Manager.
      • 12. Suspension - With your second official warning in one year, you are suspended for two weeks. It goes up from there.
      • 13. Appeals Process - You can appeal a warning(s) once you receive a third warning and six-month removal. About one in 1,500 forum members each year have appealed a six-month removal in past years.
  • 51. Forum Management Tasks - 2
    • Welcoming new members
    • Managing message volume
      • in both unmoderated and moderated forums
    • Introducing new topics
      • Sharing media/website links
      • Asking a question
    • Encouraging alternative viewpoints
      • Moving discussion along
  • 52. Forum Management Tasks - 3
    • Supporting and encouraging good behavior
    • Responding to participant questions or complaints
      • Waiting for complaints versus public/private action
    • Ongoing recruitment
    • Tasks can be distributed/shared
  • 53. Additional Models
    • E-Debates – Candidates (parties) on the virtual stage for two weeks
      • Four major themes debated, rebuttals required
      • Ten short answer questions
  • 54. Additional Models
    • Voter Voices response to e-debate and more - Video, pictures, blog posts tagged “mnpolitics”
    • E-Democracy.Org’s Wiki
      • Election links directory
      • Community links
      • Citizens Guide to St. Paul
  • 55. Bonus Slides Winona Case Study
  • 56. Winona Story
    • Starting Point
    • City of 25,000
    • Existing channels of civic engagement (newspaper, public meetings, speaking events, etc.)
    • Reasonably accessible elected officials.
    • Content
  • 57. Winona Story
    • Goal
    • To give everyone a greater voice in decisions that affect the community, increase civic participation, and help encourage more input into solutions to local problems.
  • 58. Winona Story
    • Held and event like this.
    • Contact information was collected.
    • Invitation to follow up meeting to discuss implementation in Winona.
    • Eight people attended & agreed to form a steering committee.
    • Email list created for organizing.
  • 59. Winona Story
    • Created website with more detailed information, so that interested people could find out more.
    • Virtual Door Knocking.
    • Recruited local organizations to do virtual door knocking. (LWV, teachers’ union, city government, local universities) – 850 email addresses.
  • 60. Winona Story
    • Endorsing Organizations & Founding Members to build credibility.
    • Offline recruitment: brochure, newspaper coverage, cable-access television, table events.
    • Launched with 106 members.
    • First topic: What are the three most important issues in the community?
  • 61. Winona Story
    • Snapshot of First Eight Weeks
    • 238 posts by 53 different authors. (4.5/day)
    • Participation included elected officials and government administrators.
    • Variety of Discussions, including:
  • 62. Winona Story
    • Example Discussion Topics
    • Identifying dangerous intersections. (mayor)
    • Improving digital divide. (county human services)
    • Shortfalls in education funding, rebuilding historic courthouse, plans to increase railroad traffic.
  • 63. Winona Story
    • Expanded to 230 people
    • Hosted mixed live/online events
    • National/International attention.