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E-Democracy.org – Project Blog

February 11, 2015

Survey Says – 56% credit their Neighbors Forum for increased community satisfaction and more

Written by Steven Clift

edemlearnabout

While we have more in-depth analysis to do, we wanted to share the top line results from our 1350 respondents. That’s a big pool – about 10% of our individual participants just on our Twin Cities Neighbors Forums (not our city-wide forums or other cities) with active accounts.

If you are new to E-Democracy and our Neighbors Forums (our BeNeighbors.org project), our online neighborhood spaces (combined email/web forum/social network) connect up to 30% of households ~daily in some areas.

Here are our top line results in PDF and responses comparing Minneapolis and St. Paul forums (PDF) (notable differences) – the answer tables for questions 9-12 are most insightful.

connecting-neighbours-online-strategies-for-online-engagement-with-inclusion-london-2013-13-638The questions PDF might be useful for those creating similar surveys for use elsewhere – we spent nearly two years crafting these based on dozens of surveys we collected and gathered feedback along the way including support from Network Impact who was commissioned by the Knight Foundation to work with a number of leading civic technology projects they had funded.

We will add more analysis as it is available here.

Here is some useful background on the three year inclusive outreach project which ended with 2014 funding wise. We even received some White House Champions of Change recognition along the way.

SONY DSCWe used Census data to help target our Saint Paul outreach and our forums use official city neighborhood boundaries which in theory mean Census data can be used in further analysis (we used this data source on neighborhood profiles extensively). We are seeking opportunities to further this extremely unique online inclusive engagement work as part of a research initiative for greater lesson-sharing. Along those lines, our public forum data is generating useful research and leading to academic papers and publications. We are interested in how survey data might be combined with forum data (of course on an anonymous basis) to generate more knowledge on impact and what works.

Some analysis now:

Some compelling results …

Percent of participants who said “as a result of information or discussions on your Neighbors Forum” (Q11) they:

  • 79% are more informed about community issues
  • 67% were introduced to new ideas and views
  • 45% learned more on how to influence community decisions
  • 32% learned more about neighbors of difference races, ethnicities (39% in the lower income parts of St. Paul we targeted for inclusive field outreach)

And amazingly (to us anyway):

  •  56% credit their forum for making them “more satisfied with my local community as a place to live or work.”

In deeper analysis, we’ve found that increasing community satisfaction is an indicator question where respondents on our four most engaged Minneapolis forums credit their forum far more at 70% for increasing satisfaction. For neighborhoods and cities seeking to attract and retain residents including new talent, fostering online neighborly connections appears to be part of the secret sauce “welcome mat” for great communities.

While our funded inclusive outreach makes our network perhaps far more representative than other online civic engagement/online neighborhood efforts, participants are essentially self-selected. To that end, we are excited to share our rough analysis from the 3,000 respondent Minneapolis Digital Inclusion survey which actually allows us to see our forum’s likely direct impact on the population as a whole.

In terms of prompting action (Q12), forums that led “you to do or increase any of the following” the forums delivered (Yes, I did this AND it increased because of the forum):

  • 8.5% more volunteer locally (39% did this already at level not increased because of forum)
  • 11% donate more often to a local charity or cause (43% did this already…)
  • 15% work more with residents to make change (32% did this already…)
  • 16% sign a petition more often (34% did this already…)
  • 17% meet community members in-person more (36% did this already…)
  • 18.5% contact elected officials or government more (32% did this already…)
  • 22% do favors or share goods with neighbors more often (31% did this already…)
  • 28% attend more community meetings (28% did this already…)
  • 41% attend more community events and festivals (35% did this already…)
  • 42% visit a business, restaurant or hire someone recommended on forum more (25% did this already…)

See question 12 for results on what people already did (Neighbors Forums do attract community-spirited people). Separating out those who would have generated social capital anyway without our forum from those who credit the forum with moving the needle on civic engagement is hugely important. Future analysis on the characteristics of forums generating more action will be useful. Future projects that build on these positive outcomes would be exciting the explore.

Emerging analysis

  • Other Platforms – With question 19, it is notable to point out that only 19% of our respondents are members of NextDoor and 29% report being on a private online group/email list for their nearest neighbors. 32% in St. Paul compared to 23% in Minneapolis report being on a public or large Facebook group or other forum outside of E-Democracy for their larger neighborhood. In St. Paul, folks who are both E-Democracy and NextDoor members compared to all E-Democracy members are somewhat less likely to be immigrants or the children of immigrants, higher educated, less likely to be a renter, more white, and higher income. This requires more analysis, but initial results support our concern that without inclusive outreach online neighborhood groups will cement ties among neighbors who are most similar or already socially connected and leave out vital parts of our local communities by the design of their systems even if not by intent. (Mar 3)
  • Gender – Also notable is that 64% of our respondents were female. A 2010 survey by PewInternet.org found a similar gender mix. Notably a recent participant survey of mySociety’s online political participation efforts had the reverse gender mix – it is our view that intentionally connecting neighbors online up into civic participation is perhaps the best path to better representation in civics online. (Mar 3)
  • Word of Mouth Power – Despite the focus on our in-person outreach on St. Paul, more people in Minneapolis learned of their forum offline (44% offline, 38% online) compared to St. Paul (37% offline, 48% online). Why? An active and engaged online civic forum like those in South Minneapolis can spread via community connections face to face. Such invites probably increase trust in the forum building a virtuous circle. Of course this also suggests just how challenging it is to go into new neighborhoods with less existing civic capacity from scratch AND how important it is to do what we did with inclusive intent to go beyond existing ties. In future work, combining our inclusive outreach with our strongest existing forums presents an untapped opportunity for reaching all neighbors with an integration oriented and inclusive bring all neighbors approach (for example Latino outreach in Powderhorn or East African outreach in Seward neighborhoods).Here is a recap on how our participants found out about their forums:
    • St. Paul – 48% Online, 37% Offline
    • Minneapolis – 38% Online, 44% Offline
    • Of those who found out offline:
      • St. Paul
        • Door – 20%
        • Community event/festival – 41%
        • Word of mouth – 27%
        • Community newsletter – 7%
      • Minneapolis
        • Door – 1%
        • Community event/festival – 29% (we did table in Mpls at major/ethnic events)
        • Word of mouth – 66%
        • Community newsletter – 7%

(Added Mar 8)

This article is a work in progress …

Survey Says … (text from our e-newsletter)

The exciting participant survey results are coming in from Minneapolis and Saint Paul with over 1350 responses. They show great comparative success in reaching the broader local community with inclusion in Saint Paul while clearly our Minneapolis neighborhood forums are stronger.(1)

Door to door worked. Community festivals worked.

Working with two awesome summer outreach teams that spoke ten different languages total over two summers was amazing. The dedication and perspiration of young people who once lived in refugee camps in Kenya and Thailand to an African-American Grandmother homeless and living with friends when we hired her was was amazing.

Here is what participants find “very important” in ranked order:

  • Get community news and event announcements
  • Neighbors helping neighbors
  • Learn about local businesses and services
  • Share information or ideas
  • Discuss or understand others views on community issues
  • Get involved in local initiative or causes
  • Meet neighbors and other community members (in-person)

The survey tells us that the more active your forum is the more you are actually satisfied with your community as a place to live. Wow.

Because of your forums directly, more of you attend community events (41%) or meetings (28), visit local businesses or hire neighbors for odd jobs (43%), do favors for neighbors (22%), donate to local groups (10%), contact elected officials (18%), sign petitions (16%) or work for local change (15%), or volunteer in the community (8%). This is above and beyond the many who said they already did these things and did not credit the forum for an increase. Our members are community builders.

In fact, on our four super active forums in South Minneapolis 70% agreed that because of their forum, they are “more satisfied with my local community as a place to live or work.” On our less active Saint Paul and Minneapolis forums, the average who agree with this came in under 50%. Notably however, those who better represent the diversity of Saint Paul that we signed up at their door reported in with one of the highest percentages strongly agreeing with this statement – more so than all but one of our super active forums!

 

(1) Our South Minneapolis forums became well established a few years earlier before the diffusion of local online spaces like Facebook Groups and NextDoor. These new choices divided neighborhood attention and likely attracted the engagement of people in St. Paul similar to those who naturally flocked to our Minneapolis forums and to this day share community content actively. Participants who share – who post useful content are key to engagement. While not all Neighbors Forums in St. Paul today are more limited one-way community announcement services, two-way community discussions and trust-building community engagement on our strongest Minneapolis forums continues to thrive.

 

Key Tables and Charts

Here are someone detailed results. See the full PDF for more including how people learned about their forums specifically.

 

9. How important to you are the following things you can do on your Neighbors Forum?

edemQ9important

 

10. To what extent is your forum meeting your needs? How *satisfied* are you with the opportunity that your forum has provided in the last 12 months to…

edemQ10satisfied

11. As a result of information or discussions on your Neighbors Forum, in the last 12 months…

edemQ11value

It will be very interesting to compare Minneapolis and Saint Paul results related to learning about neighbors across diversity. As our field outreach was only funded for St. Paul and our four most active Neighbors Forums are in Minneapolis, to really test this goal new resources to do inclusive outreach in S. Minneapolis would be crucial. It is our experience that location-based neighborhood connecting, particularly on commercial sites, connect wired, wealthier, whiter home owners most easily and that inclusive outreach requires real intent and resources.

Being more satisfied with their community as a place to live because of their Neighbors Forum tells a big story about about forum quality. Those one our four “super” forums as noted above were far more likely to give their forum some credit. In forums that are honestly relatively quiet (particularly in areas of St. Paul with competing Facebook Groups or Next Door traction) I our view people were more satisfied than they should have been. If they only knew what they were missing from how our active forums really thrive. This question showed the impact of a strong forum versus those not used on a literally an hourly basis to connect the community.

12. In the last 12 months, did something on your Neighbors Forum lead you to do or increase any of the following?

edemQ12domore

Here are open ended survey responses sorted into theme.

Select survey comments/stories sorted by theme:

  • Promoting local festivals and events -
  • Promoting local businesses and service providers -
  • Discussing community issues and happenings -
  • We especially appreciate the neighborhood councils, recreation centers and libraries using the forums -
  • And the connections made between being alert about crime and building strong neighborhoods -
  • And other local issues that matter -
  • Being connected and informed helps us take action -
  • Together, we make things happen -
  • Our ideas get carried forward to committees and local councils -
  • We build strong communities when we meet -
  • That keep us in touch with our humanity -
  • We strengthen our connections when we exchange things -
  • And, together, we care for our companions -
  • And build welcoming communities -
  • And yes, there’s more work to be done -
  • But in the end -

 

Having just completed the participant survey, this is an opportune moment to give a shout out to those who make the forums thrive by:

Promoting local festivals and events -

 

  • Because of this forum my family attended several summer events in the area. Thank you.
  • Events shared are always appreciated and make me feel more involved in my community.
  • Without a neighborhood newspaper the forum has provided basic community happenings, which has improved my sense of community.

 

Promoting local businesses and service providers -

 

  • I think one of the biggest things the Neighbors Forum does is help you when you’re looking for a service. We discovered a new mechanic who we are extremely happy with thanks to the forum. Same goes for our plumber. It’s great to hear the different suggestions and experiences folks have had. Invaluable.
  • As a local business owner, I make an effort to support other local businesses near my own. I try and use the hardware store, gas station, restaurants and other service providers in my neighborhood.
  • I just contacted one person highly recommended for handyman, and discovered he had lived across the street on my block since 1980–the same year we moved here! He’s going to patch our ceiling soon.
  • Our neighbors forum has been celebrating small business in the area. My partner and I are launching our own venture, and it has been so helpful to have community support behind our shop. This has been made possible by the Neighbors Forum, as we meet people that we don’t really “know” but have a mutual affinity for, as they are neighbors, locals who really want us to succeed.
  • I found amazing locally sourced fresh strawberries available the last few autumns by a local farmer only available with E-Democracy.
  • Someone shared CSA options in the neighborhood and I signed up for one and I very much enjoyed it this summer.
  • Finding recommended vendors and service providers has taken the stress out of guessing.

 

Discussing community issues and happenings -

 

  • The forums keep me up to date on the issues of the city, especially the controversies that people want to talk about. They’re the best place to learn about what is going on with proposed developments, vacant lots, city ordinances that impact the neighborhood.  [combined]
  • Even though not all topics are of interest to me, reading them gives me a better understanding of community perspectives other than my own. I believe this to be a crucial component of an inclusive and diverse community.
  • I did learn a little more about the complexity/differences between long-standing community members and newer residents, differences in perception regarding whose voice is “authentic,” “credible,” “legitimate”.

 

We especially appreciate the neighborhood councils, recreation centers and libraries using the forums –

 

  • I work for SENA – the neighborhood organization for Standish & Ericsson. The forum has been a very valuable means for us to get information out to a large part of the community.
  • We were able to get the word out about National Night Out and had lots of participation from the neighborhood.
  • Excellent programs and lectures at the library are posted. I have discovered this is a much better resource than expected.
  • A community member on the Forum read one of my library postings about the Library Card Art Contest. She entered her art piece and it was picked as a runner-up!
  • I like when the police liaison and the neighborhood association chime in on discussions.

 

 

And the connections made between being alert about crime and building strong neighborhoods -

 

  • It has made a big difference to me to know about crime in my neighborhood and how connecting with others can make a difference in how we watch for each other.
  • Being informed and aware of what is going on has made me feel safer and more connected.
  • I think in general when someone shares about crime or suspicious activity in the neighborhood it is helpful. Everyone knows to stay more aware and keep their eyes open for things like that.
  • There was a lot of discussion about the Ray Widstrand incident — very heated at times, with opposing voices being heard, albeit not without some hurt feelings. I felt this ongoing discussion was very enlightening because it gave insight into how differently neighbors from the same community saw this and other negative events that occurred around the same time.
  • A few years ago, when the woman was sexually assaulted in Powderhorn Park at gunpoint, with her children present — the way people in the community organized an event and got the word out through the forum was great.
  • We have helped each other be more aware of increases in specific crimes, and helped each other take precautions against them.
  • We’re not in the safest neighborhood, but when we heard gunshots right outside our house, our friend and neighbor was quick to find the police report and post it for everyone. It made me feel a little safer, just that everyone was talking about what happened, not ignoring it or hiding, or becoming too scared.
  • I attended the open forum on crime at the local police station which was advertised in the forum. The tips on how to make your home, garage, and yard more secure were very helpful. I really appreciated the time and effort of the neighborhood crime specialists to share their expertise with the public.
  • It’s kind of like a virtual neighborhood crime watch. I love knowing what is going on in the area!!  It makes me feel more secure. [combined]

 

And other local issues that matter –

(formerly Campaigns/Elected Officials)

 

  • It really helped me to understand the rationale behind some decisions being made by our local government. It was nice to hear others opinions, both those that agreed with me and those that did not.
  • When I was an appointed official, it helped me stay connected to the community and plugged into their thoughts/ideas, and what was important.
  • It has been a very useful source for information about candidates running for public office.
  • Powderhorn Park hosted a school board candidate forum which was mainly geared toward the Spanish-speaking community. As a white person, it was fascinating to listen to the stories and hear candidates point of view.
  • The discussions about Ranked Choice Voting in St. Paul allowed us to discuss different opinions on that important subject, including a lot of misconceptions.
  • I enjoy reading others’ take on city matters–what our politicians are doing and the progress or lack thereof in the school district.
  • I like it when people who know the facts of a matter can share those facts and change perceptions and the tone of a discussion.

 

Being connected and informed helps us take action -

 

  • I learned about the city’s Adopt a Trash Container program and got one placed in a garbage-strewn area. It REALLY made a difference!
  • I attended several forums/community meetings because of the Neighbors Forum.
  • I went to a local meeting and learned about the plans for the Snelling and University area.
  • I learned about the Library Love Run and Historic Hamline Village and attended a community meeting.
  • It got me to attend a couple of meetings about biking and bike lanes at the NE Library.
  • I heard about meetings concerning the new co-op that I was able to attend.
  • I heard about – and attended – a crime meeting at Matthews Park.
  • I went to the community meeting at the church next to the Arlington library and got introduced to the Youth Ambassadors. I learned a lot.
  • I was prompted to attend a MPRB meeting about “the yard” and to speak at the meeting.

 

Together, we make things happen -

 

  • We were trying to get bike racks installed at the post office. I shared information about the City of Minneapolis bicycle rack program with neighbors and now we have two new bike racks at the post office. [two combined]
  • The city parks department was going to tear down a bunch of trees and make a parking lot in our community and the neighborhood forum announced it and organized a group to make our voices heard and we were successful in stopping their actions.
  • We helped to build the new playground at the St. Paul Music Academy.
  • We helped get the co-op built.
  • I volunteered to help spread the word about the Powderhorn365 Kickstarter campaign, and we used the forum extensively.
  • Our direct neighbor was being cited for junk by a new inspector. Everyone on the forum and many others signed a petition and got them to understand it was garden art. It worked.
  • We used the forum to help spread the word about the privatization of a local recreation center and got over 100 people to attend a meeting with officials. This stopped the process and allowed us to set up a community task force to discuss what a partnership would look like.
  • We used forum to organize group to care for Hamline Park– “Friends of Hamline Park.”
  • The controversial Marshall Avenue median galvanized me and my neighbors, and the forum was instrumental in exchanging ideas and motivating attendance at meetings associated with the issue. The forum helped coalesce support to reduce the proposed length of the median on Marshall at Wilder. [two combined]
  • I have been very grateful to the work and efforts of the folks trying to get MAC to listen to our neighborhood concerns about increased air traffic, decibel levels, and noise/air pollution. They have kept us much better informed about studies, meetings, and issues than the local news.
  • When I saw that the studies on the Snelling Avenue road design were coming to a close, I was able to dig a little deeper into what that meant for our block and intersection, the West side of Snelling and Taylor Avenues. We organized, met, and discussed how the closure of the left turn lanes would affect residents on our block, and the surrounding area. This led to a signed group letter, individual letters, and documentation being sent to the proper MDOT and other government staff involved in this project. As of today, we’ve been told that the project will leave the northbound left turn lane onto Taylor Ave. W. open. I credit e-democracy in alerting us to this important study while we could still have an impact on the outcome. It is important for us to be involved in important decisions which affect our everyday lives in our community. [Edited down]

 

Our ideas get carried forward to committees and local councils -

 

  • There have been discussions about a household hazardous waste site that was going to be placed in the neighborhood and due to a lot more discussion than some local officials expected, it appears such a site will be located in a different and more desirable location than originally proposed.
  • I enjoyed the discussion on the forum about what to do with the old Rainbow store building and brought some of those ideas to the Longfellow Neighborhood Development Committee.
  • I sent an email to the list to explore ways neighbors could work together to make their homes more energy efficient. Several people responded and as a result, a group of us met several times during the year and several homeowners did energy efficiency home improvements. We are continuing this energy efficiency work now through the District 10 Environment Committee.
  • When I was on ParkWatch we posted minutes and Park Board agendas on the forum with opinions of what we thought this meant to the city. This led to the MPRB actually putting their agendas and minutes online and actually announcing newly released agenda on this forum
  • I first learned about some controversial issues (Randolph Ave) in the forum and was able to bring those issues to the MGCC Transportation committee and worked with Ramsey County to provide feedback.
  • Discussions on the forum showed me that I was just as informed on issues as anyone else, so I decided to have more influence on the community by joining the Highland District Council.

 

We build strong communities when we meet -

 

  • I was asked to lead a neighborhood history tour (posted on the forum) that led into two free sessions (posted on the forum) for neighbors to learn how to research their houses’ histories at the Hennepin County library. Forty people got to know each other and talk about their houses. Soon I will invite them all (via the forum) to share their research findings at the Hennepin County History Museum.
  • We organized a book reading with a local author at our house. A lot of people from the neighborhood whom we did not previously know came to the event. A big driver for this was the announcement posted to the forum. A lot of neighbors met each other for the first time because of this.
  • I went on a Seward Walk and met a lot of people from the neighborhood while learning some great history and having a hoot!
  • It was a source of networking for my family and me when we first moved into the Powderhorn Neighborhood and did not yet know anyone. We were able to post about ourselves as a family and offer a gathering for other people interested in meeting for social engagements.
  • I have always liked the “introduction” email that pops up at intermittent times. Sometimes I wish people shared more about where they lived (900 Block of Wilson Ave, for example) because if I “meet” someone on the forum, it would be nice to know how close they are relative to where I live. At times I have taken the next step to ask more about them and say “welcome!”  [Edited down]

 

That keep us in touch with our humanity –

(formerly Help neighbors in need)

 

  • I like hearing about neighbors who help others and make a difference in the lives of others in my neighborhood.
  • A local neighbor with a lot of history died recently and her funeral was announced on the forum. I believe many more people came than would’ve otherwise. It was a great time to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and learn some fascinating neighborhood history.
  • One of my friends who is getting older needed some help with heavy things, and he found a young person through the forum who was happy to help him. He didn’t know where else to turn.
  • I used the forum to create a list of those in need of snow shoveling help and those that could offer such help.
  • Last year during a huge storm that downed 100s of large trees in the neighborhood there was an outpouring of email exchanges sharing tools and offering help to residents who were affected. Wonderful to see.
  • I learned how quick neighbors are to help one another in times of need.
  • I am new in the neighborhood and had a bike stolen from my yard. A neighbor told me about the forum and when I posted, I think three people offered to lend me bikes if I needed one.  Heartwarming kindness and real neighbors!
  • After the New Year’s building explosion/fire last year, the forum was a great way to see what had happened and to know where/what to donate to survivors
  • I offered up some free worms for composting. Two ladies took me up on the offer so I left containers of worms on my porch for them to pick up. Later I got an email from one of the ladies. She had noticed my concrete front steps were falling apart after the brutal winter. She wanted to pay it forward and she offered to fix my steps for free. I agreed but wanted to learn a skill so I joined her. She told me that her neighbor had taught her the simple fix and she was so excited when I wanted to learn the skill, knowing that I could pass it on to others.
  • There was a call for the high school baseball team needing equipment that really stuck with me. I hope there are more requests from good people doing good things who could use more community support.

 

We strengthen our connections when we exchange things -

 

  • The reuse opportunities have been very valuable. When a neighbor took down a chimney, we were able to salvage them to better our property. They saved on hauling away costs and we saved by not having to purchase landscape materials.
  • I had a friend moving into the neighborhood from another state who was needing support with resources. I was able to help her find items for her home through postings from neighbors who were giving things away.
  • I was able to get a very nice ceiling fan for free because one of my neighbors was giving it away on the forum.

 

    • I have used the Neighbors forum to connect with other gardeners in the community, and we have shared plants. It’s fun to connect with other gardeners and to learn about gardening from people with actual experience in our neighborhood, and the plants I’ve gotten from them have been much more successful than nursery-grown plants.

 

  • I had a lawnmower that I wanted to get rid of and was able to give it to a new neighbor because of the forum.

 

    • I was looking for raspberry bushes and the forum help me find options to transplant from a neighbor.

 

  • I was able to find a free A/C unit for my daughter’s father for his apartment. The outreach from the forum was enormous and fast! I really enjoy the frequency and timeliness in which people share their ideas/post questions, etc. on this site. I visit every day!

 

  • I was looking for a Cherry tree branch to graft onto my Cherry tree. I happened to find the exact variety I needed through a neighbor.
  • I was feeling overwhelmed by yard work and hired a youth in response to his mom’s post. Not only was I glad for the help, I enjoyed connecting with the mom and the young man.
  • I was able to get many perennial plants for the teen program I facilitate at a homeless shelter downtown.

 

  • I have been trying to find a home for Christmas tree that was given to me, and was delighted to pass it along and so relieved to have it out of my house.

 

And, together, we care for our companions –

 

  • I love all of the posts about missing pets. Having lost a pet, I understand how hard it can be. Given our technological advances, it pleases me that we go to the forum before sending a rogue pet to the shelter. Very inspiring!
  • We rescued a puppy and needed to fence off our yard quickly. We posted on e-democracy and within 30 minutes a neighbor offered to lend us his posts and wire fencing and we were able to contain the pup immediately and keep her safe until we could put up a more permanent fence.  
  • We moved in to this neighborhood in March. I posted about our cat who escaped and many helpful neighbors responded and we got him back!
  • A chicken appeared in our yard and we were able to locate the owner via the forum.

 

And build welcoming communities -

 

  • I just moved here from out of state, and it has been incredibly helpful to know that there’s a community of people out there working to make this place a more welcoming, equitable, livable place.
  • We are new to the community so having access to the online forum helped us decide if it was the right neighborhood for our family. We were able to gauge how involved people are and what they do. We are looking forward to participating in this on a regular basis.
  • I enjoy living in a large city, and the sense of community that the forum provides enhances the experience.

 

 

And yes, there’s more work to be done –

 

  • I wish the city council leadership and police had actively used the forum to help us understand the discussions.
  • In the last few elections, even the primaries, I didn’t just feel like I was checking off random names on the ballot based on a few lines of political propaganda written by someone’s campaign manager; some of these people had actually engaged with each other over local issues in a forum that wasn’t carefully vetted and scripted, which too few of our candidates for elected office are willing to do these days.

 

But in the end -

 

  • It’s really inspiring to see how benevolent the community is. I appreciate reading about people taking animals in, or giving away free stuff, or standing up for things.
  • I just love that it exists. It makes me feel connected to the people in my community.

 

 

February 5, 2015

Fundraiser Update: Stunning Feedback

Written by Steven Clift

Thank you for your donations! Every amount counts as our community engagement online returns to participant-supported mode.

I love my forum!

We ended the year with 263 donors contributing $9,180 to help us maintain the forums and provide user support. Thank you for helping make that happen. We want to extend a special thanks to our newer friends in Framingham. Your support is truly outstanding.

Having just completed a participant survey in the Twin Cities, we’d like to give a shout out on the feedback we received:

“Being informed and aware of what is going on has made me feel safer and more connected.”

“I think one of the biggest things the Neighbors Forum does is help you when you’re looking for a service. We discovered a new mechanic who we are extremely happy with thanks to the forum. Same goes for our plumber. It’s great to hear the different suggestions and experiences folks have had.”

“The forums keep me up to date on the issues of the city, especially the controversies that people want to talk about. They’re the best place to learn about what is going on with proposed developments, vacant lots, city ordinances that impact the neighborhood.”

Sometimes the forums inform and generate action:

“I attended several forums/community meetings because of the Neighbors Forum.”

“We were able to get the word out about National Night Out and had lots of participation from the neighborhood.”

“The city parks department was going to tear down a bunch of trees and make a parking lot in our community and the neighborhood forum announced it and organized a group to make our voices heard and we were successful in stopping their actions.”

“We used the forum to help spread the word about the privatization of a local recreation center and got over 100 people to attend a meeting with officials. This stopped the process and allowed us to set up a community task force to discuss what a partnership would look like.”

“We used forum to organize group to care for Hamline Park – ‘Friends of Hamline Park’.”

“I sent an email to the list to explore ways neighbors could work together to make their homes more energy efficient. Several people responded and as a result, a group of us met several times during the year and several homeowners did energy efficiency home improvements. We are continuing this energy efficiency work now through the District 10 Environment Committee.”

And we heard how the forums help us keep in touch with our humanity:

“A local neighbor with a lot of history died recently and her funeral was announced on the forum. I believe many more people came than would’ve otherwise. It was a great time to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and learn some fascinating neighborhood history.”
“I love just seeing neighbors looking out for each other. There are a lot of things about lost pets, crime watch, etc. that shows me that everyone is looking out for each other.”

“The reuse opportunities have been very valuable. When a neighbor took down a chimney, we were able to salvage them to better our property. They saved on hauling away costs and we saved by not having to purchase landscape materials.”

“One of my friends who is getting older needed some help with heavy things, and he found a young person through the forum who was happy to help him. He didn’t know where else to turn.”

“I was able to get many perennial plants for the teen program I facilitate at a homeless shelter downtown.”

As E-Democracy charts its course into the future, we’re looking for more and better ways to activate volunteers, starting with a monthly evening conference call. Would you be interested? Please email .

We appreciate your contribution and look forward to staying connected into the future.

December 31, 2014

Fundraiser: Most Important Message from E-Democracy this Decade, Donate Today, Thank You Supporters

Written by Steven Clift
20thanniversary

Short Version :-)

Thank You Supporters!
We broke our record for the number of donors in one year with 184 contributing so far in our end of year pledge drive. We’ve raised $6,684 on our way to meet our essential goal of $10,000 US.

(For those who have donated already, skip to the long letter that shares our future optimism and an honest sense of reality.)

We need you.
If you haven’t donated, please join your neighbors/neighbours who are standing up for community connections that matter online. From our new friends in Framingham and new participants in Saint Paul to long-time Minneapolis members to global supporters of our knowledge sharing efforts, together we are making this happen!

DONATE NOW ONLINE

Or simply mail your check to:

E-Democracy, 3211 E. 44th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406 USA

Donations to our non-profit are tax-deductible in the U.S. and depending upon tax laws in other places. You may donate anonymously or set a recurring regular donation.

  • The $10,000 will cover our bare-bones technology and help desk costs for all of 2015. This directly supports your online community forum and your awesome local volunteer.
  • I will personally match the first $5 of every donation made in the next 48 hours.
  • As our major grant funding for forum work is now finished and we see no grant opportunities for our vibrant online forum work, all forums must cover their real costs going forward.

To get involved in a “Forum Futures” meeting/teleconference, please fill out our simple volunteer form and mention this meeting. Time to get creative on costs and resources. If you are an existing volunteer, contact us:

(For the long-version below, grab some coffee and read on! – Steve)

Letter from Steven Clift, Executive Director, E-Democracy

Steven Clift

In a world filled with buzz words, we do something simple:

  • We connect you to your community.
  • You make it happen by participating in local public life online.
  • Together, led by local volunteers, we do this with an inclusive spirit to make our communities more open, friendly, and proudly better places to live.

To keep this civic dream alive we need your financial support. (Bored already? :-) Donate here.)

As a Midwesterner, I honestly get extremely uncomfortable asking for money.

For the first decade of E-Democracy, I and many others simply donated our time – lots of it – to this digital era civic cause. We innovated with the world’s first election information website and the local online town hall using real names a decade before Facebook.

And then we grew up.

In our second decade, our tech improved and we went open source. We expanded from two city-wide online town halls to dozens of very local community AND civic life online forums attracting over 25,000 forum memberships. Heck, combining our global convening and knowledge sharing on all things e-democracy and open government, we even received White House recognition last year.

I’ve personally entered an E-Democracy phase informed by an exciting community life with a family – a wonderful wife, a house and two cute kids – that connects so well with our neighborly focus. I feel connected to my local community like I could have never imagined.

We attracted small grants and an Ashoka Fellowship that allowed me and others to go from subsidizing the organization to actually working for E-Democracy.

Then over the last three years the Knight Foundation (after five years of pursuit) invested in an audacious and unparalleled inclusive community engagement online effort. We thank them for all of their support.

We’ve sought to expand Neighbors Forums across all of Saint Paul that actually include ALL kinds of residents including lower income neighbors, people of color, immigrants, renters, older and younger residents, etc. The $625,000 we’ve been able to invest in online community engagement has focused on Saint Paul but it benefited our entire network. It is also generating lessons of interest to community builders and democracy activists around the world (from Finland to Estonia to the United Kingdom).

Survey Says …

The exciting participant survey results are coming in from Minneapolis and Saint Paul with over 1,350 responses! They show great comparative success in reaching the broader local community with inclusion in Saint Paul.

Door to door worked. Community festivals worked.

Working with two awesome summer outreach teams that spoke ten different languages total over two summers was amazing. The dedication and perspiration of young people who once lived in refugee camps in Kenya and Thailand to an African-American Grandmother homeless and living with friends when we hired her was was amazing.

Here is what you find “very important” in ranked order:

  • Get community news and event announcements
  • Neighbors helping neighbors
  • Learn about local businesses and services
  • Share information or ideas
  • Discuss or understand others views on community issues
  • Get involved in local initiative or causes
  • Meet neighbors and other community members (in-person)

The survey tells us that more active your forum is the more you are actually satisfied with your community as a place to live. Wow.

Because of your forums directly, more of you attend community events (41%) or meetings (28), visit local businesses or hire neighbors for odd jobs (43%), do favors for neighbors (22%), donate to local groups (10%), contact elected officials (18%), sign petitions (16%) or work for local change (15%), or volunteer in the community (8%). This is above and beyond the many who said they already did these things and did not credit the forum for an increase. Our members are community builders.

In fact, on our four super active forums in South Minneapolis 70% agreed that because of their forum, they are “more satisfied with my local community as a place to live or work.” On our less active Saint Paul and Minneapolis forums, the average who agree with this came in under 50%. Notably however, those who better represent the diversity of Saint Paul that we signed up at their door reported in with one of the highest percents strongly agreeing with this statement – more so than all but one of our super active forums!

Inclusive forum recruitment is NOT truly inclusive on-forum engagement

Building on our base, the next big challenge we attempted to present in over a dozen grant proposals to local Twin Cities foundations was how to build on this inclusive base of participants. The honest truth is that on our rocking South Minneapolis forums, where most people were invited by neighbors off-line, we have a vibrant week’s worth of activity in a day compared to our forums in lower income areas built with in-person outreach. Forums will be used differently and even have a bigger social impact where community news is less accessible, but we need to do better.

Having important inclusive engagement work to do – that is fundamentally charitable in nature – on likely the world’s most representative local online forums doesn’t make funding appear. With the shrinking pool of community engagement funding, it is hard to compete with so many compelling needs that are far less speculative than our online engagement approach.

Today, we are innovating in the face of private resident-only online models (aka gated communities) that exclude our community’s civil servants like our crime prevention officers, library and park staff etc., small businesses, journalists, places of worship from full online participation. Efforts like NextDoor have attracted $100 million in venture capital. Today, Facebook Groups now work a lot better and Facebook has a near monopoly with online engagement but share no revenue with those seeking to do more than just connect the easiest to gather in our communities via their tools. From printing flyers to going door to door, those activities have real costs.

While we’ve been told that national foundations figure the market is taking care of neighborhoods online, we see reinforced barriers and enclaves emerging that connect neighbors who are the most similar. We see governments cutting themselves off from direct citizen engagement that our very public community forums offer. This may be the Silicon Valley vision of neighborhoods, but it doesn’t need to be ours. As location based advertising grows on Facebook and likely gets turned on with NextDoor, we fear for our cherished neighborhood press that is vital to community information and local government accountability and engagement.

What to do?

Where we are strong now, where we have a foothold, in an new era volunteer energy, we can do something different. We must.

Our non-profit, community-driven network touches the lives of thousands of people everyday. Within our network are ideas and passions that will sustain us.

We can also share our lessons so that those who love their neighborhood Facebook Group or NextDoor community can step it up with inclusive in-person outreach to build stronger communities for all. In fact, we see engaging other communities via multiple platforms as a good path to greater social impact while still innovating within our base.

Core costs – real money, but under 50 cents a year per participant!

We must raise $10,000 to cover our base technology and help desk costs for 2015. We literally make over a million individual community connections via email every year. We don’t have a fancy Facebook-like “filter bubble” where a computer tries to send you only the community messages in which it thinks you will be interested. Our embrace of active community serendipity has a real cost.

Over the last five years we’ve carefully built up a reserve of around $10,000 from fee-based contract work, public speaking, etc. So, this year we have the time to “right size” our organization costs, increase the role of volunteers (Become one!), etc. I am committed to our efforts, but when it comes to our community forum work it will also become again a volunteer effort that generates amazing community value for the effort.

To get involved in a “Forum Futures” meeting/teleconference, please fill out our simple volunteer form and mention this meeting. Time to get creative on costs and resources. If you are an existing volunteer, contact us:

Ideally we will build on our open source approach and find creative ways to cover the real and increasing costs of our technology independence (now $6,000 a year up from a fairly subsidized $2,000 a few years ago via our OnlineGroups.Net partner who keeps our service up 24 x 7, 365 days a year).

So, please donate any amount. (If you have donated THANK YOU!)

I will personally match the first $5 of every donation we receive in the next 48 hours. While big donations are important, setting a recurring donation of $25 a year or more will shorten our yearly pledge drive.

The next decade … or next year anyway …

If we don’t see funding opportunities to subsidize our forum network, you might be asking what other plans do we have to pursue our broad online civic engagement mission?

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share where we do see fundable opportunities:

  1. Expand global knowledge exchange on open government and civic technology – Our new Open Government and Civic Technology Facebook Group has rocketed to over 2,700 members from 100+ nations. We seek sponsors to grow this group to 10,000 participants from all nations and add a weekly “best of” email newsletter along since our our long-time Democracies Online Newswire service.
  2. Innovate with Open Twin Cities – We’ve served as a vital incubator for Open Twin Cities, which is emerging as one of the nation’s leading local Code for America Brigades. With partners, we are seeking to be one of three cities nationally funded to use open government data for social impact engaging and serving lower income communities. The national funder will require local funders to match. Stay tuned.
  3. Online engagement and outreach – We are being contracted by mySociety to lead creative online engagement efforts within the global Poplus federation. Based in the United Kingdom, mySociety is one of the world’s most respected and innovative civic technology initiatives. We will be fostering engagement in their online group and reaching out nation by nation, city by city to technology developers and democracy builders to further this truly next generation sharable technology components approach to sharing democratic innovations across borders.
  4. Civic technology and open government “test bed” – Leveraging perhaps the world’s most representative base of online civic engagement participants in our most active local areas, we see an exciting opportunity to build on the experience of helping test the Kettering Foundation’s beta online deliberation platform. As someone from Google once said to me, it doesn’t do any good to only test civic technology with early adopters who already show up. With thousands of users not locked into a proprietary platform, we have some very unique flexibility. If someone wanted to test a civic app with immigrant youth for example, we have the trusted community relationships to foster meaningful engagement.
  5. Neighbors online and real life community building – We are exploring, with the University of Pittsburgh and potentially other partners, a research grant proposal to bring neighbors online down to the block and building level within our strongest neighborhoods to develop knowledge and research on what works build bridges from online activity into off-line asset-based community connections, social capital generation, and more. As the only open source, non-profit, public life online civic engagement project with online exchange in the Creative Commons, we see huge potential in being both an authentic local-up civic engagement project and a global engine for knowledge generation and lesson sharing. In fact, it is our view that had we not built in wide lesson-sharing into our Knight-funded BeNeighbors.org effort, it would be hard to justify the resources invested. If accessed, our lessons will help civic technology projects everywhere be far more effective with the inclusive outreach needed to be far more representative in their work and not just further empower the already powerful.

We excel at convening and hosting online exchange be it in a neighborhood or in a global online community of practice – we seek to help other organizations meet their civic goals online.

In general, we expect our future revenue to come from projects and other fee-for-service work. The era of the big grant is likely over.

That said, should a door be opened or an opportunity appear, we have no shortage of big ideas from 3333 Community Sparks to Open Groups for Internet freedom to launching a collaborative effort to promote inclusion across the civic technology and open government field to proposed Open Minnesota legislation to smaller scale efforts to build on our base ideas like an online emerging leaders network led by immigrant across ethnicity led by the kinds of young people who led our field outreach to collaborating with groups like the Somali youth arts group Kajoog to foster inclusive participation on our Seward and other forums. We do not have a shortage of ideas that seemingly do not fit the priorities of funders NOR are they appropriate to fund with donations meant to support the core needs of your local forum.

The reality is that community-based foundations, who care deeply about inclusion and equity, may well think of technology as by its nature an exclusive tool or are not comfortable with our integrationist, multi-ethnic approach. Or as they say, we have hundreds of applicants and fierce competition for resources. National foundations want to fund national efforts that can “scale” or they want skip ahead and focus online tools on national decision-making and addressing partisan gridlock rather than fostering the widespread community engagement we see as the precursor to rebuilding democracy and civility in public life.

Perhaps in time, these kinds of ideas will find a receptive ear, but not tomorrow when our well funded initiative comes to a close.

So, if you read this far, I suppose I should you pay you. :-) The best I can do today is match the first $5 of your donation via PayPal, GiveMN or check sent to:

E-Democracy, 3211 44th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406

It is important to note that everyday we’ve connected more people to their local communities online than the day before for twenty years. We need to keep reasonable expectations, for momentum is more important than an instant success as a non-profit. While the coming year will be challenging with many changes, that makes it a time of opportunity. Necessity is the mother of all invention, so let’s innovate together!

All the best in 2015,

Steven Clift
Executive Director, E-Democracy

December 11, 2014

Year-End Appeal – Your Support Counts!

Written by Steven Clift

Greetings, Friend of E-Democracy!

20thanniversary

Last year we raised over $5,000 from awesome supporters like you.

This year, with our vibrant online forums entering a post-grants phase, we need to keep them vital and raise $10,000 to cover hosting and user support. So far – with Give to the Max Day in Minnesota and #GivingTuesday around the world – 65 donors have generously donated $2,650. Please join their ranks.

For two decades, E-Democracy has helped everyday people make a difference in their local communities.

Be it the inspirational story of neighbors helping neighbors via the Corcoran Forum when an immigrant family’s Christmas and young daughter’s Birthday presents were stolen in Minneapolis or dynamic discussions in Oxford, England about community changes need to collectively improve local cyclists, pedestrian, and automobile safety for all, our next work generates good everyday.

Help us continue this work in the decades to come: Make a donation now.

We now host over 50 online community forums with nearly 28,000 members from all walks of life. We have demonstrated that all neighborhoods, regardless of income and racial/ethnic diversity, can be part of a neighborhood-level, online, integrated community — and benefit from that participation.

In addition, E-Democracy trains, coaches, and supports other organizations worldwide that seek to promote online civic engagement for the benefit of their communities. We are moving the field globally while pushing the envelope locally.

Today, E-Democracy is at a crossroads: We want to expand our reach AND make our ongoing work sustainable. We believe passionately that our service should remain non-profit and ad free. For 20 years we have funded this work through grants and ad hoc donations. But we need to build a more sustainable model to maintain and grow our services.

We need your financial support. We need every member to contribute something based on the value they receive.

Your contribution will help us:

  • Maintain and upgrade the technology our users rely upon.
  • Teach people how to access our services and use them effectively.
  • Recruit and support volunteers.
  • Remain open, inclusive and an alternative to completely advertising based models that impinge on your privacy.

Please support E-Democracy with a one-time or recurring donation at  http://e-democracy.org/donate.

All donations are tax deductible — and greatly appreciated! Thank you so much for your support.

Sincerely,

E-Democracy Board of Directors

boardcollage
Melody Ng, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, Chair
Anne Carroll, St. Paul, Minnesota USA, Secretary
Mick Souder, Durango, Colorado, USA, Treasurer
Edward Andersson, Stockholm, Sweden
Joanne Caddy, Maisons Laffitte, Ile de France, FR
Mike Huggins, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA
Matt Leighninger, Hamilton, Ontario, CA
Mary Reid, Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, England, UK
Alan Rosenblatt, Arlington, Virginia, USA
Laura Waterman Wittstock, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday – December 2nd!

Written by Steven Clift

Greetings, Friends of E-Democracy!

How does one help a neighbor whose home is burglarized?

#GivingTuesday

Minneapolis resident Martha Bird asked her Neighborhood Forum for ideas when an immigrant family in her neighborhood had ALL their money stolen just days before Christmas and their little girl’s birthday. She wanted to help, but felt stymied by the family’s great need, and the short time.

Three days later, Martha posted in response to the overwhelming generosity of her fellow forum members: “I was able to deliver 4 bags of gifts for mom, dad and daughter that people donated; as well as some for [the daughter’s] birthday. … Because I’ve known them over time we were able to talk in depth about the decision of where to “keep” money. We had cash donations of $130 and dad and I drove to the bank and deposited the money so the money would not be in the house. They were incredibly appreciative and thankful. … I love this neighborhood and you all as my neighbors.”

For two decades, E-Democracy has helped everyday people make a difference in their local communities.

Help us continue this work in the decades to come: Make a donation now.

We now host over 50 online community forums with nearly 28,000 members from all walks of life. We have demonstrated that all neighborhoods, regardless of income and racial/ethnic diversity, can be part of a neighborhood-level, online, integrated community — and benefit from that participation.

In addition, E-Democracy trains, coaches, and supports other organizations worldwide that seek to promote online civic engagement for the benefit of their communities. We are moving the field globally while pushing the envelope locally.

Today, E-Democracy is at a crossroads: We want to expand our reach AND make our ongoing work sustainable. We believe passionately that our service should remain non-profit and ad free. For 20 years we have funded this work through grants and ad hoc donations. But we need to build a more sustainable model to maintain and grow our services.

We need your financial support. We need every member to contribute something based on the value they receive.

Your contribution will help us:

  • Maintain and upgrade the computer technology our users rely upon.
  • Teach people how to access our services and use them effectively.
  • Recruit and support volunteers.
  • Remain open, inclusive and an alternative to completely advertising based models that impinge on your privacy.

Please support E-Democracy with a one-time or recurring donation at http://e-democracy.org/donate.

All donations are tax deductible — and greatly appreciated! Thank you so much for your support.

GT_Sunglasses_2014

Sincerely,

E-Democracy Board of Directors

Melody Ng, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, Chair
Anne Carroll, St. Paul, Minnesota USA, Secretary
Mick Souder, Durango, Colorado, USA, Treasurer
Edward Andersson, Stockholm, Sweden
Joanne Caddy, Maisons Laffitte, Ile de France, FR
Mike Huggins, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA
Matt Leighninger, Hamilton, Ontario, CA
Mary Reid, Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, England, UK
Alan Rosenblatt, Arlington, Virginia, USA
Laura Waterman Wittstock, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

November 26, 2014

Save the date! #GivingTuesday – December 2

Written by Steven Clift

GivingTuesdaylogo

If you don’t know what to buy, and are just doing it out of habit, STOP.
#GivingTuesday is December 2.

#GivingTuesday is a campaign to create a day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season to encouraged nonprofit organizations to “Get out the Give” during the holiday season. In the same way that “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are intended to launch holiday shopping, Giving Tuesday is a movement intended to achieve the same results for charity.

E-Democracy is participating as part of our year-end fundraising campaign to raise $10,000. Every dollar counts as our grant funding ends and we return to user-supported mode.

Your contribution will help us:

  • Maintain and upgrade the computer technology our users rely upon
  • Teach people how to access our services and use them effectively
  • Recruit and support volunteers

We need to raise $10,000 to make these things possible. Please support E-Democracy on GivingTuesday with a one-time or recurring donation by visiting e-democracy.org/donate.

Thank you for your support!

November 19, 2014

Facebook-Native Politicians – Slides, Webcast and Live Hangout Q and A Dec. 3/4

Written by Steven Clift

Minneapolis City Council Members - Source MinnPost

Are you ready for something completely new?

Introducing the “Facebook Native Politician” … meaning someone on Facebook from their teens or college days now entering elective public office. Facebook user first, politician second.

In my view, Minneapolis has the most exciting 24/7 “Facebook” engaged City Council in the world.

With this embryonic case study, you can decide for yourself, explore the lessons, and adapt them to your community.

This unfolding story is about what happens when you elect seven new city council members with an AVERAGE age of 33 who are Facebook Natives. This is combined with 6 returning council members and a new Mayor who in their own right  are also quite social media savvy and engaged online with their constituents.

This is no longer a story of using social media to gather votes and then going silent once power is gained. This “engagement generation” sees things differently.

You may have heard about #pointergate. Now check out the deeper context of social media engagement in Minneapolis public and political life and join our live online Hangouts and Facebook Group topic to share Facebook engagement stories from your elected representatives around the world.

Image Credit: MinnPost

Join In Live Online

Video

Watch the snappy half-hour presentation by E-Democracy Executive Director Steven Clift hosted by Involve with the University Westminster’s Centre for the Study of Democracy  (Clift starts at 5:15):

YouTube Preview Image

Slides

Google Slides (includes updates)

SlideShare (as of Nov 18 2014):

Facebook Politicians from Steven Clift

Blog Posts

About this event/presentation:

 

 

 

October 21, 2014

Common Ground for Action – Round 2 Dates and Topics!

Written by Steven Clift

Join an exciting pilot of a new online deliberation tool that helps people come together on what to do about complex issues facing our communities and nation.

You’ll be joining E-Democracy participants and supporters as part of the world’s first public tests of Common Ground for Action, a new platform from the Kettering Foundation.

We’ve selected the topics for the Round 2 online deliberation sessions as follows:

Saturday, November 8th, 10:00 am to noon
Topics (pick one): Bullying – How Do We Prevent It?, Political Fix – How Do We Get American Politics Back on Track?, Immigration in America – How Do We Fix a System in Crisis?
RSVP! @ http://cganov8.eventbrite.com

Thursday, November 13th, 6:30 to 8:30 pm
Topics (pick one): Budget Priorities – What Should Our Budget Priorities Be?, Future of Work – How Should We Prepare for the New Economy?
RSVP! @ http://cganov13.eventbrite.com

Estimate 90 minutes to two hours for this “live” online deliberation event. We’d love to have you join us! Please RSVP!

To learn more, watch this video or visit this page.

Watch intro video

To register your interest in participating in a future online event, fill out this form.

Did you opt in? Mark your calendar now!

October 7, 2014

UK Engagements 2014 – Consultation Institute, SOCITM, Involve, Norbiton, MozFest, mySociety and more

Written by Steven Clift

Steven Clift, our Executive Director, will be visiting the UK on a speaking and engagement tour from October 20-28.

My Facebook Native Councillors presentation starts at 5:10 and goes for 28 minutes:

YouTube Preview Image

 

While I will not be offering my Neighbors Online seminar on this trip (unless someone would like to sponsor it the morning of Oct 27 or on Oct 28). These current slides and and two earlier video options, one with discussion mixed in and the other with discussion at the end, are available.

October 1, 2014

Who uses e-government? Who doesn’t … yet??

Written by Steven Clift

 

egovernmentuserssurvey

 

We’ve discovered a little known Census survey question on e-government buried on page 161 of the tables supporting the NTIA’s 2013 Digital Nation report. Never before have so many people been surveyed on their use of digital government.

While the survey was asked in 2011, fresh numbers from 2013 are about to be released. Let’s not miss this opportunity for timely learning.

With over 53,000 households surveyed you can slice and dice this data by state, demographics, and more. Thanks to some help converting NTIA produced tables, I can now share some national demographic stats in easier to understand percentages.

In summary …

  • 35% said they use government services online (household respondents over age 25)
  • Households over 50K in income use e-government at twice the level of those under 50K – 49% versus 24%
  • Gaps based on education are larger than income – 17% for High School or less versus 56% for those with a BA
  • Gaps based on race/ethnicity are significant. (The chart above for Whites is white, non-Hispanic)
  • In the just released 2013 ACS survey, which included Internet questions for the first time, 21.5% of households report no Internet access (including no use via libraries, mobile devices, etc.) – so depending upon the pending 2013 numbers and e-gov use growth/decline, more that half of Internet using households are likely NOT accessing government online. Yikes!
  • See the chart above or this simple Google presentation for more.

Our inclusion analysis of the digital civic engagement report by Pew is one of our most popular blog posts in our 20 year history, so the demand for deeper analysis about potential growth audiences for civic/government digital engagement is there.

At the recent (and awesome) Code for America Summit, I was struck how the growing “inclusion” discussion was more about input into design or engagement in civic tech efforts (important “Build with, not for” theme) but not so much about effective outreach to broader, more representative use online.

Without a strong awareness of our baseline numbers about who is NOT yet being reached by open gov/civic tech/e-gov, how do we target our scarce resources to have the greatest impact? Put another way, if we only serve “those who already show up” with e-government, e-democracy, civic tech, etc., how is that making a dramatically positive digital difference in the world?

What’s next?
  • State Rankings – We are drafting state rankings based on e-gov use overall, e-gov use as a percentage of those online.
    • Teaser – Washington State kicks butt overall. Some states that rank high in net access serve relatively few with e-government, while Montana despite lower levels of access does great with e-government use.
  • Why More Successful – In addition to national demographic analysis, we see an opportunity to determine which states are reaching a higher percentage of lower income residents online with e-government/civic tech AND then commission research that asks why are they successful. We can then suss out lessons to share with governments and others across the states. Ultimately, e-government needs to reach far more people and understand who is not using their services and why.
  • More Numbers – 2013 numbers are coming out soon from the Census Department – contact us to volunteer your data analysis/visualization skills or join the proposed New Voices working group and/or Digital Inclusion online group – to get involved.
  • More Questions – A different Census survey question that feeds the Civic Health Index asks about using the “Internet 
to 
express 
your 
opinions
 about
 political or community 
issues.” We’d like to add this to our analysis.
  • Gather Leading Examples, Feed them Numbers – Even if we’ve figured out how to make it much easier to apply for food stamps online, build it and they won’t just come. We need to convene those building civic and public sector tech to reach or engage those being least served. Together we can plot outreach strategies to bring these service designed innovations to a far wide audience.
Contact us to support/sponsor further crucial analysis. Our current inclusive community engagement online project ends in three months.
 

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