Get Connected

Blog Home
Posts Archive

Blog via email

E-Newsletter – Project Blog

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?

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?

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

Tens of thousands were asked in a Census survey:

Do you use the Internet to access government services, forms, or information? (Including tax forms.)

Here is who over 25 years old who said “Yes”:


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 
 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.

September 3, 2014

Immigration. Bullying. Fixing Politics. Sign-up to Deliberate Online.

Written by Steven Clift

E-Democracy is helping the Kettering Foundation and their National Issues Forum network test a new online deliberation tool called Common Ground for Action.

It is a “live” experience using text chat and nifty tools to respond to policy options and trade-offs. Informative issue videos and short guides provide non-partisan background for each deliberation.

Get more information or fill out our survey right here:

August 26, 2014

Video: Open Twin Cities Lessons, Service Design and Hack for MN

Written by Steven Clift

E-Democracy/Open Twin Cities went to Chicago on an amazing two day “civic tech field trip” (blog posts pending on what we learned). Thanks to Derek Eder with DataMade and Chris Whitacker with the Smart Chicago Collaborative and Code for America, we had a room at the amazing 1871 co-working/incubator space to share some of our lessons as well!

Here is the video.

Civic Tech Lessons from Middle America – Presented by Bill Bushey

YouTube Preview Image

Start at 1:38 for Bill Bushey … or almost Bill. Yes, the focus is fuzzy, but the audio is fine. Here are the slides (future link).


Open Twin Cities and Civic and Service Design – Presented by Laura Andersen

YouTube Preview Image

Start at 31:40 for Laura Andersen. Here are the slides (future link).


For our Poplus presentation video from Chicago, see our previous blog post.

August 4, 2014

Poplus – E-Democracy supports collaborative civic coding, Chicago gathering

Written by Steven Clift


PoplusCon Partcipants

PoplusCon participants say, join in!

Special event: Join us in Chicago on Tuesday, August 5 for information session on Poplus and learn about Open Twin Cities and service design as well.

E-Democracy is a big supporter of the global Poplus civic coding federation. In particular, we are gearing up to help with strategic outreach for the highly interactive online group and related committees.

Check our slides from the Chicago event to learn more. Includes short video clips.

New – Video from the Chicago event thanks to the Smart Chicago Collaborative – Forward to 8:22 to skip E-Democracy 1994 mini presentation:

YouTube Preview Image


Below is a guest blog post by Myf Nixon from mySociety about Poplus.

Poplus: reusing code across international borders


All around the world, governments work to different models. The problems that citizens face differ, too. So it’s something of a surprise, perhaps, to realise that their democratic or civic needs can be broadly similar.

In any nation, people benefit from being better informed about what their politicians and rulers are doing on their behalf. In any regime, transparency of information is a boon. And everyone wins when citizens can report problems within their own community.

It is with these broad parities in mind that Poplus was founded. Poplus is a new international initiative to promote the sharing of code and online tools that meet the needs of citizens everywhere.

It was originally conceived by the UK’s mySociety and Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente in Chile, and is now an international federation that is open for anyone to join.

Civic experience

mySociety has been creating civic websites and tools for a decade. During that time, we’ve gained a lot of experience and learned from a lot of mistakes. We knew we could help other groups around the world who were attempting to do the same things we do: hold governments to account, make freedom of information more accessible, and open the channels of citizen to government engagement.

Our code has always been open source and free for anyone to use, but over the past few years we’ve come to realise that this isn’t enough. If we really wanted to help other organisations, that code needed to be supremely easy to install, and it needed to work with as few modifications as possible, no matter what the political landscape.

So in 2012, we partnered up with FCI to create Poplus to tackle this problem face on. Poplus aims to support coders to make Components – bits of interoperable code that should be easy to implement, are non-country-specific, work alone or with one another, and are available open source.

April of this year saw the first Poplus conference in Santiago, Chile. Delegates came from 27 different countries. There was a mix of coders and campaigning organisations, all with differing experiences, differing needs, and a thirst to communicate.


Poplus Conference video round-up

The conference was a great way to kickstart the initiative, putting together people who make code and the people who need it, and then sending them home to every corner of the world, with a mandate to both stay in touch with one another, and help spread the word about Poplus.

Since then, communication has been via a lively mailing list, its members meeting the challenge of shaping an international federation across many different time zones, different languages, and working entirely online.

This network brings us many strengths, so it’s worth overcoming the logistical difficulties.

Global growth

Clearly, with people all around the world we can spread the word about Poplus more quickly. We can learn from one another, and that will feed into making Poplus Components more shareable and usable in every type of jurisdiction. We can tap into translation resources. We can find the local groups who will most benefit from our work because we have people on the ground.

Right now we’re very aware that Poplus is in its infancy. It’s an idea that has a lot of buy-in, and several concrete projects that organisations can start using. We would like to see Poplus grow, with many more Components on offer.

We’d like organisations that need software to come to us, and if there isn’t already a Component that can help, we’d like them to be able to explain their needs to an ever growing pool of coders, some of whom might take up the challenge of making it.

Everyone is welcome to join Poplus, whether you are a coder, an organisation that would benefit from using code, or just someone who is very interested and would like to help. The first step is to join our mailing list and introduce yourself.

– Guest blog from Myf Nixon, mySociety

July 13, 2014

E-Democracy promoting the Knight Green Line Challenge in Saint Paul

Written by Steven Clift

Knight Green Line Challenge

Have a great idea for the neighborhoods along the Green Line Saint Paul?

A $1.5 million dollar challenge was announce by the Knight Foundation. E-Democracy’s Saint Paul forums have sprung into action bringing thousands of visits to their websiteSubmit your idea by July 24.

Join our special public drafting effort via Google Docs.

July 11, 2014

E-Democracy highlights from Hack for MN

Written by Steven Clift

Hack for MN

Photosmini-video tour, and tweets galore.

Join Open Twin Cities and check out the regular Meetups and online group to get involved.

Outside Minnesota? Check out our list of online groups related to open government, civic technology, and related topics around the world.

June 6, 2014

Neighbors Online Workshop @ DigiDaze June 20 – St. Paul Rondo Outreach Library

Written by Steven Clift

It’s time to get excited about digital inclusion in the Twin Cities!

On June 20th, the Community Technology Empowerment Project hosts DigiDaze from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the St. Paul Rondo Community Outreach Library at the corner of Dale and University. Free Parking – enter on University going east before Dale.

From 2:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. in the e-classroom, join Steven Clift and “” volunteers and participants for an insightful and in-depth presentation on inclusively connecting neighbors online. Check out DigiDaze booths before and after the presentation.

With 20,000 participants across our Twin Cities neighbors forums combined with the world’s most inclusive local online civic engagement outreach effort and challenging efforts to engage across community diversity, we have lessons to share and questions to ask. If you want to connect neighbors and communities online – across ANY platform – these tips will help us all connect thousands more residents.

RSVP not required.

But let us know if you hope to attend. Or say you are coming via Facebook Events.

If you can’t make it, watch this video version from NYC.

The session will cover:

  • Bonus – Opening preview from Knight Green Line Challenge
  • Startling national statistics on the income, racial, and related divides in terms of online civic participation
  • Ten awesome things strong neighborhood online groups produce (be it hosted by E-Democracy, Facebook, and others)
  • Specific lessons from our inclusive field outreach and ideas on how online groups outside of our BeNeighbors network can go beyond the easiest to reach residents to intentionally bring ALL kinds of neighbors together

Here is more information about DigiDaze …

DIGIDAZE COMMUNITY TECHNOLOGY FAIR comes to Rondo Library on Friday June 20, 10:30 AM to 4 PM

Every year, CTEP and the Saint Paul Public Library sponsors a free public fair to showcase learning opportunities related to technology for youth, adults and seniors. There will be laptop computer giveaways throughout the day, free food, classes on animation for youth and using online library services for adults, face painting, free tech advice, media production games, and sign ups for free classes about computer and employment skills in your neighborhood.

Where: Multipurpose Room, Rondo Community Outreach Library in Saint Paul 
Who: Sponsored by the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps program and the Saint Paul Public Library.

Click here for a slideshow from past DigiDaze Fairs.

E-Democracy Outreach-001

April 24, 2014

Digital Outreach for Civic Hacking Awesomeness – National Day of Civic Hacking

Written by Steven Clift


Digital Outreach for Civic Hacking Awesomeness

Practical ideas for promoting your local civic technology hackathon*

Written for local National Day of Civic Hacking organizers by Steven Clift,

 These strategies are based on twenty years of experience with online groups related to open gov/civic tech. This includes direct involvement with CityCampMN, Open Twin Cities, Hack for MN, Open Minnesota, and connections with Code for America Brigades around the nation. If you find this advice useful, we pro-actively share similar tips via our new Open Government and Civic Technology Facebook Group and on the Code for America Brigade mailing list.

* – What’s a “hackathon” or code-a-thon? It is an in-person event where groups of people write/adapt software code, design web/mobile apps, visualize data on maps. etc. See Wikipedia and our local Hack for MN for more.


As the National Day of Civic Hacking 2014 on May 31-June 1 approaches, these online outreach tips will help your local event inclusively reach and engage more participants. Participants who are ready to share their skills, passion, and desire to build community connections and innovations that last.

While the national Hack for Change website supports national marketing and will funnel some participants your way, bringing people in the door will mostly come through your local outreach.

Just so I am clear – a bunch of tweets and a Facebook page will not cut it for outreach. Each outreach actions you take will bring in one, two, or maybe three people. If you want 100 participants, take at least 30 actions online with digital outreach.

Getting started with outreach:

  1. Save the Date Notice ASAP – Send out a “save the date” shout out to as soon as possible. Don’t wait for your event website to be perfect … every day that slips by matters. Get the date of your event on people’s calendars.
  2. Gather Email for Long-term Use – Promoted from the event website, local civic tech site, etc. create an email newsletter (or a “subscribe to blog” email option) for the leading ongoing civic tech effort in your area that will have permission to send updates to people well beyond this one event. Local civic tech leaders can then reach people and reuse “the list” it for future civic tech events and announcements. Yes, create a Twitter account and Facebook Page. You want to make it easier with each future event (meetup, Brigade launch, etc.) to reach people with invitations right to their email box. Facebook Pages have an increasingly terrible reach.
  3. Promote Sustained Online Group Exchange – The strongest local civic tech cities have vibrant online groups that generate engagement and belonging between events. If you don’t have one, start one (and join them in other cities and global groups too for “we can do it too” inspiration and content to forward into your local community). In your event registration form, make being added to the online group the default with an opt-out option. Then manually add those people to the ongoing online group (whether it is a Mailman list, a Google Group, or hosted at E-Democracy on GroupServer, etc.) Some tools only allow you to “invite” people which is sub-par – you want to able to use any permission you have received to just add them without requiring them to confirm their interest a second time. At CityCampMN almost no one opted out and over 2/3 who attended were not already on the Twin Cities Brigade list. Going from 125 to over 200 members has been tremendously valuable post-event.
  4. Add Smart Registration Fields – Create your Eventbrite or other registration form as early as possible. Then regularly work registrants to invite a friend and reach out to others. Be sure to add fields for Twitter, etc. and to publish who is registered (scroll way down for an example). These public “who’s coming” list of names are one of your best marketing tools. Also use survey options with the registration to collect useful information about skills, interests, important demographics, dietary restrictions, etc. Be sure to use all the options that help Eventbrite share the event widely with folks trolling the main Eventbrite site and use their Facebook event hook up as well.


Advanced Civic Tech Event Community Outreach:

OK, going well beyond Facebook and Twitter outreach, here is how you go deep with online outreach…

  1. Local Tech Developer Online Groups – Send a customized invite to each group (typically buried mailing lists). Promote a friendly rivalry to “do good” with their language/code of choice. Try to get at least one civic tech interested person from each major development community to join your event organizing team or internal online group. Having multiple coders from major computer languages/frameworks makes clustering on projects easier.
  2. Local Tech/Web Meetups – Go through Meetup and look for groups within scope of your event. Message the leaders asking them to post. Or if you are already a member, try to post the hackathon directly. Note that there is a daily maximum on how many organizers you can contact privately via Meetup each day (something like five a day).
  3. Tech Community News and Calendars – What is the “go to” niche tech news site for your local tech community? Find it. Send them stuff and consider swapping sponsorship for in-kind promotion. is a big booster of civic tech for example. What about local tech calendars like Seattle? If you have one, get your event on it. Does your community have a local tech start-up community email list like Seattle or a non-profit tech online group like Minnesota or a NTEN 501 local network? Join and post or contact the leaders of these networks.
  4. Global Networks with Local Events/Chapters – After you post to your local Code for America Brigade online group, ask yourself who else might be organizing locally with folks interested in your event? Check national/global “brands” to find local point people who have already made similar connections – Larger cities will naturally have overlapping networks for “do good” technologists with each “brand” attracting new people into the local tech for change ecology. Dig into networks like: RHok, NetSquared, Tech4Good, Hack4Good, Crisis Commons, OpenCrisis, Hacks and Hacker, US Ignite, CityCamp, Geeks Without Bounds, Code for Resilience, OKFN
  5. Past Eventbrites – If your local civic tech community has had past events, send an invite via Eventbrite or ask the owner of that previous event to do it for you. These past attendees are probably your lowest hanging fruit. Ask people to tell a friend and caution any “sign-up first, check calendar later, no show folks” to cancel their registration if they can’t make it. If your space is limited, and you are worried that you will fill up the slots too quickly, consider what we did with CityCampMN in 2013 and have a cheap guaranteed seat (~$10) and lottery seats that will allow you to randomly pick people if you are way over capacity even after a call for cancellations. Offer guaranteed seat scholarships upon request for lower income folks and students – and they were very appreciative including a group from a teen tech program.
  6. Tech Journalists – In addition to niche tech new sites, reach out to tech-interested journalists, reporters on the local government beat, etc. You can reach out one by one via email, use Twitter mentions (@reporterhandle) with link and invite, and crucially call the five most important journalists. Television news coverage of Capitol Code was huge for our movement and such coverage helps cement the interest of political leaders. Start a collection of local press coverage links because journalists will look at past coverage as an indicator that your current event is the real deal. Also seek out the “CARR” expert or the librarian in the newsroom of major dailies. They care a lot about sourcing open data for stories even if they themselves will not likely cover the event.
  7. Facebook Page Door Knocking – While pages have almost no reach these days, posting to local government Facebook pages (and other appropriate pages) about your event will at least notify the page owner of your event. Imagine having 10 or 15 of the key community Facebook Page managers at your event – they are the writers, researchers, and story-tellers you need on your hackathon project teams. In terms of civic tech related Facebook Pages that you control, consider paying $50 to promote a post through your fans to their friends. It might be worth it.
  8. Twitter Hashtags – Post to global #opengov and #opendata hashtags along with either local geographic/civic tags (e.g., #stpaul, #mnleg) or place names to give a shout out for your event. Rinse and repeat at least weekly with pity updates up until your event. Celebrate registration goals.  If you have local civic tech, startups scene, etc. hashtags those will be very strategic to use. If you have big events like #minnebar happening in the run up to your event, Tweet the link to your event when people are paying attention. Also push yourself to @mention at least ten people you hope will retweet your event link to their large follower base.
  9. Neighborhood Email Lists and Online Groups – Consider sending tailored messages to local neighborhood and community-based online groups. You need to search for these. Most are below the radar from older groups on YahooGroups to newer ones as Facebook Groups – here are examples in Minnesota, Seattle, and DC. Customize the invite and say you are looking for participants specifically from their neighborhood who want to use civic technology to improve their local community. Say something like, come to our regional event and then organize a local happy hour to connect neighbors who want to use technology for community good in their area. One size fits all outreach that is not politely customized per online group may not work well. E-Democracy’s open-sourced network has over 20,000 members in the Twin Cities. Many of CityCampMN and OTC hackathon participants have been reached via these networks because these spaces are filled with community spirited people who happen to code, design, etc. When you have your location, do special outreach in nearest neighborhoods or cities for sure.
  10. Inclusion Matters – We could write an entire guide on making civic technology and open government far more inclusive. Heck, we need a campaign too. This is a real problem whether it is who is at the design table, whether user-centered design is considered, or with open government generally whether the products of our movement are reaching more than those who already show up. So, hosting more inclusive hackathons is one of the steps we must take to engage new voices and to create solutions used by those who may benefit most. Think about the demographics you want in the room. Then take steps to reach out to organizations and individuals if you aspire to be reflective of the diversity in your local community, while celebrating the value of everyone who shows up. Some low-hanging fruit networks are libraries and community technology centers/projects involved in digital inclusion efforts (e.g., in Minnesota we have CTEP, Technology Literacy Collaborative). Reach out to students, schools and colleges. Think about where lower income computer science or web design students might attend and reach out to bring them to the table. They will have a lot to teach everyone about connecting with users from very different life circumstances.
  11. Government Leaders – Start with and then go beyond area government CIOs/CTOs to reach out to local city council/county board/school board members, and state legislators who seem “tech” or public participation interested. If you don’t know any, try calling the office of your local representatives and ask them, “Who are some of the council members who use Facebook the most/are most interest in technology/etc.” and then use those recommendations to say “so and so suggested that you’d be a good person to invite to our hackathon because of your interest in XYZ … we’d like to get you registered but you can just stop by … oh, you are interested … would you like to share a few words about the importance of open government and the innovative use of technology in our community at the launch of our event.” Getting elected officials on record in support of your efforts give the city tech leaders/staff political cover as they push departments to embrace more open government.
  12. Research Centers with Data – Reach out to research centers with expertise in census data, etc. You need people in the room who know where the data is buried (but accessible.) These folks helped whip up this spreadsheet in Minnesota.
  13. Document Your Event – Just as pictures, videos, and quotations about last year’s event or previous hackathons are useful for this event’s promotion, be sure to capture and curate the best highlights for marketing use next year. Pictures of people working together, screenshots from projects, short video clips help people “see what they are missing” and make it more likely that they will prioritize coming next time.
  14. Print Materials, Stickers – People at hackathons love adding stickers to their laptops. Have stickers to promote interest in future events. We honestly don’t know if the 100 posters we hung up around town for CityCampMN were effective. In theory, a simple one page flyer could be downloaded and printed by your supporters. I could imagine this being particularly useful outside a computer science lab at a local university or at a community technology center. Consider using a or other tracked link to test use. Let us know if this worked. (Notably E-Democracy, finds door to door and in-person grassroots outreach to be extremely effective for online neighborhood engagement, but that is for a general audience.)
  15. Plan For Follow-up – Not just the usual thank yous, but be ready to identify opportunities to forge deeper connections between beneficiaries of new tools (like governments and nonprofits) and the developers. New tools are awesome, but it takes new behaviors to generate the kind of change that could make a real difference, and that takes more time and attention. Sharing highlights from the day back with the channels you reached out through would be highly strategic. (So, keeping track with a shared Google Doc or other tool of your collective outreach is a good idea as well.)
  16. Share Results – Which digital outreach tips worked best for you? Let us know. Two great places to share the results of your digital outreach are the Code for America Brigade list (with nearly 2,000 members) and the Open Government and Civic Technology Facebook Group.

If you really found this guide extremely useful, consider donating to or becoming a sponsor of Hack for MN/Open Twin Cities.

Need Help with Outreach? If you’d like help doing this outreach in your community and you have a sponsor willing to support it, we can help connect you to talented people. In an ideal world, an army of volunteers would break this up into pieces and make it happen. The honest truth is that to go from low hanging fruit outreach to inclusive outreach takes a real commitment of resources. Contact us for more information.



Powered by WordPress