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August 19, 2013

Can you hear me now? The troublesome democratic divide online – Oct. 16 virtual gathering

Written by Steven Clift


Online Civic Communicators Chart - Knight Simple 3Recently, the New York Times shared a story on the millions of Americans who remain unplugged. Our view is that democratic divide is much wider than the digital divide, so therefore we must proactively use civic technology to help build stronger and more inclusive communities and democracies and not wait for everyone to be online.

Over recent months, E-Democracy has hosted “New Voices” round table discussions on the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s report titled Civic Engagement in the Digital Era. Events at the Sunlight Foundation in Washington DC and Code for America in San Francisco were sold out, so we’ve added a third “virtual book club” to the mix. It is tentatively scheduled for October 16. All attendees are expected to have reviewed the report and our inclusion summary.

The Chart Above

We need help from the broader research community to help us visualize this and other data to give us a better perspective on the opportunities and gaps related to increasing civic engagement online (and off). If we aren’t raising new voices and building connections across more representative voices, we are simply left with those who already show up. Empowering those with the greatest voice already online, takes us in the wrong direction. Granted with “more” input into government, in theory government might make better decisions and be more accountable to the public. However, the fact that online participation is apparently widening the democratic divide compared to offline participation is exactly the opposite of the goals of our field. (See more complicated version of the chart below.)

Can you hear me now? This leads into the next point – accountable to whom? Most likely those with the loudest collective voice. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, by displaying who is signing online petitions, emailing government, etc. with bar based on the width of the adult population surveyed you can get a rough sense of the collective voice being heard – by those in power, across the media, on social networks and across society as a whole.

While Pew no longer translates their percentages directly into statements like X million people do this, in our view, the chart above helps us “see” who is being heard online. It helps us prioritize the targeting of our inclusive community engagement work to bring out new and less represented voices. While 67% of adults are non-hispanic whites (2011), that is dramatically changing as just over half of the babies born now in the U.S. are people of color. Communities and nations that do not hear from their more diverse futures today are not the democracies they need to be.

My open question is – what solutions do you have to raise new voices online? How are you or how can we make online political and civic participation far more representative?

Echoing extremes? Another chart I want to share is one produced from the Pew data by Dr. Genie Stowers at San Francisco State University on discussing politics (the entry level form of civic engagement).

New Voices and Civic Engagement in the Digital Age - Post Event Shared While I don’t have pro-rated bar width here, the chart suggests those who are the most liberal and most conservative are far more likely to discuss politics online DAILY or WEEKLY and therefore be seen by their friends and others via online news sites. (According the survey, 33% identified as moderates, 28% conservative or 7% very conservative and 17% liberal or 6% very liberal – 9% don’t know/refused). More moderate folks are even less relatively heard online than offline as well. Is it no wonder, most online discussion spaces on major media websites seem like an ideological war zone with almost no civility? It is notable how many people never talk politics online topped by moderates at 61% and overall how many do talk politics offline.

Add it up

If you add up the two charts in this blog, it is pretty obvious that to raise new and more representative voices online, you need to reach out to people of color and to people in the political center to make up the most ground. As a non-partisan, non-profit online civic engagement project, we have a special responsibility to make up for .com and .org advocacy efforts whose bottom line is either to reach the most advertiser sought out people or to reach those most willing to speak out for their cause.

One of our goals moving forward is to convene people across the civic tech/open government movement and connect them with those active with digital inclusion, civil rights, and civic engagement/deliberative democracy. You can get involved by signing up for our virtual book club on the Pew report, by joining the Digital Inclusion Network (or other online communities we host), or by offering to help visualize and gather more data/research that will help the civic tech field more effective focus our scarce resources in a way that increases our democratic impact.

P.S. A more complicated version of the top chart: Online Civic Communicators Chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 12, 2013

Juggling for Civic Change, Watch Out for Our Blades of Steel

Written by Steven Clift

If you read our recent newsletter for Minnesota (global edition), you’ll get the sense that we are juggling all sorts of opportunities.

Now you can see this on video from our outreach team picnic!

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

On a more serious note, we just added these short video clips from the White House Champions of Change recognition event.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

August 8, 2013

E-Democracy News: Stories from the Sidewalk – Global Edition

Written by Steven Clift
Stories from the Sidewalk

Welcome to the new E-Democracy Newsletter – Global Edition

Greetings E-Democracy.org Forum users and past newsletter subscribers.

Below is a link to the Minnesota Edition of our new email newsletter.

We are sending this special version to folks subscribed to the global online communities of practices we host and members of our past UK, New Zealand, U.S., and Global newsletter “editions.”

For those following our Blog (archive), @edemo Twitter account (and my @democracy Twitter account), or our Facebook Page, you’ve picked up lots of activity based on our large grant from the Knight Foundation for our BeNeighbors.org effort.

Ironically, going deep in St. Paul to create the world’s most inclusive local online community engagement effort means we’ve had to focus on our funded work while our volunteers continue their good work with relatively less attention.

We have more going on now than ever before – more participants, forums, staff, etc. – here are some key updates:

Quick “global” interest updates:

  • New Newsletter – Below is our detailed newsletter. It starts with some exciting and humbling news – I’ve been recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Open Government (see the Minnesota edition). The main newsletter is written by our awesome team. Did I say awesome? Yes awesome. Check-out our summer outreach and engagement team as well.
  • Inclusive Civic Technology Virtual Meeting September 18 (Tentative) – We are taking a global lead promoting greater outreach, inclusion, and relevancy to all people within the civic technology movement. With updates shared on our Digital Inclusion Forum, we’ve hosted gatherings in DC (notes), Boston, and San Francisco (notes). We are finding inspiration in a major PewInternet.org report with some startling numbers we have to change. Folks in the White House’s open government efforts have asked us to keep them briefed on this important work. We’ve talked up inclusion on a panel the Personal Democracy Forum in New York and picked up great interest in the theme at the MIT/Knight civic media conference. Last week we met with staff at Google to talk inclusive civic tech and introduced it to the Civic Collaboratory network as well.
  • Lesson Sharing Galore – We are planning a virtual in-depth seminar on inclusively connecting neighbors online. Whether using Facebook or some other service, joining our BeNeighbors network, or plotting a deliberative democracy exercise online, our slides, video, and audio lessons from presentations in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis allow you to go in-depth.
  • Welcome New Board Members – Carol Hayward from New Zealand, Mike Huggins from Wisconsin, and Melody Ng and Laura Waterman Wittstock from Minnesota to our very global Board. Read their full profiles.
  • USWelcome Framingham, Massachusetts – With the sudden passing of cherished local volunteer Steve Orr, volunteers with the independent Framingham Neighbors (Frambors) email list asked to join our network. Over 1,000 people made the move to FramBors and FramGov. We are honored to have you join us. In other U.S. news, we’ve embraced the Code for America Brigade by participating in their civic tech forum. As the Open Twin Cities fiscal agent (also a CFA brigade), we’ve secured a $10,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to support Hack for Change in Minnesota (awesome video), the next CityCampMN, and future code-a-thons and volunteer outreach under the Open Twin Cities banner. Bill Bushey, our Technology Coordinator, is an Open Twin Cities co-founder.
  • UKHeadington and Marston in Oxford remains our leading forum in the UK. Norbiton in Kingston upon Thames is just starting up with crucial in-person outreach – 6,000 leaflets being dropped door to door soon. Globally, with the Facebook “network effect” we see more civic interactivity receding into the private personal profiles of community leaders and local activists – it feels more open, but it only reaches community insiders. This impacts our forums and other public spaces online as well. Some Facebook Groups (based on our similar open to all geographic model) and our most active forums, are countering this troubling trend. In our view, to be inclusive you must reach people across multiple technology platforms with civic engagement online.
  • NZ – The Canterbury Forum continues with spikes in activity. Our new Board Member Carol Hayward is just starting to explore a new Neighbours Forum for the Kaipatiki community of Auckland. Today, with some many choices online, a successful launch requires in-person outreach to break through inclusively. As a reminder, the open source GroupServer technology we use from OnlineGroups.Net comes from New Zealand. Best wishes to Richard Waid, our past and long-time technology developer who made a move to Silicon Valley to work for LinkedIn.
  • Tech Updates – We are testing new daily digest options for our 20,000+ forum users. Here is a live sample. More changes coming. Some love it. Some hate it. Your feedback is crucial. One goal is to reach the growing number of mobile email users and share some recent post excerpts to bring more people to the web version of the forums. Stay tuned for a forum design update. If you want to help provide feedback, join our Projects online group and our new special Design volunteer group.

Thank you everyone, for being part of the E-Democracy network. If you like what you see above and below, please consider a donation. It makes a huge difference.

Steven Clift
Executive Director, E-Democracy.org

Click here to read Stories from the Sidewalk – Minnesota Edition

E-Democracy News: Stories from the Sidewalk – Minnesota Edition

Written by Steven Clift

Stories from the Sidewalk


Message from E-Democracy

Steven Clift, Executive Director and Cirien Saadeh, Communications & Outreach Assistant

E-Democracy spends a lot of time talking about community. It turns out that even the White House is listening.

Our entire team was very proud of Executive Director Steven Clift this past week when he was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Civic Engagement. Check out the blog post and press release here.

Steven headed to Washington, D.C. and the White House because efforts like E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org project are changing the way your neighbor and you are engaging in your communities. Our country is only just starting to realize just how important the Internet is to engaging individuals in their community. When you use the forums, you are engaging with your neighbor in what may seem like a whole new way, but in reality is just a new incarnation of what community has always been.

Back in the day, I worked with a wonderful woman named Susan who ran the blog Poultry & Prose. She spent a lot of time defining community without ever mentioning the word “community.” Community was the small town laundromat, the no address post office, the gravel pit/pond that’s been in the family for a generation but nobody in town remembers it, the not-so-local drug store, the bus ride to school, the tips for reusing everyday goods. Susan lived in what I fondly call “the Middle of Nowhere, MN.”

I, however, am a suburban girl with the adopted homes of Highland Park, Saint Paul and Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis (yes, I willingly crossed the river). To me, community happens when we experience the corner coffee shop, the cafe a few blocks away, the familiar face on the street, and yes, the strangers too, and when we miss the old willow tree that’s not there anymore.

If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that community is one thing—us together and alone doing our thing, respecting each other, crying, laughing, arguing, barbecuing, discussing the serious issues—that looks like a million different things.

You may have joined the E-Democracy forums at an event. You may have joined because one of our summer outreach staff knocked at your door and asked you to join. Whatever the reason, when you joined the forums three great things happened:

First, you joined an extension of your community.

Second, you connected with those on the forums and those that make the forums happen from Steven Clift and Corrine Bruning to Chia Lor and Donna Evans.

Third, you made a new and powerful commitment to engaging in your community in a whole new way.

If you’re in St. Paul, that same summer outreach staff went to your door with the express intent of getting you engaged via our BeNeighbors.org project. We know that in order to fully engage communities, we have to include the whole community. The disappointing truth is those who use the Internet and forums like these tend to be middle-class, white, and middle-age or younger. That means the communities of color and low-income communities, who help make Saint Paul such a fabulous city, are less represented. We’re trying our best to make sure that our forums truly engage everyone that calls Saint Paul home.

With over 3,600 new St. Paul forum memberships in 2012 and at least 3,000 more expected by the end of the year, well over half will be signed up in-person by summer outreach team members. They are awesome, and combined with the new forum engagement team working to build online conversation exchanges in St. Paul’s lowest income and most diverse neighborhoods, together we are building the nation’s (if not the world’s) most inclusive local online community engagement network.

Our e-newsletter reaches up to 20,000 folks in 100+ countries and the highlighted work in St. Paul is meant for everyone as we seek to buck the trend that the Internet is pretty much for the same folks who’ve shown up in civic and political life in the past with those same new and less-represented voices under heard or ignored. We know that if we can change that trend in St. Paul, together we can raise new voices in neighborhoods everywhere.

We named the newsletter “Stories from the Sidewalk” because the sidewalk—literal or digital—is an often used space for neighbors to connect with each other and talk about their communities. We’re hoping that you’ll take a moment to check in with us on our sidewalk and let us know your thoughts.

We also hope that you enjoy this newsletter and newsletters to come. And we want to thank our funders. This year, thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, as well as essential forum member donations and new forum sponsorships from local businesses, we are doing more than ever. We look forward to communicating with you more frequently.


On the Blog: Local Work Gains National Attention


 Upcoming Events

  • National Night Out – Will be held on Tuesday, August 6th this year. It’s a national tradition with strong roots here in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Last year, the City of St. Paul was named #1 for St. Paul’s number of National Night Out events in 2012. Contact your local district council, block club, or neighborhood forum for information on your National Night Out event.
  • Community Garden Day – On August 10th Gardening Matters will be hosting Community Garden Day. It’s a great chance to tour local community gardens, meet local farmers, and learn how to get involved and grow your own fruits and veggies.
St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith grills some tasty burgers and asks you to
“start your own party” in this fun video message from St Paul Communications Services.

Stories from the Forums—Christmas in Corcoran

Just before Christmas, a family in the Corcoran neighborhood of Minneapolis was burglarized. Unfortunately, this was also just a few days before their daughter’s seventh birthday. Martha, a Corcoran Neighbors Forum member heard about the robbery in her neighborhood and turned to the forum for help. Within three days, the neighborhood worked together, buying gifts for both Christmas and the daughter’s birthday. Afterwards, Martha shared this post on the forum:

“Thank you everyone who responded to our Corcoran neighbor that experienced a robbery. I was able to deliver 4 bags of gifts for mom, dad and daughter that people donated; as well as some for daughter’s birthday. Gifts came in all shapes and sizes: gift cards for Target, Cub and Riverview Theater, free entrance to Mall of America attractions and rides, 2-3 hour face painting gig for a kid’s party sometime in the future, books and many more things. 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. They said when their daughter saw all the presents she said Santa had come and it was magic! I love this neighborhood and you all as my neighbors. Thank you for your generosity.” —Martha Bird, Corcoran Neighbors Forum

This story is a great example of what can happen when neighbors are connected to one another. They look out for each other, come together to solve problems, and reach out when someone is in need.

All across our forums, stories like this are being shared and we’d love to hear yours. Share your story by emailing it to . You can also support your forum by making a donation on our GiveMN page.


Becoming a Community

Cirien Saadeh, Communications & Outreach Coordinator

Just what is community? Community is family, friends, your alumnae class, your karate class, and your co-workers. It’s also the neighbors down the street, the neighbors up the street, the neighbors on the other street, and you.

Community is when you watch your neighbor’s house, mow the lawn, or grab the mail because they’re out of town. Community is the annual neighborhood block party. Community is something tragic has happened and you come together to support each other. Community is sharing joy and sorrow, excitement and frustration, with those who can understand the circumstances and experiences you’re sharing.

Earlier in July, our staff got together for a summer picnic. Many of us brought foods we had grown up with, we played several games, and a few of us even brought family members along. It had been an incredibly busy summer and an incredibly busy week for us. We have been out almost every day signing people up for the forums door to door and at events. Our picnic was a phenomenal opportunity to walk the talk.

E-Democracy is all about building community in neighborhoods. We hope that you use the forums to reach out to your neighbors and that your E-Democracy forum is a space for you to building community together. If we can help, please let us know.


Volunteer Spotlight

Jocelyn Sweet, Volunteer of the Month

Jocelyn is the Forum Manager for St. Paul’s West Side and an experienced community organizer. She was picked to be our first Volunteer of the Month, because of her deep commitment to building St. Paul’s West Side community. In the past, she has worked to support young families and local communities of color, and she now works in foreclosure counseling.

Jocelyn has plenty of ideas for both building the forums and building community:

  • Post to the forums! The forums need multiple voices to truly represent the diversity of St. Paul.
  • Host community events that inspire diversity and growth.
  • Use community resources to develop and support community programs that benefit your community.
  • And, finally, nominate another Volunteer of the Month, post your nominations to your forums and let us know why!

Jocelyn demonstrates the kind of leadership St. Paul needs!


Field Notes

Since June 13th, our summer outreach staff have:

  • Collected almost 600 sign-ups resulting in over 450 new forum memberships to-date.
  • Outreach veteran Donna Evans has collected the most sign ups with over 200 and Chia Lor running a close second with over 150.
  • June 20th was our busiest day. It took every single staffer to cover three events: Rondo Days, Highland Fest, and Como Fest.
  • Since mid-April, our forum engagement team has participated in over 150 conversations engaging the cultural communities of Saint Paul.

Digital Inclusion Update

BeNeighbors.org—Creating more informed, active, and connected neighbors and neighborhoods

Jennifer Armstrong, Project Coordinator

A lot of words get bandied about to talk about how we can work together to co-create thriving neighborhoods through the E-Democracy Neighbor forums …and sometimes we get push back for some of them.

“Digital Inclusion? I don’t want to be part of anything racially motivated.”

“You’re focusing your efforts on culturally diverse and lower income communities? Why would I want to be part of that?”

The answer is, because it’s important. And we’re extremely fortunate to be doing this work—intentional outreach and online civic engagement targeting the full spectrum of community members—here in the Twin Cities. According to the Knight Foundation, “Ultimately, success at making democracy work and sustaining healthy communities requires engaged individuals, organizations, and institutions.”

Healthy communities are places where children and families thrive. Schools are good, streets are safe, parks are clean, wage-earners are employed at businesses that are prospering, people have the resources to support quality of life pursuits beyond meeting basic needs, and local government services reflect the will of the people who endorse a stable tax base. But how do we know the will of the people?

It used to be these conversations happened only at public meetings and local gatherings among a limited group of people with shared social capital: white, male, educated, upper middle class. Decisions were made by a few for the many.

But with the advent of the Internet it doesn’t have to be that way.

Steven Clift coined the term e-democracy in 1994 to refer to how we use information and communications technologies to inform the public agenda.

In 1998 the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) analyzing telephone and computer penetration rates that introduced the Digital Divide.

Since that time, we’ve evolved in our understanding of what it means to use online technologies to build thriving communities.

  • The term Digital Divide refers to the differences between populations based on demographics and geography that have Digital Access. Originally used in a binary “on-off” way—either you had access or you didn’t—today, there are more variations from describing speed (dial-up to high speed), to equipment (desk top, lap top, notepad, mobile devices, etc.), to connecting points—at home, work and public facilities such as schools, libraries, and publicly accessible computer labs.
  • Digital Tools and Digital Technologies describe the equipment, the desk tops, lap tops, notepads, and mobile devices previously mentioned, as well as the “Apps”—an acronym for the software applications developed to run the equipment so as to accomplish results.
  • Digital Literacy refers to skills people develop to effectively use Digital Technologies and Digital Literacy Training refers to the programs created to deliver the training people need to develop those skills.

Getting Digitally Connected in the Twin Cities

Do you have a Twin Cities neighbor without Internet access? Print this brochure for them!

And as researchers further investigated the Digital Divide they began to talk about Digital Differences in terms of how people access and use the Internet and Digital Disparities to describe the Digital Inequalities between how different populations of people have that access and how they’re using the Internet for various purposes.

And yes, there are Digital Inequalities when it comes to how populations of people use the Internet to inform the public agenda.

According to the April 2013 Pew Internet report, 34% of all adults participated in online civic communication and 39% participated in civic communication offline in 2012, but:

  • 47% of households making over $75,000 per year participate this way compared to 24% of households making less than $30,000
  • And when looking at race/ethnicity, while 38% of Whites participated in online civic communication, only 23% of Blacks and 17% of Latinos did so

The racial gap in “learning about a political or social issue” is less than with other measure where 46% Whites, 38% Blacks, and 34% Latinos did so. However, “taking action” based on what was learned about an issue has an almost 2 to 1 gap by race with 20% of Whites taking some kind of action compared to 12% for Blacks, and 11% Latinos.

After nearly two decades, we continue to see those who already “show up” dominating online community spaces.

E-Democracy seeks to demonstrate that all communities, regardless of income and diversity, can be part of an integrated neighbors online revolution. We focus on less represented groups within our most highly diverse neighborhoods to create inclusive online spaces where neighbors can collaborate to improve neighborhoods, spark community problem solving, and build healthy communities. With the recent Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC) award we hope to build on and extend the Knight-funded inclusive engagement we’re doing in Saint Paul to promote the equity goals of the CCFC.


How to Get Involved

Corrine Bruning, Outreach Manager

E-Democracy is your not-so-average, locally-based, internationally-recognized nonprofit. First of all, while we do hire a paid staff, it’s a fantastic group of great volunteers who keep things going. (Give them a round of applause, please!) Secondly, we only exist because we have community members like you using the forums. Thirdly, everything that makes the forums an important community tool is because people are able to talk to each other. With that said, here’s a few ways we can be mutually beneficial to each other.

Top Four Ways to Get Involved

  1. Be active on your forumActively model how these online spaces can be used to connect with your neighbors and to build a stronger community. Help with this by sparking conversations about local issues, inviting folks to upcoming events, or asking your neighbors join you for a pick-up ball game or to work on a fun project like a community garden with you.
  2. Tell your neighbors/friends about your forum experience Word of mouth is one of the best ways for your forum to grow and become an even better community resource. If they know how you use it and what you like about the forum, your friends and neighbors could be building community online too!
  3. VolunteerWe have a number of volunteer opportunities. If you have a special skill you’d like to utilize or if you want to be an integral part of building community in your neighborhood, please let us know!
  4. DonateLast, but certainly not least, you can help with a tax-deductible donation. As a nonprofit, we’re committed to work that supports the community as inclusively as possible. E-Democracy’s work has been successful with great community members, but it takes money, too. Help us continue this great work by making a donation today.

Welcome to E-Democracy!

Get Started!

♦  As a forum member

♦  Start a forum in your neighborhood!

♦  E-Democracy help desk

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Submit feedback about Stories from the Sidewalk to

August 1, 2013

Digital Inclusion Update

Written by Cirien Saadeh

Digital Inclusion Update

BeNeighbors.org—Creating more informed, active, and connected neighbors and neighborhoods.

A lot of words get bandied about to talk about how we can work together to co-create thriving neighborhoods through the E-Democracy Neighbor forums …and sometimes we get push back for some of them.

“Digital Inclusion? I don’t want to be part of anything racially motivated.”

“You’re focusing your efforts on culturally diverse and lower income communities? Why would I want to be part of that?”

The answer is, because it’s important. And we’re extremely fortunate to be doing this work—intentional outreach and online civic engagement targeting the full spectrum of community members—here in the Twin Cities. According to the Knight Foundation, “Ultimately, success at making democracy work and sustaining healthy communities requires engaged individuals, organizations, and institutions.”

Healthy communities are places where children and families thrive. Schools are good, streets are safe, parks are clean, wage-earners are employed at businesses that are prospering, people have the resources to support quality of life pursuits beyond meeting basic needs, and local government services reflect the will of the people who endorse a stable tax base. But how do we know the will of the people?

It used to be these conversations happened only at public meetings and local gatherings among a limited group of people with shared social capital: white, male, educated, upper middle class. Decisions were made by a few for the many.

But with the advent of the Internet it doesn’t have to be that way.

Steven Clift coined the term e-democracy in 1994 to refer to how we use information and communications technologies to inform the public agenda.

In 1998 the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) analyzing telephone and computer penetration rates that introduced the Digital Divide.

Since that time, we’ve evolved in our understanding of what it means to use online technologies to build thriving communities.

Getting Digitally Connected in the Twin Cities

Do you have a Twin Cities neighbor without Internet access? Print this brochure for them!

  • The term Digital Divide refers to the differences between populations based on demographics and geography that have Digital Access. Originally used in a binary “on-off” way—either you had access or you didn’t—today, there are more variations from describing speed (dial-up to high speed), to equipment (desk top, lap top, notepad, mobile devices, etc.), to connecting points—at home, work and public facilities such as schools, libraries, and publicly accessible computer labs.
  • Digital Tools and Digital Technologies describe the equipment, the desk tops, lap tops, notepads, and mobile devices previously mentioned, as well as the “Apps”—an acronym for the software applications developed to run the equipment so as to accomplish results.
  • Digital Literacy refers to skills people develop to effectively use Digital Technologies and Digital Literacy Training refers to the programs created to deliver the training people need to develop those skills.

And as researchers further investigated the Digital Divide they began to talk about Digital Differences in terms of how people access and use the Internet and Digital Disparities to describe the Digital Inequalities between how different populations of people have that access and how they’re using the Internet for various purposes.

And yes, there are Digital Inequalities when it comes to how populations of people use the Internet to inform the public agenda.

According to the April 2013 Pew Internet report, 34% of all adults participated in online civic communication and 39% participated in civic communication offline in 2012, but:

  • 47% of households making over $75,000 per year participate this way compared to 24% of households making less than $30,000

  • And when looking at race/ethnicity, while 38% of Whites participated in online civic communication, only 23% of Blacks and 17% of Latinos did so

The racial gap in “learning about a political or social issue” is less than with other measure where 46% Whites, 38% Blacks, and 34% Latinos did so. However, “taking action” based on what was learned about an issue has an almost 2 to 1 gap by race with 20% of Whites taking some kind of action compared to 12% for Blacks, and 11% Latinos.

After nearly two decades, we continue to see that those who already “show up” dominating online community spaces.

E-Democracy seeks to demonstrate that all communities, regardless of income and diversity, can be part of an integrated neighbors online revolution. We focus on less represented groups within our most highly diverse neighborhoods to create inclusive online spaces where neighbors can collaborate to improve neighborhoods, spark community problem solving, and build healthy communities.

With the recent Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC) award we hope to build on and extend the Knight-funded inclusive engagement we’re doing in Saint Paul to promote the equity goals of the CCFC.

Message from E-Democracy

Written by Cirien Saadeh

E-Democracy spends a lot of time talking about community. It turns out that even the White House is listening.

Our entire team was very proud of Executive Director Steven Clift this past week when he was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Civic Engagement. Check out the blog post and press release here.

Steven headed to Washington, D.C. and the White House because efforts like E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org project are changing the way your neighbor and you are engaging in your communities. Our country is only just starting to realize just how important the Internet is to engaging individuals in their community. When you use the forums, you are engaging with your neighbor in what may seem like a whole new way, but in reality is just a new incarnation of what community has always been.

Back in the day, I worked with a wonderful woman named Susan who ran the blog Poultry & Prose. She spent a lot of time defining community without ever mentioning the word “community.” Community was the small town laundromat, the no address post office, the gravel pit/pond that’s been in the family for a generation but nobody in town remembers it, the not-so-local drug store, the bus ride to school, the tips for reusing everyday goods. Susan lived in what I fondly call “the Middle of Nowhere, MN.”

I, however, am a suburban girl with the adopted homes of Highland Park, Saint Paul and Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis (yes, I willingly crossed the river). To me, community happens when we experience the corner coffee shop, the cafe a few blocks away, the familiar face on the street, and yes, the strangers too, and when we miss the old willow tree that’s not there anymore.

If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that community is one thing—us together and alone doing our thing, respecting each other, crying, laughing, arguing, barbecuing, discussing the serious issues—that looks like a million different things.

You may have joined the E-Democracy forums at an event. You may have joined because one of our summer outreach staff knocked at your door and asked you to join. Whatever the reason, when you joined the forums three great things happened:

First, you joined an extension of your community.

Second, you connected with those on the forums and those that make the forums happen from Steven Clift and Corrine Bruning to Chia Lor and Donna Evans.

Third, you made a new and powerful commitment to engaging in your community in a whole new way.

If you’re in St. Paul, that same summer outreach staff went to your door with the express intent of getting you engaged via our BeNeighbors.org project. We know that in order to fully engage communities, we have to include the whole community. The disappointing truth is those who use the Internet and forums like these tend to be middle-class, white, and middle-age or younger. That means the communities of color and low-income communities, who help make Saint Paul such a fabulous city, are less represented. We’re trying our best to make sure that our forums truly engage everyone that calls Saint Paul home.

With over 3,600 new St. Paul forum memberships in 2012 and at least 3,000 more expected by the end of the year, well over half will be signed up in-person by summer outreach team members. They are awesome, and combined with the new forum engagement team working to build online conversation exchanges in St. Paul’s lowest income and most diverse neighborhoods, together we are building the nation’s (if not the world’s) most inclusive local online community engagement network.

Our e-newsletter reaches up to 20,000 folks in 100+ countries and the highlighted work in St. Paul is meant for everyone as we seek to buck the trend that the Internet is pretty much for the same folks who’ve shown up in civic and political life in the past with those same new and less-represented voices under heard or ignored. We know that if we can change that trend in St. Paul, together we can raise new voices in neighborhoods everywhere.

We named the newsletter “Stories from the Sidewalk” because the sidewalk-literal or digital-is an oft-used space for neighbors to connect with each other and talk about their lives. We’re hoping that you’ll take a moment to check in with us on our sidewalk and let us know your thoughts.

We also hope that you enjoy this newsletter and newsletters to come. And we want to thank our funders. This year, thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, as well as essential forum member donations and new forum sponsorships from local businesses, we are doing more than ever. We look forward to communicating with you more frequently.

July 22, 2013

E-Democracy Executive Director Honored As White House Champion of Change

Written by Cirien Saadeh

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E-Democracy is thrilled to announce that Steven Clift, Founder and Executive Director, was honored Tuesday, July 23 as a White House Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement. The event was live streamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

Extended details and video.

The White House Champion of Change for Transformative Civic Engagement award recognized 15 local leaders across the nation working to build participation in our democratic processes while using new technologies and engaging less represented communities via open government and civic hacking.

“We’re very proud of Steve. A better leader could not have been nominated. Steven understands the importance of inclusive civic engagement in digital spheres, and is fundamentally committed to closing the gap in online civic engagement. Steven and E-Democracy understand that while our world requires global leadership, it’s our local communities that truly host the conversations and build the tools we need to better reach a globalized world.  E-Democracy and its BeNeighbors campaign are re-framing the shape of community and political discourse and it is an exciting time to be a part of the organization. Again, congratulations to Steven,” says E-Democracy Board Chair Mary Reid.

On Tuesday, Steven heads to the White House to showcase the work of the entire E-Democracy team as it works to build stronger, more informed and connected communities and to strengthen democracy.

“Change comes from raising new voices. It builds bridges across differences in public life. Open government and civic technology must be used to open up democracy and bring community engagement to all, not just unleash the loudest voices. We are working for that change and our dedicated team and volunteers are the true heroes making a difference block by block and community by community.”

Please see the attached press release from the White House regarding the Champions of Change nomination.

For press inquiries or comments, please contact Jennifer Armstrong, Project Coordinator at 218-422-6432 or

E-Democracy builds online public space in the heart of real democracy and community. Our mission is to harness the power of online tools to support participation in public life, strengthen communities, and build democracy.

For more information on the White House Champions of Change Award and full White House press release on all champions please visit
http://bit.ly/whitehousechamp

Steven Clift, Founder of E-Democracy Minneapolis, Minnesota

Steven Clift is @democracy on Twitter. He launched E-Democracy.org, the world’s first election information website in 1994. His “government by day, citizen by night” insights were built as leader of the State of Minnesota’s first e-government initiative. He spoke across 30 countries for over a decade from Estonia to Libya to Mongolia on open government and civic participation to support non-partisan,volunteer-powered efforts for inclusive online local democracy. An Ashoka Fellow, today he is E-Democracy’s Executive Director. He leads a dedicated team with the Knight Foundation funded BeNeighbors.org effort to connect all neighbors online (and off) in public life across race and ethnicity, generations, immigrant and native-born, and more. He lives with his lovely wife and two children in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Official White House Press Release

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of Communications

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 22, 2013

 

White House Highlights Steven Clift as an Open Government and Civic Hacking “Champion of Change”

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, July 23rd, the White House will honor Steven Clift as an open government and civic hacking “Champion of Change.” The Champions being honored tomorrow have made a tremendous positive impact by building high-tech tools to help health workers and disaster-response crews better serve communities; piloting innovative programs to involve traditionally disengaged communities in local governance; using new technologies to enhance government transparency and collaboration; and more.

 

When presenting his new management agenda earlier this month, President Obama said, “… We the people recognize that this government belongs to us, and it’s up to each of us and every one of us to make it work better…We all have a stake in government success — because the government is us.”

 

The White House Champions of Change program was created as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future Initiative. Through this program, the White House highlights individuals, businesses, and organizations whose extraordinary stories and accomplishments positively impact our communities.

 

To watch this event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live at 10:00 am ET on July 23rd.  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program and nominate a Champion, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

 

Steven Clift, Founder of E-Democracy

Minneapolis, MN

 

Steven Clift is @democracy on Twitter. He launched E-Democracy.org in 1994 and it is the world’s first election information website. His “government by day, citizen by night” insights were built as leader of the State of Minnesota’s first e-government initiative. He spoke across 30 countries for over a decade from Estonia to Libya to Mongolia on open government and civic participation to support non-partisan, volunteer-powered efforts for inclusive online local democracy. An Ashoka Fellow, today he is E-Democracy’s Executive Director. He leads a dedicated team with the BeNeighbors.org effort to connect all neighbors online (and off) in public life across race and ethnicity, generations, immigrant and native-born, and more. He lives with his lovely wife and two children in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

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White House Champion of Change – Open Communities, New Voices: Let’s Be Neighbors

Written by Steven Clift

Steven Clift at White House Champions of ChangeBelow is a copy of the blog post I submitted to the White House Champions of Change site. More: 

Also, here is where you can go in-depth and learn more our our activities and build our lessons into your own work. Of note is a webinar on Neighbors Online and another on Digital Civic Engagement and New Voices generally tentatively scheduled for September 18.

To stay in-touch, join our email newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Panel Video Clips

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Full White House video recording

Open Communities, New Voices: Let’s Be Neighbors

(official version here)

Imagine. I am standing on my front porch in Minneapolis, trying to speak out to my neighbors:

“Yes, I love the idea of starting a community garden. Let’s meet.”

“Councilmember, what more can we do to get the FAA to respond to our complaints about dramatic airport noise increases in our neighborhood?”

“My neighbor, an Iraq vet, heard five shots and ran to the victim in the street as he lay dying. I never want to see a sobbing, collapsing mother need to come to a crime scene again.”

“Let’s have a “Community Eat-up” and support that new Salvadoran restaurant in our neighborhood. Who will join us?”

“Great. So glad you found seven neighbors to quickly bake those lasagnas for your friend’s memorial service today.”

“I found a lost puppy …”

If it was before 2008, these real examples would have remained unheard across my neighborhood.

Imagine being connected to over 1,000 of your neighbors via an online public space for community exchange (that’s 25% of households in my neighborhood).  You are able to connect with local elected officials who represent you, small business owners and workers, and local civil servants and community groups. Everyone who cares about your local community is welcome.

E-Democracy 2013 Picnic

This is my own Standish-Ericsson neighborhood today – connected, vibrant, inclusive, and building community every day.

Today, E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org effort connects well over 15,000 people mostly in the Twin Cities across a network of dozens of online Neighbors Forums. Our lessons and assistance are available for networks everywhere.

Led by volunteers in each neighborhood and powered by open source technology, we are working to build bridges across race, income, generations, immigrant and native-born, and more. Thanks to the Knight and Bush foundations and other donors, our dedicated outreach team, including recent refugees and immigrants, even go door to door in St. Paul.

Our view – Every neighborhood should be connected using whatever technology works for them.

The opportunity of a generation is to reach and connect all kinds of people, far more than those who traditionally show up.

Join the evolution.

Helping puppies one day and debating the intricacies of FAA flight rules the next in the same online space is built on two decade of direct experience.

We have lessons to share along with a passion to learn about your ideas and innovations. I helped launch the world’s first election information website in 1994 with Minnesota E-Democracy. I led early e-government efforts in Minnesota. I’ve presented in 30 countries concerning open government and civic technology.

Some top lessons include:

1.  Activate Groups – “The most democratizing aspect of the Internet is the ability for people to organize and communicate in groups.” From my 1998 “Democracy is Online” article.

2. Give Notice – Timely notification of new government information and meetings is empowering.

3. Go Local – Local is the public life building block where people naturally connect across many differences in the common interest.

4. Build Power – Real people with real names generate agenda-setting power and influence elected officials – particularly if it is clear that you are among their voters.

5. Be Public – Public civic engagement is key, not just personal Facebook relationships where local politicians and community insiders connect privately based on existing trust and hierarchy.

6. Defend the Commons – Loudest harsh voices and partisan vitriol threaten our efforts to build viable civic online public spaces built on civility and tolerance.

7. New Challenges – Local online groups remove the communications barrier and empower problem-solving “ad-hocracy” inspired by new ideas and newly active citizens.

8. Inclusion Matters – The PewInternet.org “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” reported that the same kinds of people dominating off-line politics are dominating online. To make a difference, we must successfully reach new voices and make participation far more representative and inclusive.

9. All Blocks – Gather the digital contact information – email, mobile, etc. – of your 20 nearest neighbors and share it back. You can do it. It starts with you. Private spaces make sense among nearest neighbors, but for larger areas avoid gated communities.

10. Got Neighbors? – A national directory and educational campaign could bring millions more into community life and local democracy online. If you happen to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, going door to door to your 20 nearest neighbors might be a bit of a challenge. So, I have a slightly different idea for you. Give me a jingle.

Meet our BeNeighbors Outreach and Engagement Team Members – St. Paul’s 2013 Dream Team for Community Building

Written by Steven Clift

By Cirien Saadeh and Steven Clift

E-Democracy.org: Coming to a St. Paul neighborhood near you!

Many of you joined E-Democracy because one of our summer staffers knocked on your door, and in the true spirit of inclusive community building, invited you to join the E-Democracy forums. Going door-to-door in St. Paul has been a major focus of our team this summer and last, as we work to reach the goals of our BeNeighbors.org campaign.

 

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We recently hired our new summer staff as well as “forum engagement” leads to help foster on forum dialogue. Men and women of all different ages and backgrounds are covering almost every inch of St. Paul. They may even have already knocked on your door. The outreach staff work about 15 hours a week and the forum engagement leads put in about seven.

We wanted to give you a brief introduction to the summer team and let you know a little of the work we’re doing.  We will be adding some related photos and videos to our Facebook page.

  • Siciid Ali joined the E-Democracy staff this summer as one of our outreach coordinators. He’s concentrating on outreach to the Somali and East African community.
  • Donna Evans has been with our team since the beginning of last summer. She is connected deeply in St. Paul. She is a jack of all outreach trades from small community events to library storytime outreach.
  • John Slade is both a new father and a new E-Democracy summer team member. He’s doing a lot of work in Dayton’s Bluff and the Greater East Side.
  • Gloria Castillo has been active in efforts to pass Minnesota’s DREAM act. She’ll be doing special outreach to St. Paul’s Latino communities.
  • Chia Lor is a college student and hip hop artist who will be doing outreach work in the Asian-American community and in Payne-Phalen.
  • Cirien Saadeh is active in food justice issues and is both helping with communications and outreach field logistics this summer.
  • Devin Miller runs a virtual ministry and is a long-time community convener in St. Paul’s African-American community. He is working to boost forum engagement in Summit-U Rondo, Frogtown and other forums.
  • Hawi Awash just graduated from high school in St. Paul. She is very active in the community. She joined our team and will being doing some special outreach in Highland to the growing Ethiopian and other immigrant communities.
  • Dan Gordon just rejoined our summer team from last year. A Spanish speaker, he will boost our door to door efforts through the summer.
  • Tong Thao works with Frogtown Farms and is making ends meet delivering pizza. He is our Asian-American Forum Engagement lead.

Much like last summer, our summer outreach team, will be going door-to-door in St. Paul to reach out to ALL people and especially working to reach communities of color, immigrants, lower income residents, and others who are vital parts of our community. Every one of them has joined the team because they believe in digital inclusion and civic engagement – and they believe in St. Paul. They believe that St. Paul can be a willingly and joyfully engaged community.

Make sure to check out our About and People page for our most recent list of contract team members and opportunities to get involved.

As of July 22, 2013 – Here is our Outreach and Engagement Team

 

Cirien SaadehCirien Saadeh, Communications & Outreach Assistant
Cirien is assisting with communications, social media, and outreach logistics and organizing, and is passionate about social justice, particularly racial equity as it relates to sharing our untold stories, “I think it’s really, really important we help people learn how to tell their stories. Storytelling is something we share across all cultures, and it’s through listening to each others’ stories that we create a common language. That’s why E-Democracy is so important. It provides a way for people to learn each others’ stories without having to go to a community meeting set up to support someone else’s agenda.” Cirien graduated with a degree in Political Science in 2012 from St. Catherine University and is a trained community organizer through the Organizing Apprenticeship Project and citizen journalist (video and print) through The UpTake and other projects. In her spare time, Cirien is a martial artist in training, a new gardener, and a writer.

Chia (Chilli) LorChia (Chilli) Lor
Chilli was born in Chiangkham, a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, and came to the United States with her family at the age of two. She lived in the McDonough Home Projects until 2000 when her family moved to the Greater East Side. She graduated from Central High School and is currently a student at St. Catherine University double majoring in Sociology and Critical Studies or Race and Ethnicity. Her passion for racial justice began with her refugee/immigrant experience and she is a trained community organizer through ISAIAH and TakeAction MN where she interned as a community organizer on the Central Corridor Light Rail Project. “I am a firm believer in grassroots organizing, because only through getting everyone at the table can there be authentic decisions.” As a poet, hip-hop artist, and b-girl (a girl that break dances), Chilli is a huge advocate for using the arts as a tool for social justice. This spring she interned at the Plymouth Youth Center (PYC) Arts and Technology High School where she helped students produce the school’s first school wide Hmong show. She is an active member of the youth group at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and volunteers as a youth mentor artist with East Side Rising, a project of the Payne Phalen (D5) Planning Council. Chilli co-leads outreach in Payne Phalen, Greater East Side, North End, Dayton’s Bluff and the Asian community.

Pastor Devin MillerPastor Devin Miller
Pastor Miller is a leader in the African American faith community. He is an Ordained Elder of the Church Of God In Christ and an Ordained Minister of the National Baptist Convention, and has worked with several communities and congregations to promote cultural understanding and improve services. “There’s a new generation of media savvy leaders coming up that have not made the connection to the African American communities. There needs to be a bridge, and neighborhood is a place where common interests can bring us together.” Pastor Miller is working to promotes African American forum engagement on the Frogtown, Greater East Side, Summit University Rondo forums.

Donna EvansDonna Evans
Donna is a deeply committed community volunteer. Her most recent efforts include collaborating with Saint Paul City Council members, the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASNDC) and neighborhood residents in a successful campaign for three additional Central Corridor LRT stops. She also served on the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board and volunteered with the Promise Neighborhood high school Solution Action Groups. She has an Associate of Arts in Computer Science. Donna co-leads outreach in central Saint Paul (Frogtown, Summit U, Union Park, and Hamline Midway) and is focusing her efforts in Summit University and Union Park. Donna first joined E-Democracy as a member of the 2012 Summer Outreach Team.

Gloria CastilloGloria Castillo
Gloria was born and raised in Mexico City. She moved to Minneapolis at the age of 12 where she graduated from Roosevelt High School. She went to Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall for two years, and is transferring to Minneapolis Community and Technical College to continue her studies. Gloria has been involved in many civic organizations mainly focused on the immigrant community. She helped to organize Dream Act rallies in Minnesota and has marched for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Gloria is passionate about social justice, and happy to be working with E-Democracy this summer to help grow a more connected, collaborative Saint Paul. “It’s very hard for the community to get together. Using the forums is a way for people to build trust among their own neighbors. They help people get along and get things done.” She co-leads outreach in Dayton’s Bluff, West Side, West 7th, and on the Greater East Side, and promotes forum engagement in the Latino community.

John SladeJohn Slade
John is a Minnesota native who has lived in the Twin Cities since 1983. He has been working as a community organizer since 2007, first with the Metropolitan Interfaith Coalition on Affordable Housing and until recently for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “Access to electronic media, the freedom of the internet, and media alternatives are critical to democracy, which is why E-Democracy.org is so important. Our work helps level the digital playing field.” John has a BA from Macalester College and an MA from the University of Minnesota in Linguistics. He became passionate about social justice as a college student and has worked as an environmental canvasser, union organizer, and media activist. He was a founder of the Twin Cities Independent Media Center (TCIMC) and has been on the board of KFAI Fresh Air Radio (90.3/106.7 FM) since 2006. John co-leads outreach in Dayton’s Bluff, D1, Payne Phalen, and on the Greater East Side.

Siciid AliSiciid Ali
Siciid came to Minnesota with relatives at the age of five, leaving behind his mother and brothers and sisters and the turmoil in Somalia, where his father was killed in the civil war. As the oldest child of a family that eventually grew to include 13 siblings, Siciid began working as a breadwinner at a young age. It was a tough decision to go to college. He recently earned his Masters in Public Administration with a focus in public management from Mankato State University where in 2011 he earned a BA in Urban Planning and a BS in Professional Geography, and obtained certificates in Geographic Information Science and Nonprofit Leadership. He has worked with the Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office, the State Department of Commerce, Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services, and the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. From 2008 to 2011 he was a member of the Mankato State University Somali Student Association where served as Vice President and organized annual cultural shows, led community gathering to promote understanding about Somali culture, and mentored Somali students. “I was raised by the community with a lot of mentors. This is my time to give back. The forums are a place where we can talk about our issues and concerns within the community. I am working to get the message out that they are welcoming and can help people find the information they need to accomplish goals and results.” Siciid co-leads outreach in District 1, Union Park, Dayton’s Bluff, and West 7th/Fort Road.

Tong ThaoTong Thao
Tong was born and raised in St. Paul and has been living in Dayton’s Bluff for over 10 years. He discovered his passion for community organizing while working for the Frogtown Neighborhood Association (FNA) and interning with the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) as a Housing Coordinator/Community Organizer. “Community is all about the people. Without the people there is no community, and if the community raises its voice about what they want to see, we can build a stronger community.” Tong is a 2012 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College where he majored in Geography. He is working to promotes Asian forum engagement on the Dayton’s Bluff, Frogtown, Greater East Side Neighbors, North End, and Payne Phalen forums.

 

Dan GordonDan Gordon
Dan was raised in Duluth, Minnesota and graduated with a degree in Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota. He’s been involved with organizing campaigns in the Twin Cities for immigrants’ rights, equal access to higher education, and putting an end to police brutality. Having served as a human rights observer in Guatemala, Dan is deeply interested in Latin American politics and global affairs, and has a particular interest in using journalism to tell the stories of people who are marginalized by the mainstream media. Dan is assisting field outreach where needed in year two of his work with us.

 

Hawi Awash

Biography being drafted …

July 16, 2013

Innovating with Inclusive Civic Technology – Open Twin Cities Proposal, New Voices and Digital Engagement Gathering

Written by Steven Clift

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The other month we summarized with some “Clift’s Notes” the Civic Engagement in the Digital Age report from the highly respected Pew Internet and American Life Project. Despite all of the potential for the Internet to raise new and less represented voices, in aggregate it is not yet closing the democratic divide. If left to its current path, online engagement might actually widen the democratic divide (my take).

This week, a great conversation on the Code for America Brigade online group highlights the challenge of connecting the growing civic tech movement with broader social good and inclusion in local communities.  In short, we need to bring today’s changing America to the table in each local community to help design and build the civic apps of the future and not just hope people from very diverse backgrounds and different needs or priorities are somehow magically served by nifty top-down or solo ideas.

So building on our BeNeighbors.org field effort of our Knight Foundation-funded Inclusive Community Engagement Online initiative, here is what we are doing to take action:

  • Engagement Tech – Open Twin Cities Proposal - Whether the regular civic tech meetups, the Visualizing Neighborhoods or Hack for MN code-a-thons, or the tech and design talent joining the Open Twin Cities online group the civic tech/open gov movement is on fire in the Twin Cities.
    • Co-founded by Alan Palazzolo, a one-time Code for America Fellow who now works at MinnPost and Bill Bushey, E-Democracy’s Technology Coordinator, the civic tech ecology in Minnesota is coming into its own among efforts nationwide. We are emerging as a leader in middle America.
    • The (Archibald) Bush Foundation based in Minnesota, put out a call for Community Innovation Grants. It will be extremely competitive and we’ve found the local foundation world very cautious with anything technology related. Together with over ten signed on the dotted line potential partners we responded with the Engagement Tech – Open Twin Cities Proposal. If funded (up to 100K each year over 2 years), it will create the nation’s most inclusive effort to build a regional civic technology movement. It will generate useful civic apps, ideas, and direct government, media, and nonprofit online services action. We just found out that the MSPBus.org mobile website developed at the HackforMN event has been invited to the White House’s Champions of Change event next week.
    • With current partners and additional partners (letter of support template) putting real in-kind value on the table, we hope that this potential funding source and hopefully others will invest in this crucial effort to unleash technology for civic good and open government in Minnesota. Here are the letters of support we have received thus far:

      City of St. Paul, City of Minneapolis, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, State of Minnesota: MN.IT, Minnesota Secretary of State, Minnesota High Tech Association, the Immigrant Bridges Email Network, local companies DevJam, GovDelivery, and WareCorp and nationally letters of support from the Sunlight Foundation and Code for America.

    • Companies like GovDelivery and individuals like Ben Damman have already signed on as Open Twin Cities/CityCampMN event sponsors, and so can you without delay. for details.

  • New Voices and Civic Tech and Engagement Convenings – E-Democracy.org goes deep locally and convenes and connects nationally and globally for lesson sharing, knowledge exchange and more. Sparked in part by the timely and disturbing numbers in PewInternet.org’s Civic Engagement in the Digital Age report, we are leading national efforts to convene interested groups around inclusive civic tech and open government.
    • Long story short – to have a democratic impact and generate strong social benefits, civic technology must raise new voices and build power for less represented groups in society. It must build bridges across differences and be designed to help all kinds of communities solve problems together by unleashing their capacity. Different voices that are demographically similar to those with power and influence today are well covered by typical election campaigning and advocacy online. Market-based social networking is doing a fine job connecting people within existing circles of trust (within ethnic communities, within highly homogenous neighborhoods, among like-minds on political issues, etc.), so where are the gaps that need intervention and will inspire volunteer spirit or generate the most unmet community benefits when scarce funding is available?
    • Join us August 1st in San Francisco at Code for America to discuss the Pew report
    • Highlights from our initial DC gathering at the Sunlight Foundation
    • Both the Personal Democracy Forum in New York and the MIT/Knight civic media gathering in Boston surfaced strong and new inclusion themes in June
    • Join us in September for a virtual New Voices gathering
    • What’s next? As we have gathered leaders in the civic tech/open government space and connected them with digital inclusion, civil rights, civic engagement circles, and government policy makers we see a crucial need for convening and collaboration among these diverse sectors. We’ve even had post-DC telephone briefings with staff in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy who work on open government. Right now I am gathering input on potential next steps and opportunities for collaboration. What are ways to help current civic tech and open gov efforts reach far more people, new voices? What works? What doesn’t? .
  • Digital Inclusion Network – With nearly 500 members, our simple online group for digital inclusion in general is a great place to land. We are working to introduce civic engagement as one of the key challenges for digital inclusion on top of access to technology, computer skills, digital/information literacy, etc. Learning to apply for a job online is great, so is learning how to contact your elected officials to have your say in local democracy.

 

 

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