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December 6, 2013

White House releases 2nd Open Government National Action Plan – Links and Commentary

Written by Steven Clift


This plan is part of the U.S. involvement in the global Open Government Partnership. I recently had a chance to chat with folks  involved with OGP-related efforts across Europe and this is a really
big deal that may not have crossed your radar.

Below is a full collection of links. Start here.

My big take away from the plan – participatory budgeting is one of the only commitments that impacts the local level where most people interact directly with “open government.” Let’s build on that. We need
state and local action plans too!

With my community engagement and former state e-gov lens on, I want to see national commitments and “open government” strings attached to Federal funding that for example get people the key government
information they really want – greater access to personalized local crime information for example. (This comes up daily on our networks.) If we want to demonstrate the value of open
government to the masses, find out what they want most and make it a priority for release at every level of government.

On another point, the biggest problem with open government world-wide is that there is almost no investment in increasing broad and inclusive use beyond those who essentially already “show up.” If we
settle for a user base that is demographically highly unrepresentative, open government will be left to competitive partisan politics and not be an engine for civic change. Some slides I put up today illustrate the fact that so far the democratic participation divide is wider online than off.  Also note my proposed New Voices working group.

So, we need the U.S. Federal government to set solid goals for broader e-government use and they can start by digging into their own 2011 Census (link to my query to researchers) and tracking uptake across income, race, etc. on a yearly basis. Lessons from promoting to many demographics likely to have been the least likely e-government users and sharing it more widely with the open
government/civic tech community would be a good step as well.

Links below.

Steven Clift

White House Blog post:


US Civil Society Open Gov Partnership input:

US Civil Society OGP email group:

Global Civil Society OGP email group, news:

From the White House blog post:

Among the highlights of the second National Action Plan:

“We the People”: The White House will introduce new improvements to
theWe the People online petitions platform aimed at making it easier
to collect and submit signatures and increase public participation in
using this platform. Improvements will enable the public to perform
data analysis on the signatures and petitions submitted to We the
People, as well as include a more streamlined process for signing
petitions and a new Application Programming Interface (API) that will
allow third-parties to collect and submit signatures from their own

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Modernization: The FOIA encourages
accountability through transparency and represents an unwavering
national commitment to open government principles. Improving FOIA
administration is one of the most effective ways to make the U.S.
Government more open and accountable. Today, we announced five
commitments to further modernize FOIA processes, including launching a
consolidated online FOIA service to improve customers’ experience,
creating and making training resources available to FOIA professionals
and other Federal employees, and developing common FOIA standards for
agencies across government.

The Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency (GIFT): The United States
will join GIFT, an international network of governments and
non-government organizations aimed at enhancing financial
transparency, accountability, and stakeholder engagement. The U.S.
Government will actively participate in the GIFT Working Group and
seek opportunities to collaborate with stakeholders and champion
greater fiscal openness and transparency in domestic and global
Open Data to the Public: Over the past few years, government data has
been used by journalists to uncover variations in hospital billings,
by citizens to learn more about the social services provided by
charities in their communities, and by entrepreneurs building new
software tools to help farmers plan and manage their crops. Building
on the U.S. Government’s ongoing open data efforts, new commitments
will make government data even more accessible and useful for the
public, including by reforming how Federal agencies manage government
data as a strategic asset, launching a new version of to make
it even easier to discover, understand, and use open government data,
and expanding access to agriculture and nutrition data to help farmers
and communities.

Participatory Budgeting: The United States will promote community-led
participatory budgeting as a tool for enabling citizens to play a role
in identifying, discussing, and prioritizing certain local public
spending projects, and for giving citizens a voice in how taxpayer
dollars are spent in their communities. This commitment will include
steps by the U.S. Government to help raise awareness of the fact that
participatory budgeting may be used for certain eligible Federal
community development grant programs.

November 15, 2013

Connect with E-Democracy’s Steven Clift Across Europe – Nov 25 – Dec 2 2013

Written by Steven Clift


Now that CityCampMN and Give to the Max Day are behind us, I (Steven Clift) can focus intensively on preparing for a ten day speaking trip across Europe. This all started with an invite to participate in the World Forum and then others stepping forward to sponsor additional stops and gatherings. I am grateful.

These wonderful invitations provide an opportunity to both share lessons from our inclusive civic technology work and synthesize some “it really matters” trends combined with big big questions challenging us to ensure that open government/civic technology/e-democracy actually make democracy BETTER and fundamentally embrace all by engaging new voices.

For the next week via my Democracies Online Newswire (and other online spaces) and @democracy Twitter account you will see me reaching for examples and reactions – I fundamentally believe that the intelligence is in the network, but sometimes it needs the right questions to spark an outpouring of insightful conversation.


This trip is sort of a “back to the future” experience for me. Prior to my Ashoka Fellowship in 2006 and grant support from the Ford and Knight Foundations, I used to use speaking and consulting to support E-Democracy’s then all-volunteer network. One of my goals with the embryonic New Voices Working Group exploration is to develop funded programming that will bolster E-Democracy’s convening role that remains informed by cutting edge online civic technology work in the field like our effort. We see this as a grounded one-two punch for the future of democratic engagement online.



November 14, 2013

Stories from the Sidewalk, November 2013

Written by Steven Clift
Stories from the Sidewalk

Message from E-Democracy – Donate Now!

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

Nonprofits all over the state today are participating in GiveMN’s “Give to the Max Day.” E-Democracy is joining them as we get ready to launch our year-end giving campaign. This comes right on the heels of a great weekend at CityCampMN 13 and the ensuing hackathon. E-Democracy is coming up on its 20-year anniversary. It started as the nation’s first election information website, and now has over 20,000+ members on its neighborhood forums, building community every day.

Many of you probably use the forums and do not realize the costs associated with making E-Democracy the organization and website that it is. In this year alone, we hired eight part-time staff members to knock on doors and engage individuals on the forums. At the same time, we filled out our core team to include part-time technology and development coordinators. We’ve also worked hard to make sure we have the best volunteer team around, keeping the forums active and safe places for online community-life exchange. A pat on the back to all who make E-Democracy tick!

Organizations like E-Democracy run on the bread & butter of individual donations, from $10, $25 to $50. While those individual donations may seem small, they add up, and moving forward they need to grow to become the most important part of our annual budget.

Today, Give to the Max Day, marks a new beginning for E-Democracy. Get connected to our social media, (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) and watch for our year-end giving campaign! Our 2013 goal is to reach 100 donors by the end of the year. Please check out the video above for a little inspiration on why to give to E-Democracy!

If you didn’t already know, you can always give here.

Digital Inclusion

This past week, E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities took inclusive online civic engagement to a whole new level at CityCampMN 13: Engaging Civic Innovations where active citizens and community organizers from highly diverse communities joined digital technologists and government leaders in a day of exploring how data applications can help us build stronger neighborhoods. We ended day one with the broadly diverse audience doing “ideation” for the more deeply tech crowd coming on day two. Developers loved not having to think up ideas in isolation.

Check out photos from both CityCampMN 13 and the hackathon, and watch this brief photo slideshow!

Click here to support the work of OTC!

Media Coverage


Stories from the Forums

A yellow lab was found outside of the Seward Co-op in the Seward neighborhood …now reunited. Check out the exchange here! There is also a lost cat in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway that could use your help.

In Frogtown, Cycles for Change is looking to hire 3-5 young women to take part in a bike-related apprenticeship. Details here.

And on November 14th, there is a discussion on housing and crime issues being hosted by the Payne-Phalen District 5 Planning Council. More details here.

Nuts & Bolts

We make donating easy!

You can make a tax-deductible donation to E-Democracy and help build democracy in three easy steps:

  1. Visit our donate page
  2. Choose whether you’re going to donate via GiveMN, PayPal, or through mailing a check!
  3. Donate what you can!

And voila! You’ve helped build digital democracy and your neighborhood in less than two minutes!


A big thank you and a huge round of applause to our outreach staff who are completing their last weeks with E-Democracy. Since the first week of June, a handful of outreach staff have knocked on thousands of doors and attended dozens of events, inviting neighbors to join the forums and online community.

Please join us tonight at Sweeney’s in Saint Paul, 96 Dale Street North, 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Welcome to E-Democracy!

Get Started!

♦  As a forum member

♦  Start a forum in your neighborhood!

♦  E-Democracy help desk

Be Sociable, Share!

Submit feedback about Stories from the Sidewalk to

October 7, 2013

CityCampMN 2013 – Engaging Civic Innovations – Unconference Sat. Nov. 9 – St. Thomas Minneapolis Campus

Written by Steven Clift

 CityCampMN 2013 Live - Photos, News, Links

CityCampMN 2013

Engaging Civic Innovations

CityCampMN is our region’s unconference* for passion-fueled, technology-enhanced civic ideas and solutions.

Join us to connect active citizens, community leaders, technologists, and government officials for a day of learning, discussing, and imagining how to use technology to strengthen communities and create more open government.

Bring your ideas, energy, voice, diverse perspectives, and skills. Everyone is welcome.

  • When:  9 AM – 4 PM, Sat., Nov. 9th, 2013, Reception 4-6 PM
    See below for optional day two civic hackathon at DevJam.
  • Where:  University of St. Thomas – Minneapolis Campus, Schulze Hall
  • RSVP: Register Here - We expect ~150 participants
  • Ticket Options:  $10 Guaranteed Spot, Open Donation, or Free (Lottery, as space is limited) – All include free lunch and appetizers and at least one drink at the reception.


Participants provide the unconference session topics. Propose a topic online now or at the event. Those who show up, drive each topic. For those new to CityCamp, topics may include:

  • open government

  • civic technology apps

  • open data,  visualization and analytics

  • tech for social justice and equity

  • neighbors online

  • digital youth empowerment

  • online engagement

  • digital journalism

  • civic hacking and maker projects

  • digital inclusion

  • social media for good

  •  your new idea here!

*What’s an Unconference??

An unconference is the dynamic, informal exchange of information and ideas among participants.

This is CityCampMN’s second installment of the wildly popular CityCamp “unconference” series taking off in places like London, San Francisco, and Buenos Aires.

In short, the coffee break becomes the conference – with some structure, of course:

  1. Everyone rapidly introduces themselves with just three words about their interests/why they came
  2. Participants pitch session topics (building on online proposals)
  3. Popular “Ignite-style,” six-minute presentations will be back and expanded
  4. Behind the scenes, ideas are sorted into break-out sessions, each session will have a discussion chair
  5. Discussion sessions galore – In 2011, we had over 125 participants with nearly 30 ~45 min breakout sessions throughout the day
  6. New – One minute breakout summaries shared with all, recorded for the world
  7. New – End day with “Ideation” launch for the optional, day two hackathon (see below)
  8. New – Reception/Celebration

You are the engine for change and innovation!   Register now.

 CityCampMN Hackathon - A Hack for MN Mini-Camp/Workday – Sunday

Hack for MNThe following day, Sunday Nov. 10th, Open Twin Cities will hold a civic hackathon at DevJam Studios in S. Minneapolis to “code” upon the issues and ideas discussed at CityCampMN.

To RSVP for the hackathon, simply answer ‘Yes’ when asked when you register for CityCampMN.

Like all civic hackathons, this event is open to everybody who has passion for their community and an idea and/or desire to make it stronger. You need not be a software developer, designer, etc. to participate and share hands-on value.

The “ideation” phase for Sunday’s hackathon will start at CityCampMN.

 Thank You Sponsors 

CityCampMN is organized by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities. Open Twin Cities is a Code for America Brigade partnered with E-Democracy.

Contact E-Democracy (fiscal agent) for sponsorship details.  Sponsor CityCampMN, Open Twin Cities, and Hack for MN in one simple package for the next year.

Gold Sponsors

Knight Foundation 

University of St. Thomas



Lockridge Grindal Nauen Attorneys at Law


Code for America

Silver Sponsors

Ben Damman


More sponsors to come! Contact E-Democracy for information.See our full Sponsors page for all our sponsors and list of individual boosters.A special thanks goes to the University of St. Thomas for venue sponsorship and Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP for sponsoring our combined CityCampMN/White House Champions of Change reception and celebration.Schulze Hall


CityCampMN is hosted by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities        Logo        Open Twin Cities


After You Register

  • Share your ideas for small group break-out sessions here or rate the ideas (soon) submitted by others.

  • Join the global ongoing online  CityCamp Exchange  to connect with others

September 16, 2013

E-Democracy News: Stories from the Sidewalk, September 2013 – Minnesota Edition

Written by Steven Clift
Stories from the Sidewalk

Stories from the Forums
—Dayton’s Bluff Home Repairs

In June, Olga, an elderly and disabled woman living alone in the Dayton’s Bluff had water leaking into her basement due to faulty gutters, but she had no money to hire someone to take care of the problems. On June 11th, her neighbor, Lorri Barnett, posted to the Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Forum asking for assistance locating community resources that might help Olga with the repairs. Ben Greiling, a fellow forum member with experience in rehabilitating houses, offered to stop by to see what he could do. Within a few days, Ben, along with another E-Democracy forum member, spent four hours realigning the gutters to stop water from leaking into the basement. They also patched Olga’s front step, tightened a sink faucet, fixed a handrail, and repaired a dryer vent.

This story is a great example of how E-Democracy’s Neighbors Forums impact communities and connect neighbors for the common good.

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

Forum Engagement Leader Pastor Devin Miller connects online to help the neighborhood move forward in a positive direction.

On August 4th, 2013, Ray Widstrand, 26, was brutally beaten by a group of young people who had gathered outside to watch a fight between two girls near midnight. Ray was walking through the group of approximately 50 young people when he was randomly attacked, almost beaten to death.

After the story on Ray Widstrand hit the press, the Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum was buzzing about the assault. Neighbors used the forum as a way to discuss what had happened, to share concerns about the neighborhood’s ongoing safety, and to exchange ideas on how to stimulate change. This organic exchange was different than what was being presented elsewhere online. From vitriolic online news commenting on regional newspaper websites, to seeing the story used as a foil globally on racially charged websites, even local journalists took notice of the dramatic difference in what the most local people were doing online. There weren’t over the top outcries of panic, blame, or hatred, nor using the story to further some political agenda, but collaborative dialogue among residents searching for answers from within. Forum posts encouraged people to attend a community meeting held on Thursday, August 15th, at Arlington Hills Lutheran Church and offered suggestions on how best to come prepared with questions for the panel.

It’s empowering to think about how our neighborhoods use the forums to meet, discuss and plan, and communicate about our shared responsibilities to each other. I say this because I want to leave you with one last thought: the BeNeighbors Forums provide shared opportunities, what are you going to do with them?

Learn more about the Payne Phalen response on our blog.

Digital Inclusion Update—Open Twin Cities is Gaining Momentum

Bill Bushey, E-Democracy Technology Coordinator and Open Twin Cities Co-Founder

Formed October 2012, Open Twin Cities is coming up on its one-year anniversary …and it’s been a busy year!

Monthly Meetups started in January. In February, Open Twin Cities organized the Twin Cities Open Data Day. In April, co-founder Bill Bushey presented at Minnebar and GovDelivery sponsored his participation in CityCamp Kansas City. In May, thanks to sponsorship by the Sunlight Foundation, Bill presented at TransparencyCamp in Washington, D.C. and Open Twin Cities promoted and participated in CURA’s data visualization and neighborhood-focused hackathon event, Visualizing Neighborhoods. June was a big month, with Open Twin Cities organizing HackforMN, which gathered 75 participants at DevJam and resulted in 13 projects.

See the energy at HackforMN!(Thank you Knight Foundation)

In the Works

Open Twin Cities recently announced the distribution of an Open Data questionnaire to Minneapolis Mayoral and City Council candidates and launched the Eventbrite page for CityCampMN – November 9, 2013 (location to be determined).

Come one, come all!

Open Twin Cities strives to develop inclusive solutions to open government by:

  1. Strengthening collaboration with the local government deepening government connections to the local civic technology community, and
  2. Tapping into the local talent of diverse populations for inclusive technology development to address community needs.

Sample OTC Projects

Too often, civic projects are undertaken without inviting the community—the people the projects are intended to serve. CityCamps are unconferences focused on issues at the intersection of technology, government, and community. CityCampMN is an opportunity for you to have your voice heard. Come join us!

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.

Watch for a forthcoming announcement about OTC becoming an official CfA Brigade!

How to Get Involved

Corrine Bruning, Outreach Manager

A key component that sets E-Democracy apart from others doing online neighbor connecting is our intensive outreach. “Outreach” can be defined as “an activity of providing services to populations who might not otherwise have access to those services” (Wikipedia). Our services are for everyone in a community. The main service E-Democracy strives to provide is online neighborhood level forums/listservs for neighbors to connect with each other, help inform each other about local issues or events, share resources, and work together to build stronger communities. We do our outreach work because we feel the whole community deserves access to this resource that we truly believe has the ability to empower people to be local changemakers.

We invite you and everyone in the community to use this service as your own local changemaking tool. We’ll be sharing posts of the day from our network via Twitter and sharing stories in this newsletter to help everyone see examples of how the forums can be used. Here’s some ideas on how to use these spaces:

  1. Did your cat sneak past you at the door again? Post to the forum and you’ll have a local group of people to help you find your pet.
  2. Start a gardening group or neighborhood kickball team for the kids
  3. Let neighbors know about your small business and invite them to check it out
  4. Discuss a local issue
Get to know Outreach Manager, Corrine Bruning


Donor Spotlight

E-Democracy would like to thank the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative for their $20,000 grant to support our BeNeighbors program in Central Corridor neighborhoods.

Through this grant support E-Democracy will:

  • Grow our forum membership directly along the Central Corridor to at least 4,000 members
  • Stimulate Central Corridor-related exchange on our Cedar Riverside forum (with over 600 members already), with hundreds of East African participants
  • Help ensure that all communities in the Central Corridor are able to benefit from online neighborhood engagement playing a vital role in shaping their area’s future and civic agenda

The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative is a group of local and national funders that strongly supports the Central Corridor Light Rail Line because it offers opportunities to strengthen the regional economy and make the adjacent neighborhoods better places to live, work and access opportunity. They work with local resident organizations, community groups, nonprofit and business coalitions, and public agencies to create and implement corridor-wide strategies aimed at ensuring the adjoining neighborhoods, residents, and businesses broadly share in the benefits of public and private investment in the Central Corridor Light Rail Line.

On the Blog

Upcoming Events

  • October 16: Virtual Roundtable on New Voices and Civic Engagement in the Digital Age, 1:00 PM (EDT) (RSVP here)
  • November 9: City Camp MN, 9:00AM-8:00PM (Register here)
  • December 10-12: MN IT Symposium – Open Twin Cities member Colin Lee and co-founder Bill Bushey will be presenting on The Future of Grassroots Innovation. (Sneak preview)

Nuts & Bolts

Many of our forum members are new to technology—and that’s okay!

You will get so much more from your participation in your Neighbors Forum if you post a message to ask a question, share some information, or reply to a neighbor.

How to post a message:

To post, simply send an email to your forum’s email address from the email account you used when you registered with Your forum’s email address can be found at the bottom of every email message or at the top of the Topics column on the right side of your forum’s home page. You can find your forum here.

To reply, simply use the “Reply to All” option on any email message from your forum.

Check here for more details on how to post using the website.

How to check, change, or update your email address:

  1. Log in to at
  2. Click on your profile link in the upper right-hand corner
  3. Click on “Change Email Settings” to the left

If you have difficulty logging in or resetting your password or you are not getting messages from your forum, or for any other help, contact our support staff at

Message from E-Democracy

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

Much has happened since our first newsletter last month. National Night Out 2013 was a huge highlight, with almost 200 new members joining our BeNeighbors forums in Saint Paul. Our outreach continues this fall with some extended door knocking along the Central Corridor thanks to the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

Community Partners CornerWelcome St. Paul Public Schools!
Saint Paul Public Schools

We are pleased to announce that we are now an official partner of the St. Paul Public Schools. The City of St. Paul and St. Paul Neighborhood Network are official partners. (Learn more about partnering.)

This month’s newsletter theme is “Back to Fall, Back to School, Back to E-Democracy.” We’ve worked hard all summer to build a stronger community and participation. As our fall routines settle down, we hope that engagement on the forums, this community newsletter, our upcoming, easier-to-use website design (sample), and our Digital Inclusion Resource Guide will make your fall that much more community-based and connected.

The Neighbors Forums are your tools to use, so whether it’s a community event to promote, a neighborhood news update, or a local issue to discuss, we would love to see you join your fellow neighbors in creating even more empowered community through open and inclusive communication.

In the last 12 months compared to the previous year, posts to our St. Paul Neighbors Forums are up 252% to 5,722.

Watch out Minneapolis, here comes Saint Paul!

Welcome to E-Democracy!

Get Started!

♦  As a forum member

♦  Start a forum in your neighborhood!

♦  E-Democracy help desk

Be Sociable, Share!

Submit feedback about Stories from the Sidewalk to

September 13, 2013

Payne Phalen Responds to Violence: Neighbors seek solutions during a time of crisis via E-Democracy

Written by Steven Clift


While wider Internet commenting was filled with recriminations and conspiracy, E-Democracy’s Neighbors Forums raised voices against violence by seeking solutions.

Payne Phalen Neighborhood

On August 4th, 2013, Ray Widstrand, 26, was brutally beaten by a group of young people who had gathered outside to watch a fight between two girls near midnight. Ray was walking through the group of approximately 50 young people when he was randomly attacked, almost beaten to death.

The 5-7 attackers were mostly juveniles and according to the police reports, were affiliated with primarily African-American street gangs. Ray is white. Others in the crowd attempted to mace the attackers and boldly stayed when police arrived to be witnesses to this senseless and extremely random violence. The incident has heightened fears among parents of young African-American males about how they are being viewed by the police and others in their daily lives and the randomness has people of all races in this multi-ethnic neighborhood on edge.

The Payne Phalen neighborhood of Saint Paul has seen its share of violence over the years. Just recently, Vincent Allison, a 17-year-old, was shot to death by another 17-year-old during a gang clash. Large groups of young people have been plaguing the streets of Payne Phalen, blocking traffic, harassing residents, and inciting fear among those who call Payne Phalen home. The police blame Twitter for frequent flash mobs late at night.

After the story on Ray Widstrand hit the press, the 800+ member E-Democracy Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum was buzzing about the assault. Neighbors used the forum as a way to discuss what had happened, to share concerns about the neighborhood’s ongoing safety, and to exchange ideas on how to stimulate change. This organic exchange was different than what was being presented elsewhere online. From vitriolic online news commenting on regional newspaper websites, to seeing the story used as a foil globally on racially charged websites, even local journalists took notice of the dramatic difference in what the most local people were doing online. There weren’t over the top outcries of panic, blame, or hatred, nor using the story to further some political agenda, but collaborative dialogue among residents searching for answers from within.

Forum posts encouraged people to attend a community meeting held on Thursday, August 15th at Arlington Hills Lutheran Church and offered suggestions on how best to come prepared with questions for the panel. There was a lot of discussion around the lack of activities/opportunities available to neighborhood youth and how to keep these young people off the street. There were even posts from youth speaking out about their neighborhood and what they feel is needed to make change happen. There was also active discussion around increased police presence, continuity surrounding the enforcement of curfew and other applicable laws, and when to call the police when witnessing dangerous behavior.

The key element driving the organic exchange on the Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum was the online neighbor-connecting that had already taken place before the assault occurred. Because these neighbors already had a space built to stimulate dialogue and information sharing, the exchange happening on the forum was more constructive and focused than what was seen elsewhere. Online Neighbor Forums help highly local communities build resiliency – the ability to rebound or spring back from catastrophe. Families experience resiliency in times of crisis, and so do neighborhoods.

E-Democracy’s program connects neighbors online for community-focused interaction. With a focus on low-income, immigrant, and culturally diverse populations, E-Democracy is working to create inclusive online opportunities to spark dialogue, spread community information, and raise voices to take action. The project creatively promotes social belonging and a shared community experience that promotes local problem solving and collaboration of those with common interests – and in the process strengthens neighborhoods by growing their capacity to respond to challenges whether they be crises or opportunities.

The Payne Phalen Neighbors Forum is just one of many neighborhood-level spaces E-Democracy hosts, and we see this same type of exchange and dialogue happening all across the Twin Cities urban core. The Payne Phalen forum is a great example of how our Neighbors Forums and, in general, how providing inclusive online community engagement can have a positive impact on neighborhoods and citizens during times of crisis.

Quotes from the Forum

Voices of Concern“I am newly graduated teen that lives, breathes, and interacts with all these so called gang members. Sadly I am family members, best friends, childhood friends, etc. with all of these young kids out here and I know a lot of them wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing if they had things to do. I feel the city doesn’t do for the community as they should.”
—Jaysha Jiles“I am a resident of the lower east side and have been concerned for a while now with the escalation of what I am seeing happen in my neighborhood. I cannot wait to both speak about what I see and listen to what some of the solutions might be. I love where I live, I love the diversity and absolutely enjoy this area. I just don’t like feeling scared or having my 8 year old ask me to avoid driving up our street because he doesn’t like to see what is happening on a daily basis. Nobody should live in fear. They sure don’t have this type of environment in more ‘expensive’ neighborhoods, why is it happening here?”
—Danette Allrich“I’m a parent of 5 black boys and I feel we are prisoners in our own home. I’m scared for them. They stay in the house or on the block, how sad is that. Until we recognize the ills of society and take action, including myself, we are never going to accomplish anything.”
—Michele Davis

“We who live here know the area for what it is, good and bad. People from the “outside looking in” just see the bad and the news headlines and know they can go find another area to live in. So it’s a vicious circle. We ALL have an investment in community here with homes, businesses, LIVES – and one that’s not paying off well – we deserve better.”
—Susan Forsberg

Voices for Change“We need to help the police by policing our community. How do you do that? Report anything and everything that you witness that appears to be against the law.”
—Derrick Minor“We all know we have a problem here, and the police know this too. We want safe streets – the voices in our community who will support this approach are louder and more numerous than those who don’t. This is where “the most livable city” sloganeering hits the road, and we have to demand it all the way to the top if necessary.” —Luke I.“One thing that is troubling to me is the level of services for youth on the Eastside. With literally half the school age kids all being on the Eastside, we should have, it seems, concentrated in our neighborhood, half the stuff to do for kids. The cops may need to stop problems once they happen, but we also need to look for solutions to prevent the problems.” —Alec Timmerman

“We must take a deep look and the politics, policies and laws implemented and promoted by these people [district representatives] and ask the tough questions about whether these policies are helping or hurting the community and what trickle down destructive impact they are having.” —Shelley Leeson

“There are many spokes in this wheel – political, financial, public safety, personal responsibility to name a few. All should be addressed in a comprehensive way by the immediate community and the City. This will take time and effort. This very unfortunate incident has forced us to actually face the reality of our neighborhood.”
—Marjorie Ebenteiner


Ray Widstrand poster

September 1, 2013

Knowledge Maximizer – Please Join Our Draft Survey Review

Written by Steven Clift

Survey Work Ahead - Source USA Traffic SignsIn the civic technology and open government space E-Democracy’s role is quite unique.

We’ve emerge as an R+D online community engagement knowledge generator built on authentic local civic participation. Our mission includes increasing real participation and widely gathering and sharing lessons. Our global impact is based on pushing the envelop locally.

With nearly 20 years under our belt, we are a bit of an old dog, but we are being told by civic technology, open data, and government transparency leaders that we are in the space where they are now arriving – engagement. Our old trick – inclusive and civil online engagement – is emerging as the hot need for the civic tech community to have a real impact.

One needs participants to test any civic idea, any technology, or any new strategy. We all crucially need an inclusive base of participants if you want to be more representative and go beyond testing ideas with highly wired early adopters.

Over five years ago, we shifted our focus to the neighborhood level and broadened our scope from the city-wide online town hall focused on local politics to embrace  community life exchange. We further embraced in our funded work, a strong focus on inclusion and connecting neighbors and communities across race, income, generations, immigrant/native born, etc.

We went from a model that attracted ~1% of households to 25% or more within the geographic area served. Unlikely a many commercial neighbor connecting models which create resident-only private connections, we’ve stayed steadfastly public, open, and inclusive by design. This is crucial for both community agenda-setting and wide spread learning.

So how are we doing? What is our impact? What do we need to do better?

We now have well over 10,000 individual participants across a network of over 20 active online Neighbors Forums across St. Paul and Minneapolis. Our members aged 15 to 95 are engaged most days. Across St. Paul and in Cedar Riverside and Phillips in Minneapolis, we likely have the most representative base of local online participants anywhere in the world. Our intensive funded outreach (often in-person) is unique. In forum areas that have been all-volunteer, we suspect our socio-economic diversity is less (we find middle middle class areas with small homes and big hearts are the easiest to organize with volunteers).

After many months of asking ourselves what we want to measure, what we need to measure, what our we’ve promised our funders, and exploring what other surveys have asked, we now have a draft participant survey.

The draft evolved from an internal staff/Board working group and direct work with the Knight Foundation (our major funder) and their consultant Network Impact.

The honest truth is that even with the planned incentive of a drawing for an iPad Mini, the first survey will likely need to lose some questions (24 currently not including demographics) or we will not get feedback from the range of participants we want to reach. We plan a follow-up with a short surveys and quick user polls.

Whether it is through new research partnerships or additional grants to support knowledge sharing we have to balance our learning time with our practical on-forum outreach and engagement work. The key is to use this survey to work smarter so we can increase our impact. We are very interested in partnering with other independent research projects and researchers to further knowledge maximization moving forward.

Draft input opportunity

We seek in-depth feedback on our draft questions before we put them in the field to St. Paul and Minneapolis Neighbors Forum members (this is not a survey about a city-wide online town halls).

If you can commit to reviewing our main question set and offering feedback, please .

We will bring you into a collaborative experiment using Google Docs comments to gather and share feedback. Please include in your offer to help some information about your research background or your involvement in online civic engagement/open government/etc.

Where did the questions come from?

As the questions have evolved from our survey review, our  internal working group, working with Network Impact, etc. our draft is an amalgamated soup.

At the core, we are trying to ask questions that tell us something we need to know. We want to ask questions that are somehow actionable as well. We can use the responses to improve our work or comparatively see the civic value we are generating in different neighborhoods or with different kinds of people. Other independent researchers might have different questions.

We owe many thanks to others like the UK Neighbours Online Study for breaking ground as well as Jakob Jensen for his survey work with us a decade ago.  This online metrics conversation on the Democracies Online Exchange helped us get started.

In addition to the survey, there are a number of things we can measure that are baked into GroupServer, via content analysis, via Google Analytics, and through other qualitative methods.

You may also request access to this Google spreadsheet to review most of the questions we collected if you like.

And, if you would like to be part of our small review quick review panel over the next two weeks (through September 15),  and we will share access to our set of Google Docs for comment. You may choose to send us private comments as well.


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!

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

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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 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 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 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,

Click here to read Stories from the Sidewalk – Minnesota Edition


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