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.
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 BeNeighbors.org effort. We see this as a grounded one-two punch for the future of democratic engagement online.
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.
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.
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:
Choose whether you’re going to donate via GiveMN, PayPal, or through mailing a check!
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.
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
CityCampMN Hackathon - A Hack for MN Mini-Camp/Workday – Sunday
The 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.
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.
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.
CityCampMN is hosted by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities
After You Register
Share your ideas for small group break-out sessions here or rate the ideas (soon) submitted by others.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
Start a gardening group or neighborhood kickball team for the kids
Let neighbors know about your small business and invite them to check it out
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.
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 E-Democracy.org. 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:
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.
While wider Internet commenting was filled with recriminations and conspiracy, E-Democracy’s Neighbors Forums raised voices against violence by seeking solutions.
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 BeNeighbors.org 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.”
“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.”
In 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.
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.
Recently, 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.
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).
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.
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.
UK – Headington 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 Forumcontinues 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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.