November 2010 E-Democracy News – From the Executive Director

Photo of Steve Clift E-democracy dot Org Executive Director

From the Executive Director
By Steven Clift

In the United States, we’ve just finished a historical election, where a significant percentage of the incumbent officials elected to Congress were defeated. In Minnesota, where I live, we also experienced significant turnover in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which resulted in the minority parties (Republicans) in both houses gaining majority control.

There’s been some analysis about why this happened, and what it means, including the influence of the Internet and social media. Analysts have said voters felt like their voices were not being heard by those elected, regardless of which political party they represented.

It’s interesting that in the nearly 20 years I have been involved in online civic engagement, that sentiment is still pervasive. People just want to be heard.

In the online engagement world, I have long believed that the answer is creating opportunities for more meaningful participation and greater government transparency. Now more than ever, we need to harness the power of the Internet to connect people and break down the barriers to participating in democracy.

The wired citizen has a multitude of communication tools at her or his disposal in this regard. Governments around the world have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts; they stream their meetings online and post videos on YouTube. Millions of blogs worldwide provide the opportunity for anyone to publish information and opinions about public issues. Most government jurisdictions use the Internet to publish data and other information.

But are we using these platforms to engage one another? Do we have the opportunity to participate in local democracy online after we put our kids to bed, like we can order products or watch television programs online?

What our own personal experiences and expert studies show us is that the answers to these questions are still “no.” But progress is being made. And there are ways to successfully engage communities online.

During the past year, our Participation 3.0 initiatives have generated some remarkable momentum and hopeful results about online engagement – in particular, people are seeking inclusive opportunities to engage locally online. Though we have the world at our fingertips, people tend to stay close to home when they’re looking for resources online. And our democracy depends on providing opportunities to engage with others in our community online.

We’re also learning about ways to connect the different platforms people use to connect with one another (like Facebook Pages and Twitter), so we can add the civic participation elements that seems to be missing. And we’re working to push open standards and data for governments to create greater opportunities for citizens to engage with policymakers online, which relates to when and how public meeting information is published.

The progress on our Participation 3.0 project this year has been tremendous, with many opportunities to learn from new volunteers and to partner with like-minded organizations. We’re looking forward to the next phase in 2011 where we’ll be deepening our Inclusive Social Media effort and continuing to convene online communities of interest around our 3.0 projects and the CityCamp Exchange, and we’re looking for opportunities to share these lessons well beyond our network, and of course gather and generate some new ideas.

So how do we fit in the missing pieces? Tell us your ideas. We’re looking forward to hearing from you with your ideas for taking these efforts to the next level.

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