November 2010 E-Democracy News – Participation 3.0 Progress Report

Participation 3.0
2010 Progress Report

At the beginning of 2010, we announced our new Participation 3.0 initiative, funded by the Ford Foundation, that has opened the third phase of’s activity since its founding in 1994.

Participation 3.0 initiatives focus on connecting local people everywhere with the best ideas and opportunities for includes local online civic engagement and problem-solving. At the heart of these initiatives is notion that social media are not connecting people for civic purposes, and to keep people connected to civic life, reach them via their preferred channel, rather than isolating them by technology platform.

While our blog has had 30 posts over this year, our quiet on the e-newsletter front is based on our busier than ever hyper-activity.

There are four funded projects in the 3.0 initative:

  1. Inclusive Social Media: Deepening Issues Forum start-up efforts in lower-income, high-immigrant neighborhoods of Cedar Riverside in Minneapolis and Greater Frogtown in St. Paul. This includes establishing and leveraging the Digital Inclusion Network and Locals Online to connect hosts of local blogs, social networks, and forums/e-mail lists.
  2. Public Meetings: Promoting more open and transparent public meeting agendas online. Leverages a technical working group and creates the start-up LocalLabs deep geek online group.
  3. DemocracyMap: Generating a massive open data set on local democracy leading to local place and map-based look-ups to find the governments that serve you and who represents you from the local level up.
  4. Next Generation Ideas: Creating models for how local communities can connect with the next generation of tools and collaborating with the League of Women Voters to create support for local governments to bring more “Sunshine 2.0″ democracy online. Leverages an online input group and the ongoing CityCamp Exchange.

We knew 2010 would be a big year for progress on these initiatives, and volunteers, community members, and E-Democracy.Org staff have shown tremendous motivation to achieve these goals.

Issues Forums: With about 20 newer “neighbors” forums, most of them new this year, we have grown our community-based issues forums to more than 35, on three continents. Another 10 forums are in start-up recruitment mode. The two featured neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul in lower income, high immigrant areas each now have active forums with about 300 members each. The Powderhorn and Standish Ericsson neighbors forum in Minneapolis boasts participation approaching 15 percent of the households in those neighborhoods.

Public Meetings: We’ve begun compiling some standards for publishing that allows both readability for the average consumer and the ability for computers to consume the information and republish it – particularly media or community organizations that may want to engage in the discussions. This information is available at, and we’ll continue refining these ideas and pushing toward the ultimate goal of greater opportunities to interact with government agencies. A major webinar recording with our partner the eCitizen Foundation from early November is available.

DemocracyMap: The technical working group has been discussing how to integrate the different sources of information on the 30,000 government jurisdictions in the United States alone. The goal is to find a way to create a sustainable open dataset of some 30,000 U.S. governments, their official web address, and more. The group has collected some case studies, existing directory websites, and ways to integrate the data and optimize search-engine availability. We were honored to brief the White House’s Open Government Initiative team.

Next Generation Ideas: The primary effort is drafting a Sunshine 2.0 guide for the national League of Women Voters, that will help guide the level of transparency governments should strive for online. Specifically, a draft set of digital indicators has been developed, along with other guidelines and the beginning of the guide. Early plans for an adventuresome online survey and set of major collaborative grant proposals were put on the shelf for another day as our Inclusive Social Media and DemocracyMap efforts rocketed to the top of our priority list based on early success and momentum. The new Neighborly effort to create a radical platform and social enterprise supporting “local everywhere” electronic block clubs continues to build momentum.

What’s Next?

  • Continued outreach to communities that have expressed interest in neighborhood-based issues forums.
  • Compiling lessons learned from Cedar Riverside and Greater Frogtown forum creation efforts.
  • Providing support to communities with volunteers interested in opening neighborhood or city-wide issues forums.
  • More exploration of best practices for publishing public meeting information and encouraging governments to allow constituents to comment online and rank others’ comments. In addition, we hope to encourage governments to receive this information prior to making a decision so it can help guide the decision.
  • Promoting the best methods for aggregating data on public meetings, and other government data sets to provide greater access to available government information.
  • Finalizing the Sunshine 2.0 guide and related materials.

How you can get involved is primarily a volunteer-based organization. We have several staff who provide a few hours of paid time on a periodic basis, but 90% of the work would be impossible without our volunteers. Visit the Participation 3.0 page on our website to join input groups guiding these initiatives or contact us to volunteer.

Does your community have an issues forum or neighborhood forums? If yes, join them and participate in the conversation. Invite your neighbors and co-workers to join. If not, investigate what it takes to set one up. The key to success is local interest and in-person recruiting. Don’t hesitate to tap into your personal network if you think this space could benefit your community.

Do you have an interest in access to government information or transparency in government? Do you have technical skills related to data gathering and creating integrated applications? You may be the one who has the technical expertise or network of contacts to take these ideas to the next level.

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