E-Democracy.Org’s humble beginnings started with the world’s first election information website in 1994 focused on Minnesota. We hosted content from everyone – candidates, government, media, the League of Women Voters. We organized an online candidate debate and when the election was over people in our MN-POLITICS e-mail forum kept talking. By 1996, everyone had their own website and we became the best balanced “one-start” shop for links to election information while improving upon our e-debate model and building membership in the two-way forum. We took the forum model hyper-local in 1998 and the rest is history.
Content is expensive. Content gets old.
Even with dedicated volunteer-produced content is resource intensive.
As they say, talk is cheap. So today our primary approach to content is the promotion of democratic content across the Internet with efforts that build independent original conversation around it from the citizens perspective.
1. Link – We now do this via our “edit the page” wiki which allows anyone to help update links. Our election linking efforts now use the distributed wiki model instead of a central volunteer editing a web page with links. However, our lesson is that you still must provide strong content and editorial leadership to gain distributed submission traction. We aren’t Wikipedia.
2. Guide – This concept is in its infancy, but it goes like this. Get 1000 people in a community to discuss issues with say 200 authors posting at least monthly. Leverage that participation to motivate contributions to local wiki pages. 20 authors could do amazing things. Check out St. Paul’s Citizen Guide as a prototype.
3. Reuse and Improve – A few years ago volunteer David Stein came to us with an idea. Take state ballot details abd voting locations and develop a MyBallot service. The MyBallot concept is now wide spread and we are considering options for the extension of our service to other states through open source release and promotion of data standards. Project’s like our friends mySociety.org in the UK do amazing things with tools like TheyWorkforYou and Fixmystreet demonstrate how interactive options can be layered upon traditionally one-way content. With our “local up” focus we need to consider partnering and funding options to increase the tools available to our local e-democracy groups. This is not a go it alone area for us.
4. Aggregate – If an Issues Forum is the “Roman Forum” or public square in the center, news and government notices are the public notice board, local blogs are the speaker corner, and possible online events (e-consultations) would be the Senate. We have an opportunity to aggregate content that informs our discussions at the center of our model. We experimented with Minnesota Voices as part of our Gubernatorial E-Debate. We encouraged people to tag their YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Del.icio.us links uniquely “mnpolitics.” Each local group could have its own tag people use on other social media sites (e.g. minneapolisissues) and we would help deliver an audience. There are huge opportunities in the area.
This section of our strategic plan points out the need for evaluation and in my opinion some special grant requests to launch new projects and experiment with new possibilities. Strategies with goal number four also extend new feature (new content) concepts to local efforts.
What are your thoughts?
Here it is Goal 2 from the full strategic plan.
Goal 2 – Information and Civic Education: Increase the use and relevance of information resources about elections, governance, the media, and public affairs to help address public challenges
* Strategy 2.1 Strengthen election information and voter education efforts
a. Leverage increased election season participation to support broader E-Democracy.Org efforts
b. Promote online candidate debates
c. Continue innovations in election information gathering and promotion, and widely disseminate tools such as MyBallot.Net
d. Share â€œelection toolkitâ€ experiences such as wiki-based election links, online voter guides, and candidate statement videos across the network
* Strategy 2.2 Review existing election information and civic education projects and where appropriate, develop proposals to fund ongoing work or new initiatives
a. Develop a strategy to effectively use volunteers to generate public affairs or election-related content on our existing wiki