E-Democracy.Org advises proposed UK effort to engage perhaps millions online, Minnesota Listens

Over the last couple months, I’ve had the privilege to participate in an independent online exchange hosted by OpenDemocracy.Net with the goal of assisting the UK Ministry of Justice with plans for a large scale online engagement. Whether they engage thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even top a million people, the fact that a government is thinking about “engagement” rather than the typical one-way informing people online is quite significant.

I’ve blogged this in detail on the Democracies Online and the PBS Idea Lab blogs.

Part of what I contributed was an outline for a potential online Minnesota town hall event designed to build consensus (a very very difficult thing to do in any medium). Someone challenged me to come up with an outline that might use this medium to bring people with differing views together. If you’ve experienced our Issues Forums, you know that that is completely counter to how people naturally use the Internet in political discussions. Almost all posts come from someone with a different take, a nuanced fork, or someone providing additional information – but rarely does the online environment measure substantial agreement (other than sensational online polls on some sites) based on dialogue. Anyway, here is the Minnesota Listens idea that I first posted to the DoWire Consult online group for feedback – add your own here:

So let’s imagine a two week online event on what Minnesota should do about climate change (or some other issue or a set of top themes at our 150th anniversary as a state) …

Minnesota Listens

A two week online exchange among Minnesotans about our future.

Topic and Panel Development – 3 Months Preparation
– Draft short discussion point documents
– Gather short videos, photographs and other mixed media to create contextual starting point that is screen readable
– Secure two major keynote speakers – one to open the event, one to close
– Craft small set of expert panels for participant Q and A and high quality debate

Pre-Event Promotion – Over 2 Months

– Attract 1000-2000 registered participants prior to the event
– Seek participation to better ensure diverse representation – geographically, politically, ethnically, gender, age
– Recruit a mix of “average citizens,” interest groups, community leaders, and elected officials
– Pre-event interest/opinion survey

Open Online Event
Prime online event participants with e-mail newsletters/updates before and daily through the event.

W-Th – Event Opening
– Keynote #1
– Panel #1

F-Sa-Su-M – “Home Room” Hello
– Start two-way interactivity in small private discussion spaces of 15-20 members
– Develop a format where everyone says hello (posts something) in this “safe” environment
– Tell as story about X – topically related
– Assign participants in stratified manner based demographics to create a diverse mix

Tu-W-Th – Major Thematic Debates
– Public, moderated and facilitated
– Hire writers to produce daily summaries sent to all participants via e-mail
– Produce issues summary and questions from debate for deliberation in the small groups

F-Sa-Su-M – “Home Room” Small Group Deliberation
– Discuss issues summary questions as a group
– Answer preliminary survey questions individually with report to group
– Require group to development and report various agreements via structured form aggregated across all small groups
– Allow path for “agree to disagree” or minority position reports
– Writer/staff rapidly synthesize small group results and report to all participants

Note: Additional public or private group discussions could also be designed such as a discussion among local elected officials, etc. A focus on the time required for participation is essential.

Tu-W – Closing and Public Poll
– Final synthesis report release on website, to all participants via e-mail, media promotion
– Final Keynote
– Allow broader public to rate/rank/vote on produced recommendations for X weeks after the main online event closes

This is my rough cut at how one might craft a **well-funded** high e-touch online event/consultation with the goal of moving the results beyond statements of difference or a basic online survey based just on expert scoping of the issues.

What would you do differently? What do you like about the format?

Would this be worth the $250,000 or $500,000 or $50,000 it might cost to produce this?

Or better yet, share your outline for the online event/consultation you’d like to see.

Steven Clift

One thought on “E-Democracy.Org advises proposed UK effort to engage perhaps millions online, Minnesota Listens”

  1. I’m truly excited by this opportunity to conduct a Town Hall forum with Project Blog!!!

    There’s a host of enviro-advocates and EJ groups operating in MN. From grassroots to national projects – from the Green Institute to the Wind Farms in SW – with funding – this project can criss-cross our fair state.

    I’m a community activist and person living with disability, a parent and African American.

    I wish to stress potential partners / persons to include in this endeavor:
    *K-12 educators/schools as well as Universities;
    *Libraries (low-income, ‘cyber cafes’); *Philanthropists committed to bridging the divide;
    *Community based orgs representing: indigenous, people of color and persons with disabilities
    *Farm, Union and Service sector employees/ers

    Opportunities abound for Companion peices like on-demand cirriculum programs for K-12 and HS and College level blogosphere-video competitions! Our largest minority group is those living with disabilities. Many of which combat isolation through the use of the internet. And with population 2010 on the horizon – seniors more often than not, will straddle these groups.

    I am committed to making sure all have a place at the table – and our best assets are driven by honoring ideals that include us all.

    R. Dykoski

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