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E-Democracy.org – Project Blog

January 2008 Newsletter

Written by Steven Clift

This newsletter was sent to about 7500 subscribers. Feel free to comment on any stories here. Subscribe here.

E-Democracy News

January 2009 Volume 1, Issue 1

In This Issue

* From the Founder
* Online Survey – Help name this newsletter!
* Issues Forums: 2008 Year in Review
* Featured Volunteer
* Online Civic Engagement 101: Becoming a Community Reporter
* What’s Hot Online: Campaigns, Connecting with Others

From the Founder
Welcome to the inaugural issue of our e-democracy newsletter

The problem with politics online is that everyone is trying raise their voice, and no one is listening.

This new e-newsletter is about listening. We will use it to let our Issues Forum participants and supporters know what we are hearing, learning and reflecting upon as we work to meet our mission.

What is our mission?
Our mission is simple – expanded participation and stronger democracies and communities through the power of information and communication technologies and strategies. You can read more about our goals and strategic plan.

Who are we?
While creating the world’s first election information Web site in 1994, we discovered that people from diverse political perspectives would continue discussing local issues if given the chance. Our secret ingredients are a mix of start-up outreach that both brings in a critical mass of participants, a trusted neutral host, local volunteer facilitation, real names for civility and technology choice (with e-mail as the strategic default). We place our agenda-setting conversations in the center of real power.

Today, instead of a “we” in three Minnesota cities– we have grown over the last four years to a network of 15 communities with 25 forums across three countries – New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Our Issues Forums model now has versions at the neighborhood, city and regional levels. “We” are also the collective supporters of small “e” citizen-based e-democracy. You are key participants in this newsletter and our mission. Each month, with the leadership of our editor, Michelle Fure, we will share what we are hearing and ask you to let us know what you think. Our goal is to better connect the many local hearts of democracy online into a network with a shared destiny and the ability to provide mutual benefit and support. Each Issues Forum is part of something bigger, and those in communities without forums are key to this endeavor, as well. This newsletter will help guide you to what is most important at the moment. Between newsletters, we will post items to our blog (like information on our upcoming Feb. 5th webinar on Issues Forums) where you can comment on newsletter stories as well.

Listening, Steven Clift
Co-Founder, E-Democracy.Org
team@e-democracy.org

Online Survey — Help Name this Newsletter!

The name of this newsletter is a little, well, boring, but we felt it more important to get you the information in it. So we gave it a name and decided to see what you think we should call it.

We’ve created a quick survey for you to weigh in. If you have a minute to tell us what you think, we’d really appreciate it. There’s also a space for you to give us other feedback about ways we can communicate with E-Democracy.Org stakeholders.

Plus, you can always write us at news@e-democracy.org. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Issues Forums: 2008 Year in Review

2008 was a year of growth for community- and neighborhood-based E-Democracy.Org forums, and 2009 is poised for additional significant expansion. Six new forums opened in 2008 – two neighborhoods in the United Kingdom (Brislington, Bristol and Cowley, Oxford) and four in the United States (Cass Lake Leech Lake, Minnesota; Minneapolis Standish-Ericsson; Central Ohio; Las Vegas, New Mexico). Another two Minneapolis neighborhood forums will open shortly, and three additional forums, all in rural Minnesota communities, with funding from the Blandin Foundation are currently going through the start-up process.

Nearly a dozen others, in the United Kingdom communities of Bristol and Oxford, and in Minnesota and Illinois in the United States, are exploring the possibility of setting up an Issues Forum. In 2009, we expect to focus on expanding participation in the communities where we have a base, be that recruiting more participants, diversifying voices, and launching more neighborhood-level activities.

Each forum has added important perspectives to the E-Democracy.Org leadership team, in addition to connecting more volunteers to the organization.

In the United States, the 2008 presidential and statewide elections filled the forums with interesting discussions that related to their missions – though national elections themselves aren’t necessarily germane to local issues, policies of candidates have direct relevance, to which forums dedicated a lot of space. In addition, communities, such as St. Paul which hosted a nominating convention the U.S. Republican Party, had the opportunity to discuss the economic and social impacts of hosting such an event.

However, U.S. forums also discussed decidedly local topics, such as the following:

• Snow removal
• Foreclosures and housing
• Local budget constraints
• Local officials
• Transit
• Crime and public safety
• Taxes
• Community news, including deaths, retirements, etc.

A scan of United Kingdom forums showed local topics are very similar to those in the U.S. forums:

• Planting flowerbeds along streets
• Green space planning
• Parks issues and nuisances
• Police budgets and practices
• Wi-fi infrastructure
• Economic development and new businesses
• Local government budgets
• Bus routes
• Community event notices

In our Canterbury forum in New Zealand, which includes Christchurch, some recent topics include water management, urban farms, light rail, and the news-generating “boy racers” discussion from last July.

Featured Volunteer: Tim Erickson

Editor’s Note: Periodically, we will feature an E-Democracy.Org volunteer. This month, we’d like to thank long-time employee and volunteer Tim Erickson as he moves on to other projects. To become an active volunteer, join our new Projects@ online group.

Tim Erickson photoTim Erickson has been associated with E-Democracy.Org for more than 10 years. He managed the St. Paul Issues Forum for several years, and his leadership helped create the first E-Democracy.Org local “chapter” in St. Paul. Erickson also served as chair of the St. Paul E-Democracy Executive Committee.

In addition, Tim has spent the past several years as a contractor for E-Democracy.Org, helping plant neighborhood- and community-based issues forums throughout the world. He has also facilitated a number of online discussions at his Politalk site. He’s been a valuable member of the team, and we will miss his enthusiasm and insights.

“We will miss Tim’s dedication, and we do hope that someday he will again be engaged deeply in E-Democracy.Org,” said Board Chair Steven Clift.

Tim is a key example of the passion of E-Democracy.Org’s dedicated volunteers, which are the heart of the organization. Best of luck, Tim!

Online Civic Engagement 101: Becoming a Community Reporter

The power of technology to engage citizens was never more evident than during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last September.

Thousands of citizen “journalists” carrying video cameras, audio recorders and digital cameras captured events as they happened and posted them on the Internet, encouraging others to comment and add context to the issue.

At E-Democracy.Org, we encourage community members to attend public meetings and events and to post first-hand accounts, including photos and videos, of those events. This information adds context and perspective to online discussions. In addition, these accounts allow a window into meeting for other members of the community, particularly if they were not able to attend in person.
Tips for becoming a community reporter

* Sign up for e-mail alerts from local government agencies – most governments have an e-mail subscription service to announce meeting agendas and official actions.
* If your community has an E-Democracy.Org forum, post agendas before the meeting, and videos or other information afterward to spur discussion. If your community does not have a forum, start one. Check out the E-Democracy.Org guide to starting an Issues Forum.
* Start a blog – there are a number of free services available that host blogs.
* Post videos on YouTube and link to them – YouTube accounts are free and provide an easy-to-use process for creating and posting videos online.

For more information on these topics, check out these helpful videos created by the St. Paul E-Democracy outreach team.

What’s Hot Online: Campaigns, Connecting with Others
Editor’s Note: The “What’s Hot Online” feature will serve as a space to highlight trends in online civic engagement, as well as interesting sites we’re visiting/reading. If you have suggestions for items we should feature, send us an email at news@e-democracy.org.

Change.gov
While campaigning for the office of U.S. president, President-Elect Barack Obama created a space to engage Americans to participate in his campaign. With Change.gov, it appears he intends to continue engaging the citizenry.

The official site of the Obama-Biden administration transition, Change.gov allows users to sign-up for e-mail alerts and provides a vehicle for individuals to provide feedback about the direction they want the country to take. Links encourage users to “join the discussion” and find “your seat at the table” to name a couple interactive features.

While it remains to be seen what the new WhiteHouse.gov will look like, we’re anxious to see how the site will include more interactive features for continued civic engagement.

Also, check out the Pew study on expectations for the Obama administration.

Social Networking and Facebook
Facebook isn’t just for kids anymore. The social networking site has also become a popular tool for organizations to generate attention and buzz for their missions – individual users can join or become “a fan” of groups such as The Republican National Committee, Repeal the CA Ban on Marriage Equality – 2010, and Bring Amber Alert to the UK. Members can also use Facebook to keep track of the latest events and developments with their favorite groups and to discuss issues with other members.

In addition, studies show that social networking sites and other interactive sites online, such as video games and video-sharing sites, are a fixture of youth culture. Providing spaces for young people to connect and discuss public issues will continue to be an important need for many years to come.

You can also support E-Democracy.Org on Facebook. Just search for “e-democracy.”

A New Model for Campaigning
Pew also has an interesting analysis of how the candidates in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign used the Internet and how the campaign changed long-term expectations for access to candidates and policymakers via the Internet.

While social networking sites and online videos were widely used, the study also shows that nearly twice as many people look for candidate information online than they did in 2008 and fewer are gleaning key information about elections from traditional news sources. There is also a broad disparity in the age of information consumers and the sources they consult for information.

Numerous sources also have explored the way candidates used the Internet during this campaign cycle, a phenomenon which will likely change how the candidates of tomorrow interact with voters via the Internet. With Barack Obama announcing his running mate via text message, and both Obama and Hillary Clinton making major announcements and policy statements only available online, it’s clear things have changed.

Access to Information Online
Check this out – the Who Voted? Web site is dedicated to openness in the U.S. voting process, all the way down to whether registered voters actually cast a ballot on election day. They’re not interested in who people voted for, rather, the site was created to shed light on the issues surround voter histories and verifying the results of elections.

Certainly Ohio and Florida voters were interested in these results during the presidential election of 2000. The recount in the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken also raised questions regarding how elections officials assure a person has only voted once.

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