March 2009 Newsletter

Register here to receive next month’s newsletter straight to your e-mail.

E-Democracy News

March 2009

Volume 1, Issue 3

In This Issue

From the Founder

Steven Clift photo

Volunteer Energy – Civic Results

Have you ever had one of those weeks?

Let’s be real. I just “tagged teamed” with my wife to take care of our beautiful 18 month old daughter. Double ear infection, then the stomach flu, now four teeth coming in and the ear infection or at least a fever seems to be holding on. My wife’s “in the ring now” and they just left for the clinic and I am sitting here writing to you.

Time. Oh, the scarcity of time.

Time, volunteer time, is what we run on here at E-Democracy.Org. Without local and network-wide volunteers – like the 20+ volunteer forum managers and supporting committee members and those helping with various projects and technology – the piece of democratic and community building online space we all bring to life everyday would go dark.

One of the best ways to thank our volunteers is to become one yourself. Now that our Issues Forums are in 15 communities across three countries, our need for volunteers is growing and we need your skills and energy.

At the local level, we need people to be a:

* Seeker – Seek locally relevant information to seed into their Issues Forums. For example, taking the initiative to forward a local government meeting agenda item and link to some detailed report is a great way to build the relevancy and agenda-setting power of your local forum.

* Outreach Leader – Coordinate outreach and recruitment efforts. Every year there are a number of great opportunities in a community to sign people up in-person on paper. It works. Our participant support lead Ed Davis will even type up your results if you like. We need a lead recruiter for each forum who will organize forum participants a few times a year to bring in new people.

* Committee Members – Become active in their local steering committee/chapter and help determine what’s next for local democracy online in your community as you build on your forum or perhaps launch new neighborhood forum.

At the organization-wide level, we have volunteer opportunities that complement our growing professional support services such as:

* UK Coordinator – Help us connect our four UK communities and seek out opportunities for funding local citizen-based e-democracy in the UK. Someday we envision resources raised in the UK supporting someone’s time to serve UK generate needs.

* New Zealand Outreach – There are rumblings about expanding from the Canterbury region to more communities. Help spread the word about Issues Forums and organize a meeting or event to see what is possible.

* Designers – A logo, print marketing materials, website improvements – we have big and small projects and those that are grant-project related may have stipends available.

* Zope/Python Geeks – GroupServer, the open source platform we use for Issues Forum, runs on Zope and PostgreSQL , etc. and we need a few experts to help us implement and experiment with new ideas.

* WordPress and MediaWiki Geeks – Help us maintain and enhance our Project Blog and wiki.

* New Project Ideas – David Stein came to us with his MyBallot.Net idea and we now help host that service. Why go to all the effort to start your own non-profit when the idea you have and have the capacity to implement (or fund/seeking funding) fits within our non-partisan mission and goals?

* Fundraisers and Grantwriters – Help review our draft grant proposals, advise our major donor development efforts, host a fund raising event, help us develop our fund raising message, etc.

* Marketing and Newsletter Promotion – You like it? Help us build our e-newsletter membership through online outreach.

* Online Advertising – We have a Google Adwords Grant and need someone talented at writing and maintaining compelling text ads that bring new people to our local forums. This is your chance to spend some “free money” and build your online ad skills.

* Organizational Management Advisor – Are you a retired executive looking to lend a hand or provide high-level on-going advice? We are going through significant organizational growth and change. Help us out.

* Board Members – We refresh Board membership from time to time to add new perspectives and experiences. It is always good for us to know who might be interested in dedicating time at that level.

If you would like to volunteer in general or for any of these specific opportunities and deliver real civic results you can be proud of, please use our contact form. Also join our experimental “Projects” online group for organization-wide volunteers to connect with each other. For local volunteers, we will connect you to your local volunteer committee.

Steven Clift
Co-Founder, E-Democracy.Org

P.S. Join me in Boston at the Newsout Conference on March 21 or in Duluth at the Minnesota Voices Online Unconference on April 3-4.

Back to Top

Briefly — Upcoming Events and Recent Resources

Webcast on Open Government March 20’s Sunshine Week webcast presents a great opportunity for the public to be involved in the crafting of the Open Government Directive. On his first day in office, President Obama in his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government directed his Administration to develop recommendations for an “Open Government Directive” that moves government towards being “transparent,” “participatory,” and “collaborative.”

During the webcast, individuals intimately involved in formulating the Administration’s policies and agendas will explain the initiative’s goals, receive feedback from the audience, and let members of the public know how they can continue to participate in the discussion.

To begin the discussion about open and interactive government, Patrice McDermott, Director of and Ari Schwartz, Vice President of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) will release a report based on the results of Show Us the Data, a web-based survey used to discover what information the public wants to get access to and use, but cannot.

The presentation will be followed by a discussion between speakers and the audience on what the Obama administration hopes to achieve, the policy issues facing this administration, the Obama administration’s vision for e-government, and financial and economic transparency.

The event will be held on Friday, March 20, 2008 1:00pm- 2:30pm (EDT).

Find out more at and discuss on the US Democracy Online Exchange.

Rural Voices Unconference in Duluth
Join E-Democracy.Org for the Rural Voices Unconference, April 3-4 in Duluth, Minnesota.

As part of its Rural Voices Initiative, the Blandin Foundation is working with E-Democracy.Org and other partners to host the Minnesota Voices Online Unconference, Friday, April 3rd and Saturday, April 4th, 2009 at the family-and-eco-friendly Inn on Lake Superior in Duluth.

The theme of the unconference is Minnesota Voices Online: Connecting rural Minnesotans with new media so every place can share its voice in the Internet age.

Register now – Only $35 including Friday dinner. Registration is now open! – See registration site for details on discounted hotel rates while supplies last. After you register, add your name and links to this public list of Unconference people to introduce yourself.

Watch Issues Forum and Citizen Media Webinars Free!
Thank you to those of you who donated as part of our “Knowledge Raiser” last month. You may now access close to two hours of webinar material for free on local citizen media and the “how-to” inside scoop on Issues Forums. We are considering a training about hosting online engagement/using social media in governance (by/with governments) and local “information seeking” techniques. If you have ideas for future webinar topics or what to express an interest in these potential topics, let us know.

E-Democracy.Org in the UK
Interested in a strategic discussion of how E-Democracy.Org’s UK activity will look in five years? Dan Jellinek, an E-Democracy.Org Board Member from Brighton and Hove, suggests an informal meeting in London sometime in late April.
Visit the E-Democracy.Org contact page to indicate your interest in a meeting and availability in April.

E-Democracy.Org Adopts Privacy and Public Life Policy
The E-Democracy.Org Board adopted a final “Privacy and Public Life Policy” to guide our participants in their participation. Because our Issues Forums are fundamentally about public life, we’ve avoided collecting detailed personal information other than name, city, and e-mail. (St. Paul does collect more information before someone can post.) Now that we’ve added an e-newsletter, accept online donations, etc. we’ve decided to develop a full policy.

Back to Top

Featured Volunteer: Daniel LeClaire

Editor’s Note: This month we have asked our featured volunteer to submit a guest column discussing his experience starting a community issues forum. The Cass Lake-Leech Lake Forum in northern Minnesota is among several forums recently opened through E-Democracy.Org. Several new forums recently opened or are set to launch soon. If you are interested in creating a forum for your community or neighborhood, contact the E-Democracy team at

Perhaps there was a little serendipity to Daniel LeClaire’s involvement with E-Democracy.Org. As he mentioned in his guest column, he was in the right place at the right time to help lead the effort to create a community issues forum in Cass Lake-Leech Lake, a Native American reservation in north-central Minnesota.

His goal to do more and give a voice to his community is already paying off – forum members can’t say enough good things about the impact the forum has had on the community.

The forum provides a place to discuss issues and find common ground across racial lines, say members. They say part of the reason for the lively nature of conversations on the forum is LeClaire’s patience and ability to foster community in a respectful and civil manner.

“He has been very accessible for comments and questions offline that have helped many to stay involved,” said forum member Patty Smith of LeClaire.

Said Sally Fineday, the forum also allows people to communicate and pose possible solutions to the problems facing the community. And she’s excited for the prospects it provides for providing an opportunity for individuals in the Native American and non-Native communities.

“Daniel LeClaire is a good instigator of community action,” Fineday said. “I’m looking forward to a creative future” for the forum.

Back to Top

Guest Column — Creating an Issues Forum

By Daniel LeClaire

When Steven Clift first traveled to the Cass Lake-Leech Lake area in August 2008, riding a grant from the Blandin Foundation and working in concert with radio station KAXE out of Grand Rapids, MN, he just happened to pick a good day.

You couldn’t tell it, maybe, from the turnout for E-democracy’s informational workshop held at our local tribal college. Only a handful of people showed up to hear the presentation. As it turned out, it was the handful we needed.

I had known I wanted to do more in our communities to bring a voice to. The Cass Lake Times, where I was reporter/editor, provided a vehicle to focus on the good work being done on the reservation, in the city and the surrounding township to revitalize the area economically and re-energize people determinedly trying to shake off the mantle of oppression that has been pressing down for generations. To that end, bridges of trust between the newspaper from the “white” community had been tentatively built over a couple of years by including more prominently the tireless efforts of our majority Native American residents and organizations.

That day in August, driving up from an economic summit to hear Mr. Clift, I was particularly primed to do something more, something different. The forum manager job seemed right up my alley. And the technological support I would need seemed to be in place. I liked the idea of having emails come to me rather than having to visit a Web site. I was on my email everyday but had rarely taken the time to read a blog before.

With my contacts and reputation from the newspaper, Sharon Enjady-Mitchell’s skills (a woman of connections with years of experience as a social activist), and the motivation of a couple of folks from the radio station, we had what we needed to get started. The forum’s system of rules and moderation gave me confidence that I could make good on promises to keep the forum’s interchanges safe, civil and issue-focused. And, with a few reminders, we have.

Having established a solid membership, we are now increasing our numbers weekly. Monthly events at a local coffee house initiated by the forum’s team are providing an opportunity to bring folks together socially in a neutral setting (just like the forum does without travel or time constraints) and spread the word about the online group. Most of our membership still read more than they post, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Even if we’re not writing, many more people are talking and circulating ideas. That’s true in Indian Country and probably many other places, as well.

Just six months into it, we have only begun to see ways in which an open dialogue in a controlled setting can lead to a more empowered populace. Whether it be debating our participation in the construction of a pipeline to bring more oil from the tar sands of western Alberta through the heart of our city and reservation, or organizing the construction of imaginative pedaled-powered vehicles to show our respect for a much greater local resource—our elders¬—members of the Cass Lake-Leech Lake forum have an opportunity like never before to channel the energy of homegrown ideas into a potentially new era of racial understanding and economic solutions.

Daniel LeClaire is the forum manager for the Cass Lake-Leech Lake Forum in Minnesota. He is also a community newspaper editor and activist in the Native American community in the north-central part of the state.

Back to Top

Around the Issues Forums – A Busy Month

Cass Lake-Leech Lake forum members used the group to announce a career fair, post an article about fighting racism, and discuss agreements to allow gambling on Indian reservations. (Minnesota allows casino gaming only on Indian reservations and the budget shortfalls have prompted officials to call for Indian Gaming agreements to be renegotiated.)

In nearby Bemidji, the forum was used by members to post information about the Minnesota Legislature’s town hall meeting in the area. The state of Minnesota is facing a nearly $5 billion deficit for the upcoming fiscal biennium. As the Legislature sets the budget for 2010-11, legislative leadership scheduled several meetings to receive public comment throughout the state.

U.S. Forums Topics

  • Proposed light-rail transit operations
  • Greenways and urban renewal
  • Restoring community and culture
  • Community energy projects
  • Announcements for career fairs
  • Portrayal of immigrant groups in the media
  • Nuclear power
  • Heritage preservation
  • Crime alerts and lost kittens

New Zealand Topics

  • Preserving natural environments
  • Community gardens

U.K. Forum Topics

  • Action plans for building a more resilient economy
  • Empty homes
  • Help for city businesses
  • Citizen responsibility in community problem-solving
  • Bridges and roads
  • State-funded religious schools and performance
  • Local government strategies for countering the credit crunch

Back to Top

Online Civic Engagement 101: What Is Twitter?

By Tracy Grimm

Last year I attended a new technology conference where the keynote speaker spent a substantial amount of time talking about something called “Twitter.” At the time, it seemed few of us had heard of this social networking service, but at the same conference this year it was clear that Twitter had reached its tipping point. Here’s what I, and others like me, have learned in the past year:

Twitter is very easy. To sign up for Twitter, just follow the prompts to sign up for an account. Once you’ve created your profile, you can start sending short messages, called “tweets,” which tell others what you are doing. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so they’re intended to be short. Fellow Twitter users can request to “follow” you, meaning when they check their account, your tweets will appear for them to read and, if they’d like, respond to. Likewise, you can select Twitter users you would like to follow. It’s that simple, but it’s also complex.

Twitter is very complex. Although the folks at Twitter prompt their users to answer the question, “What are you doing?” I recently heard this better described as “What are you thinking?” An increasing number of journalists, organizations and thought leaders use Twitter both to communicate their message (e.g. linking to articles or other information on issues or events) and to cast a wider net for sources, feedback and different perspectives. You can network with Twitter users worldwide, receiving and providing information on an as-needed basis. There is valuable information right at your fingertips 24/7.

Follow the Twitter Tips service. At first I just followed people and organizations of interest to me rather than providing my own updates. In just the past week I have jumped in and started sending tweets. My confidence grew through reading up on the ways Twitter could most effectively be used. I highly recommend following Twitter_Tips right away. You can start out like I did and just learn by watching how others use the service. There is no shortage of advice on how to use this system.

This is just one of many social networking options. Web 2.0 is flush with programs designed to connect people and organizations. I use Twitter much more in my professional life (in publications and marketing) than for personal use. You may decide that Twitter has great application to your professional or volunteer life or you may conclude it is just not a fit for you. Twitter does appear to be growing in popularity, however, and might just be worth a try!

When not “Tweeting,” Tracy Grimm lives in Minneapolis (and on Facebook). She serves as communications and marketing coordinator for the Blake School in Minneapolis and Hopkins.

Have an idea for this how-to feature? Write us at

Back to Top

What’s Hot Online: Public Affairs and Social Media, Editor’s Choice and more

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

Michelle Fure PhotoEditor’s Choice: Top 15 U.S. Newspaper Web Sites
Editor’s Note: This month’s feature includes the first installment of the “Editor’s Choice” – basically I choose one of the sites selected from this month as my pick for telling an interesting story or trying to further explain a phenomenon. Have a pick for me to include? Email us at

By Michelle Fure

The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University recently released its 2008 survey of the top 15 national newspaper sites based on the number of unique hits.

The New York Times ranked number one, and had nearly 9 million more unique hits than the nearest competitor – either USA Today or the Washington Post, depending on the time of year (the Post had more visitors just prior to the general election).

In the most improved category, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal each increased Web traffic more than 50 percent over the previous year. This after Rupert Murdoch decided to keep charging for the Journal’s Web content, despite complaints it would limit traffic.

For me, being a former newsie and being hopelessly addicted to news now, I’d be most interested to see a similar analysis of whether content has anything to do with the number of unique hits generated. For example, the New York Times has added video reports to its Web site, which have undoubtedly generated additional traffic.

If you know of any studies that attempt to explain more about why these sites are getting so many hits, send an email to

Check out the full report on the top news sites and notice the very cool interactive chart.

Using Social Media
There’s no end to the talk about the social media phenomenon online. Amber Price, an official with the European Centre for Public Affairs writes a very interesting column this month about how public officials are using the Web and the opportunities they may be missing to engage the populace.

That’s likely the key – many public agencies haven’t yet begun to understand that Web 2.0 is about interactivity and not one-way communication. Price notes that a fundamental change is happening with communication about public affairs, and she further asserts that these are tools to both citizens and officials together, but also to help citizens interact more closely with one another. The use of social media among European governments has been applied inconsistently and even those using them are seemingly not fully convinced of their value.

Show Us the Data
OpenTheGovernment.Org recently announced a collaborative campaign with CDT and Sunlight Labs to encourage the Obama Administration to provide online access to more public documents from the federal government. At this point, the group is working to identify and recommend key pieces of information that should be more readily available via the Internet in accessible formats.

See more at the Show Us the Data site.

Talking, Not Hearing
The Hansard Society, a nonpartisan political and educational research agency in the UK, picks up where Amber Price (see above) left off, saying members of the British Parliament are too “passive” in their use of new media communications tools.

According to the Hansard survey, 83 percent of the members of parliament have a Web site, and only 11 percent of them blog. Fewer than one in four members use social networking site.

The social media are yet untapped for political engagement, says Hansard. Like Ms. Price, they note it is not truly being used by members of parliament for two-way communication.

The group touts the use of the Internet during the Obama presidential campaign as an example to emulate. The campaign was fully staffed with professionals to manage Web operations, which enhanced the campaign presence throughout social networking and other sites.

This month’s installment of how the Obama Administration is using the Web brings us to the Web site – where projects in the $787 billion economic recovery appropriation will be tracked. There are also a number of resources citizens can use to comment on the projects and ultimately how the money is being tracked and accounted for.

There is definitely room for improvement, but it’s an interesting way to educate the public on the process of allocating and spending this kind of funding.

Not Exactly E-Democracy, But…
I stumbled across an interesting Web site that I just couldn’t tear myself away from – the CyberCemetery. Sarah Granger blogs about the dead Website repository. It’s a project of the University of North Texas Libraries to resurrect online research projects that were temporary commissions and died for lack of follow-through.

Though they’re dead today, these projects were worthwhile enough to start at one point, and could be worthy of more attention.

Back to Top

One thought on “March 2009 Newsletter”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *