E-Democracy.Org featured in Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement’s “Funding and Fostering Local Democracy” guideWritten by Steven Clift
We are excited to announce that we’ve been featured among a number of great local democracy building models like Everyday Democracy, Conversation Cafes, and America Speaks in the new “Funding and Fostering Local Democracy: What philanthropy should know about the emerging field of deliberation and democratic governance” guide released by PACE in collaboration with the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (the guide author and DDC director, Matt Leighninger, recently joined the E-Democracy.Org Board of Directors (watch for more on three exciting new Board members on the blog soon).
PACE or Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement is the “learning community of grantmakers and donors committed to strengthening democracy by using the power, influence and resources of philanthropy to open pathways to participation.”
Below is the text from our section.
Description: Launched as the world’s first election information website in 1994, today E-Democracy.Org focuses on hosting local online Issues Forums. We provide a service club-like infrastructure for local volunteers (and partners) using a shared, low-cost technology base and, more importantly, a universal set of civility rules and facilitation guides that help communities succeed with online engagement.
Primary model: Issues Forum – E-Democracy.Org hosts local online townhalls called Issues Forums. E-Democracy.Org requires 100 participants before a forum is officially opened. This ensures a critical mass of participation and a broader sense of community ownership from the beginning.
Unlike typical online forums that lack direction, civility, or accountability, Issues Forums are facilitated, participants use real names, and they focus on specifically local public issues. Unlike a typical meeting, they are ongoing, multi-topic, and convenient – this is ‘anytime, anywhere’ local public engagement. Issues Forums in the E-Democracy.Org network currently reach 15 communities in three countries.
Citizens use Issues Forums to become informed on local issues and connect with others – including people with whom they often disagree. With its low cost and pragmatic focus on agenda-setting, the model represents a very high degree of public engagement per unit of cost. We use highly accessible open source technology to allow publishing and reading via e-mail or the web. Participants may also share pictures and videos related to local issues.
Recruitment strategies: Supported by a non-partisan volunteer model, we seek to launch Issues Forums within the heart of real power based on socially inclusive outreach. To ensure socially inclusive recruitment in the initial launch process, we encourage local volunteers (or contractors when funding is available) to sign people up on paper at diverse community events. Setting the right expectations and framework is essential to attracting participation.
In addition to in-person recruitment, our power mapping process helps communities identify leaders – be they elected officials, civil servants, local journalists, or activist citizens – for “make the forum matter” recruitment. “Average” much less disengaged citizens will not waste their time sharing their views if it won’t make a difference. We seed recruitment through aggressive “tell a friend” recruitment and by preparing tailored e-mail announcements/newsletter text for distribution lists hosted by area organizations. Retention is as important as recruitment.
In addition to civility and accountability generated by real names, forum posters may only post twice a day, which greatly diversifies participation and limits domination and “flamewars” typical of online news and blog comments, and other political forums online. By limiting the worst aspects of online exchange, further growth and recruitment occurs organically. Our largest and oldest forum (established in 1998) in Minneapolis has 1,000 registered members and many more unregistered visitors.
How the organization works: Effective outreach, be it in-kind or funded, represents the main start-up cost for an Issue Forum. Some Issues Forums are all-volunteer start-ups; others are launched with special assistance ranging from $5,000 to $30,000 depending upon initial local in-kind support. A nonprofit organization, E-Democracy.Org provides training and assistance where funding is available. We are currently launching funded Issues Forums in three rural communities, including a majority Native American area, and two neighborhood-level Issues Forums in low-income, higher immigrant population areas in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Groups are also free to use and adapt our processes to their own purpose. In addition to ongoing Issues Forums, E-Democracy.Org does provide special online event facilitation, including hosting of online candidate debates. Professionally run online events are a much more expensive proposition and require significant online participant recruitment if the host organization does not already have a base of online participants.
What funders say: “Steven Clift and E-Democracy.Org have been Blandin Foundation’s ‘secret sauce’ partner to help us move our convening work from good to great. With vision, imagination, impressive technical know-how, peerless networks, and rock solid reliability, our partnership with E-Democracy.Org has inspired and enabled the Foundation’s Public Policy and Engagement program to take our convening work to a whole new level of public participation and impact. One specific example is the online gubernatorial candidate debate that e-democracy organized to support a statewide broadband conference we sponsored that helped connect citizens and candidates in fresh and substantive ways.” – Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation
What the experts say: “E-Democracy is the go-to place for online deliberative conversations. Their web tools are first-rate, and better yet, they’re pretty inexpensive too.” – David Ryfe, Associate Professor, Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada-Reno
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