August 2009 E-Democracy News — Civic Engagement 101

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Civic Engagement 101: Issues Forums

Part 1 of 5: Starting an Issues Forum

Editor’s Note: Over the next several months, we’ll be including a short article highlighting all the different aspects of starting and running local issues forum. Have a question you’d like us to address? Email us at

A family moves to the neighborhood and wants to know more about the schools in the area. Another family needs another recycling bin and wonders who to call. Someone gets a new job and wonders how to find options for riding public transit rather than driving to work. A person is mugged on the walk home and needs help finding who is responsible.

Each of these scenarios have brought participants to local issues forums. In many cases, they also prompted participants to use local issues forums as a way to connect with their neighbors and bring their communities closer together.

Starting an issues forum doesn’t need to be complicated. The most important pieces involve recruiting a volunteer or two to manage the forum and to guide local decision-making.

In choosing a forum manager, you want to find someone who is a good facilitator, knows how to diffuse potential conflict and has some basic technical aptitude. With the platform provided by E-Democracy.Org, you basically just need someone who can email and has a sense for when to intervene and encourage constructive participation.

Many forums regulate themselves, but a forum manager is sometimes necessary to keep discussions on the right track. In addition, forums need to grow to have robust and diverse conversation.

Check out the 10-step guide for starting a forum – the most valuable resources are individual volunteers with skills to create buzz and promote participation in the forum. In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss the aspects of an issues forum more in-depth.

Up Next Month: Building Membership

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