3333 Community Sparks – Copying Another Idea for Posterity

In 2013, the Forever St. Paul, $1 million idea challenge, put out a request for proposals. This is what we proposed. We are copying this into our blog for archival purposes. We still love the idea! Let us know if you want to make it happen or fund it.


3333 Community Sparks – Connect Every Block, All People Across St. Paul

Steven Clift

by Steven Clift | Mar 21, 2013


It starts with you. Yes, you.

3333 Community Sparks
2222 Potlucks
1111 Online block groups … and more
110,000 Households to engage

That’s 33 households reached by you, a Community Spark, and listed in a simply powerful neighbor directory for your block or building.

Then 50+ households are invited to each potluck and 100 households connected easily year-round with their nearest neighbors via the world’s most inclusive online community network ever.

This is a foundation to make ALL of St. Paul not just great, but an awesome place to live and build a future we make together block by block, building by building.

From this in-person and online foundation, that by design connects neighbors across race, ethnicity, and income, we will build engagement in community life that our families can experience everyday.

How will it work?

1. Recruit 3,333 volunteers and map out the blocks and buildings covered. Plan for a three year campaign.

2. Share inspirational neighbor connecting stories from blocks and buildings that are already connected along with training and an online infrastructure to make the creation and maintaining of your neighbor directory easy.

3. Hire multilingual residents, including young adults, to bolster door to door efforts. This will ensure we recruit Sparks in all parts of town and that the effort fundamentally reaches the nearly half of St. Paul residents that are people of color and the 18% who chose St. Paul as their home who were born in other countries.

4. Promote trust-building in-person connecting through potlucks in addition to events like National Night Out. Working with the Sunday Suppers movement tied to the Martin Luther King Day weekend, let’s bring neighbors together year-round. Local and national retailers (e.g. Target) could be challenged to match funding with gift cards.

5. Innovate with online nearest neighbor connections and more.

Let’s get started now! Sign-up: http://e-democracy.org/beaspark


Your idea

Title of your idea

3333 Community Sparks – Connect Every Block, All People Across St. Paul

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

It starts with you. Yes, you.

3333 Community Sparks
2222 Potlucks
1111 Online block groups … and more
110,000 Households to engage

That’s 33 households reached by you, a Community Spark, and listed in a simply powerful neighbor directory for your block or building.

Then 50+ households are invited to each potluck and 100 households connected easily year-round with their nearest neighbors via the world’s most inclusive online community network ever.

This is a foundation to make ALL of St. Paul not just great, but an awesome place to live and build a future we make together block by block, building by building.

From this in-person and online foundation, that by design connects neighbors across race, ethnicity, and income, we will build engagement in community life that our families can experience everyday.

How will it work?

1. Recruit 3,333 volunteers and map out the blocks and buildings covered. Plan for a three year campaign.

2. Share inspirational neighbor connecting stories from blocks and buildings that are already connected along with training and an online infrastructure to make the creation and maintaining of your neighbor directory easy.

3. Hire multilingual residents, including young adults, to bolster door to door efforts. This will ensure we recruit Sparks in all parts of town and that the effort fundamentally reaches the nearly half of St. Paul residents that are people of color and the 18% who chose St. Paul as their home who were born in other countries.

4. Promote trust-building in-person connecting through potlucks in addition to events like National Night Out. Working with the Sunday Suppers movement tied to the Martin Luther King Day weekend, let’s bring neighbors together year-round. Local and national retailers (e.g. Target) could be challenged to match funding with gift cards.

5. Innovate with online nearest neighbor connections and more.

Let’s get started now! Sign-up: http://e-democracy.org/beaspark

Website address (if applicable)


What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

This idea truly covers ALL of St. Paul. It engages ALL kinds of people and embraces the dynamic diversity of St. Paul’s 111,000 households.

It involves everyday people in making this happen and recognizes that inclusion takes a real investment.

In addition, working through the St. Paul’s BeNeighbors.org effort to connect neighborhoods online in public life with at least 10,000 participants, we have a base from which the 3333 Community Sparks can be recruited.

We can add support for block and building level connections online. Many blocks, perhaps 2%, in St. Paul already connect privately via email and online groups. They LOVE connecting this way. They are connected because a “spark” made it happen. Every block can be included in this connecting revolution.


This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

We can impact every corner of St. Paul and all the blocks and buildings in-between.

About two decades of experience shape E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org effort. The key lesson is that to bring people together and to inspire collaboration and community action beyond the usual suspects, you have to go local.

In our online participation model, 1% will show up city-wide, 25% are now showing up in our strongest online Neighbors Forums (S. Minneapolis), and the patch-work of block level online groups below the radar are known to connect up to 80% of households in extremely small areas. Unfortunately, if left to organic slow growth, very few of those exciting block networks will connect lower income areas, connect people across race, and renters and many new residents will be left out.


Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

By creating a simple but powerful neighbor directory (printed and shared online with participating neighbors) with options for mobile phone, email, etc. it will be a reliable day to day resource. We will design an infrastructure to help Community Sparks maintain that information and citywide partners would direct new residents to sign-up online. (We’d get in the water bill, etc.) We will clearly bolster existing crime prevention efforts like National Night Out as well.

By creating rituals like winter potlucks and e-communicating citywide to directory members about “block up” community engagement opportunities like online groups for your block (using Facebook and other tools) we can sustain and extend impact. Further, E-Democracy does nationwide training and outreach in this space today.

100,000 Participants – Copying An Idea for Posterity

As our blog is a useful repository for content that will last for years, here is a copy of our intentionally audacious Knight News Challenge proposal from 2013. Elements of this may turn into future proposals, particularly if you have to a funder who is inspired b them and gets in touch. 🙂  Source.

100,000+ Participants. Local. Inclusive.

Open Government will fail without inclusive outreach that inspires vastly more representative participation. E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org initiative is primed for “awesome” by innovating with next generation civic tech to reach 50%+ of households.




Q: How do you design “awesome” open government to engage over 50% of households in a vastly more representative way and not just the 1% who already show up?

A: You:


  1. Pick a region and go deep
  2. Get inclusive with unprecedented outreach
  3. Attract people with “open neighborhoods” and government information alerts on high need/demand information, and
  4. Put users in the center as you leverage that participation base to cost-effectively test the best next generation of open source code and concepts with partnerships across the civic technology community.



The next generation of BeNeighbors.org will engage up to 140,000 participants monthly, or ~50% of households in the Twin Cities urban core. This will be the largest scale, most representative local online civic engagement project to date. Make it work here, then spread the lessons and technology that actually work.

To do this, E-Democracy will undertake a massive partnership effort with local government including libraries, parks, schools, and police; media outlets, including ethnic and neighborhood media; community organizations, including nonprofit organizations serving underrepresented and immigrant communities; places of worship; and neighborhood groups to expand from our base of 16,000+ nearly daily users today in St. Paul and Minneapolis, to reach tens of thousands more.

(Now gratefully in a year two of a three year Knight-funded project specifically focused on St. Paul, this longer News Challenge submission is our audacious “back of a napkin” overview for how we’d blow the roof off open government from our base. It shares a rough open source style glimpse of what we would do if resources were abundant. We invite all readers to join our efforts starting with our online volunteer group call Projects.)

Depending upon the resources marshaled and revenue generated, we can reach well beyond our base of 25% household participation in our strongest areas and expand the neighborhoods served. The options for daily, weekly, and monthly participant experience will be diversified and our connection to government information and data dissemination made more direct.

As a democracy building non-profit with nearly two decades of sustained civic technology experience, it is clear that truly inclusive outreach to lower income, racial and ethnic communities, and interest in intergenerational participation takes an outreach investment beyond what venture market is seeking to cherry pick. The key is to ensure, as E-Democracy does, that spikes in outreach lead to sustained long-term boosts in engagement.


Participation in what?

The power of public information, open data, and technology in local democracy and community must come from real, everyday people-centered use at a scale never experienced until now. We can reach that scale with the next generation ofBeNeighbors.org.

This $2+ million project vision, covering at least three years, seeks $1 million dollars from the Knight News Challenge. It should be a challenge grant requiring a match from other funding sources. With most open government projects failing to gain participation traction, this investment in inclusive scale will use proven and tested methods. It will open up opportunities for major innovation in the field that resonate with mass local audiences.

The core project features:

  • 1. 100,000+ Online Participants, Local Critical Mass
  • 2. New Digital Canvass
  • 3. Online Engagement – The Heart of “Awesome”
  • 4. Engagement Tech
  • 5. Engagement Initiative – Lesson Sharing, Convening
1. 100,000+ Online Participants, Local Critical Mass

Across St. Paul and Minneapolis, we seek to engage a majority of households. We will broadly engage and reflect local diversity including racial and ethnic groups, immigrants, income levels, and more. This will be the largest, most representative base of the public interacting online with their community and government in public and civic life in history. It will generate new forms of community leadership and civic participation with generational impact.

Partnerships with community organizations and government (the City of St. Paul is a formal partner in our current initiative) are required. We must go well beyond the parachute-in or build it they will come technology approach,
2. Digital Canvass – The Most Intensive Inclusive Digital Project Outreach Ever

2.A. Mass In-Person, Online Outreach – Building on the success of BeNeighbors.org1.0 in St. Paul with hybrid door-to-door/in-person and online community outreach, we will reach every block in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Controlled access buildings will be approached creatively. (Note that St. Paul and Minneapolis only have a homeownership rate around 50%, so renter outreach must be part of the equation or this open government drive will lead to a reduction in overall representativeness in democratic participation.)
2.B. Sign-Up Thousands – Key steps:


  • Sign up residents up for government, elected official, and neighborhood digital alerts and news (crime alerts, snow emergencies, city councilmember news, neighborhood e-newsletter, etc.)
  • Sign up people for crucial two-way online engagement options at distinct levels based on their interests, including: block/building, neighborhood, city-wide and/or region-wide level
  • Share discount broadband and digital literacy information
  • Do this both in-person and online supported by integrated outreach technology tools. (Make outreach tools available  for use in other cities.)

We will move tens of thousands of people into government information and project “what’s new” and personalized “what’s important to me” alert services. The most democratizing aspect of open government is timely notification and access to information when the public can act on it before it is too late. 

Create a simple “send to all” monthly email newsletter/social media alert with announcements about open government/community engagement opportunities. This simple channel for open government news will be essential to move thousands of people into online experiments. The death knell of “e-participation” is the lack of participants. Most projects fundamentally under-budget and under-plan for outreach. If you are not thinking about how to reach or break through with “one person at a time” whether online or in-person, your project will fail.
2.C. Multi-Lingual Inclusive Outreach Team and Volunteers – Seek to reach the FULL community by hiring a multi-lingual outreach team and developing community service options (exploring AmeriCorps, etc.), as well as youth summer employment opportunities to bolster the crucial work of volunteers.

In the summer of 2012, our 9 member part-time team working ~15 hours a week spoke seven languages. They fully recruited 3,000 Neighbors Forum participants in-person in less than three months (adding open government alert options like crime alerts, park and library event notices, elected official newsletters, and neighborhood association newsletters would expand opt-ins as well by giving people more choices).

If open government is to reach its potential, it needs to work in communities that are rich in ethnic and racial diversity (St. Paul is 46% people of color, Minneapolis is 40%) and work to embrace immigrants and refugees – citizen and non-citizen alike. To cross the 100,000+ participant mark in this proposal and have that be representative and reflective of the actual population, at least one third will need to be recruited more or less in-person out in the community. That’s how you build “awesome.” This can only be done with creative and deep partnerships with organizations already on the ground. It can be done and “digital canvass” might well become a community canvass with integrated digital aspects.
2.D. Creative Outreach with Fundraising – Raise funds from participants and supporters in areas where we already reach the critical mass of 10% of households participating in online neighbor-to-neighbor connecting.

It is our view, in addition to online donations and public radio style sponsorship from local businesses and participants, that in-person events (like community meals at participating restaurants, etc.) need to be bolstered by a form of fundraising effectively used by dozens of community action efforts in the Twin Cities – canvassing. Donating at your door to better connect your very block and neighborhood is far more local than most of those causes. If effective, this method will cover the cost of outreach in our middle and upper middle income urban neighborhoods.

If the open government/open communities cause can’t articulate itself in a compelling way at the doorstep to gather “free” sign-ups and convince 10% of those households signing up to donate, civic technology will simply further empower those who have a voice already.
3. Online Engagement – The Heart of “Awesome”

To reach a majority of households or in our view the “awesome” threshold in the Challenge brief, we must take an open communities approach and mix in more private community engagement at the block and building level. Crucially, we must be expressly public at the neighborhood-wide (~5,000+ population areas) so the benefits to open government and citizen interaction with government are meaningful and empowering.

Resident-only, virtual gated communities covering more than a few hundred households must be avoided at all cost or the results will be divided communities (by income and race) and closed governance. Private, selective membership is preferred on a block or two, or within the same building, and should for example include the children of an elderly neighbor who is not online or the small business owner on the corner with eyes and ear on the street all day long. Our approach is distinctly different than major .com approaches that do not allow people in nearby neighborhoods to connect to share ideas for community improvement, nor do they allow civil servants who serve an area to participate unless they also live there. Our approach must be careful not to divide communities this way.
3.A. Geographic – Multipurpose Local Online Public Spaces


We proposed a strategic mix of online with integrated in-person opportunities to connect. We can build on one-way information dissemination from government and engaged and interactive communities with “their” governments. These two-way online spaces, where the public can generate new public opinion are the most effective ways we’ve seen online to bring data and information to local people in a way that promotes government transparency, accountability, and crucially civic action.


Blocks and Buildings – Through a massive network of volunteer “Community Sparks,” resident community communication connectors on each block and in every major building will generate an opt-in digital era neighbor directory.

A range of social media tools and experiments can bring the “telephone tree” into the interactive era (clear reciprocal privacy and sharing controls will be required). We can foster in-person connecting and reach those less online via telephone/mobile as well as connect people across languages and cultures.

The largest percentage of households will be interested in this extremely local level of group connecting – upwards of 80% where a “Community Spark” brings people together. We will explore integrated “electronic block club tools,” but we’ve found that different blocks have different preferences from cc: email groups to Facebook Groups for how to connect. More important is a map-accessible directory of the blocks that covered and those where we need a “spark” to get going.

These block level connections will be leveraged to promote in-person connecting from the well known National Night Out to Martin Luther King weekend Sunday Suppers to other “neighbor day” opportunities to connect neighbors in-person to build trust and social and civic bonds.

Connecting this civically inspired engine into open government and open communities is the linchpin for mass participation. There is nothing we’ve seen that interests more people in “civic life” online than connecting with their nearest neighbors. Nothing. It is the bridge between private life social networking and connections with diverse people who, due to proximity, have a civic common interest that breaks the pattern of more isolated “like minds” online and in social life in general.


Neighborhoods – Our inclusive online “Neighbors Forums” are the cornerstone of our current activity and outreach. We carefully design these fundamentally interactive online spaces to be open and part of local civic life that is a real part of open government. This is unusual and strategically by design. If we limit these vibrant online spaces with closed approaches or make them resident-only (banning local elected officials who represent us, but live in the neighborhood next door or the crime prevention officer, school principal, local religious leader, etc.) we eliminate the crucial foundation for open government – open communities in public life that attract more than the 1% of the most political households who are dominating with politics online.

Two-way exchange in public, using real names, civility, and volunteer neighbor-led facilitation about all things community means that ~15% of content about local government on our forums now has a real audience. Our Neighbors Forums make it possible for local elected officials to engage their actual local voters online.

Our secret sauce: people join to find their lost cat and stay for the serendipity of democratically inspired community and civic life exchange. Do not underestimate the attraction of “belonging” to your neighborhood as long as most of the content is about broader “community life” and that free couch on the corner. Everyone gets to belong as “citizens,” not just disconnected clients of government. We can talk about the improvements we want at our local library or school and they will hear us. We can propose local community actions and work together to make things happen.

In practice, we view the BeNeighbors.org as a “Got Milk?” campaign for neighbor connecting online and openly link to online spaces outside of our network, and would explore ways to integrate them into our in-person outreach. Rather than promote a one-size-fits-all communities approach, creating an open directory and map combined with a promotional campaign will be highly transferable to other communities. It could become the next Sunshine Week or a national outreach engine.


Citywide Online Townhalls – Our St. Paul and Minneapolis Issues Forums, with about 15 years of experience, are like the first Facebook Pages on local politics. They have a special history and have brought many people into local politics. Even the current Mayor of Minneapolis, RT Rybak announced his candidacy on the forum before he announced it in-person.

Our view is that expressly political online spaces, whether they are on Facebook, Twitter hashtags, etc. will attract about 1% of households. That’s only a small start.

Our classic “Issues Forums” are open with vigorous debate and our use of real names and essential civility rules keep them from being completed destroyed by the loudest partisans. (Years of effort would be destroyed in days without our volunteer-based facilitation and civility rules in place.)

These spaces are essential as a release valve for where to route topics that are fundamentally citywide in nature. We embrace small “p” politics in our Neighbors Forums, but kick the more divisive city politics topics up to a space designed to handle the heat.

This nuanced approach allows us to push back on calls to censor and ban local political topics from neighborhood exchanges. (Some independent online neighborhood spaces do not allow even very local political issues to be discussed and are therefore cut off from open government.)

3.B. Solutions and Listening


It is our experience that community problem-solving and action best happens on top of a foundation of highly relevant hyper-local engagement. Many community decision-makers and expert leaders have attempted to skip the mass community engagement level and jump straight to the ideal of community problem solving filled with inspiring expert jargon and good marketing … and then they attract few participants and deliver limited on-the-ground results.


With our foundation of participants, we will review the best tools, technologies and approaches from across the civic technology world. We will partner with organizations seeking to cost-effectively test their ideas and apps with the largest existing local base of online civic participants (both in terms of a percentage of the population and the representativeness of those gathered). If 100,000+ engagement seems too audacious, our inclusive base of soon-to-be 10,000 participants in St. Paul alone (over half of those signing up on paper who have answered our survey are people of color) is already primed as a national test-bed for next generation civic technology today.


Some speculative areas we would explore include:
Community Solution Forums – We propose a new tier of regional online communities of practice for community members working to address the similar challenges in their own neighborhood (from fighting graffiti and promoting neighborhood arts, citizens as doers can help each other out with lessons and experience). Some will be hosted and crafted by us and others will be created in partnership with organizations and people using Facebook Groups, LinkedIn, etc.. This is all about convening people to take action or provide peer support on local issues involving residents.


Community Survey Platform – We are extremely impressed with the Public Insight Network efforts of Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. How might we extend that approach to government and community directly? It is our sense that the market failure of open government is not a shortage of voices, but a shortage of listening, understanding, tolerance, and representative diversity.

We want to explore how members at all of levels of our network could be introduced to surveys from local community organizations, neighborhoods, government agencies, and vetted questions from direct public participation. This is where our overall network-wide e-mail newsletter is essential. A key feature will be invitations (sometimes they will be selective based on demographics) to answer questions from groups making local decisions followed by opportunities for structured dialogue within specific time frames.

If you have 100,000+ participants you need highly structured opportunities to tabulate public input online. The radical idea here is that lots of civic groups would have low cost access to the network and the public itself can play a role in deciding what questions gets asked.


Multilingual Online Engagement Spaces – With 17.5% of St. Paul residents foreign born and over 100 languages spoken at home by local families with children in local schools, it is clear to us that to fully work with major local ethnic communities there needs to be something more “in it for them.” Relevancy in open government cannot mean designed in reality for post-graduate, wealthier, wired to the max homeowners (the easiest audience for open government to reach) … now join us - tokenism will be the result

To operationalize this, it means embracing very diverse project staffing, and partnerships involving real funding have to be established. A possible option built on trust and authentic and deep connections, will be to add diverse community-led online spaces in native languages or possibly hybrid spaces, for example, “Hmonglish” as our Hmong staff have called it. Our view is that these ideas must come from these communities themselves and they may well prefer to adapt our lessons and work through existing cultural and ethnic organizations using tools they control completely.

3.C. Representatives
With government partners we see opportunities to test, link, and promote, emerging tools with our critical mass audience. Taking workable ideas to a national scale will benefit from our local testbed.

Some very preliminary ideas:
Elected Official Toolkit, DemocracyMap – The service infrastructure level of unitary local government has administrative priorities that are not based on representative democracy or open political processes at their core. Unlike state legislature’s with their own IT infrastructure, most city councils, county boards, school boards, etc. are served by the executive.

Whether bringing the Open States new local tools deep or bolstering the use of GovDelivery with elected officials for simple email news alerts, it is our view that representatives need better public tools in governance to best represent their constituents (listen to, communicate with, engage, inform, advocate for, etc.).

Using social media privatized in the campaign infrastructure and not as part of official governance is a problem. Further pseudo-public/private connections by elected officials with the constituents who are their “friends” on Facebook are in reality the open government for a select few.

We will be looking for technology for engagement partners with tools that will digitally empower local elected official to better represent the public’s needs with the open government future. Among those tools are DemocracyMap which empower both the public and elected officials by making those behind the curtain of local representative government obscurity far more accessible online.


Creative Commons Voter Guide and Interactive Ballot – As the creator of the world’s first election information website in 1994, E-Democracy rode the hype-wave of election-related enthusiasm over many years only to see it dashed by the rocks of political pragmatism the minute our votes are given up and our leaders have secured their power. However despite the hype, more informed voting in local elections through civic technology remains an untapped opportunity.

We will seek partners who have tools that can be used to collaborate with neighborhood newspapers, ethnic press, public radio, and regional media to create a cost-effective sharing ecology for online voter guide content in local elections.
3.D. Links – Open St. Paul, Petitions, Advocacy


By designing an engine for mass open government/community participation we can direct people to effective opportunities for participation outside of our own network, be it hosted directly by government (like Open St. Paul an “online public hearing room” powered by Peak Democracy on the City of St. Paul website) or opportunities for “like minds” to connect for local advocacy.

It is our experience that there is not a market failure in tools or opportunities for people to organize in order to convince government to take an action or not take an action. For example, people who want dog parks will use whatever advocacy tools necessary. However, by embracing our role as the neutral promoter, we can move far more people into these opportunities to advocate.

Our “Community Solutions” feature suggest that community collaboration and direct use of online tools for solving community challenges are different from tools designed to make noise in order for someone else to solve the problem for you. We all want governments to solve our public problems for us with fewer resources, but that is not the revolution of co-production and collaboration we need to generate with the next generation of civic technology.

4. Engagement Tech

We envision a tight collaboration with the civic technology community. We have embraced the emergent local Code for America Brigade, Open Twin Cities, as their non-profit fiscal agent and seek to work with national and international innovators in this space. To do so, we must build on the work of our in-house open source technology development and establish a mix of paid and volunteer coding partnerships.

As most civic tech projects under budget outreach, many good ideas remain untested or never quite tested enough to then attract the next round of development (funded, volunteer, bootstrapped, etc.) and die on the vine. We must bolster our in-house capacity to interface with groups like the Sunlight Foundation, mySociety, Open Plans, Code for America (does not imply endorsement) and exciting new entrants to work with them to enhance their technology for use with our mass audience.
We need:

  • Better design for engagement – Being the “it’s ugly, but it just works” Craigslist of online participation is not competitive with increasing user expectations.
  • Better Facebook and Twitter integration – This includes integrated app, but one must avoid the whims of social media companies who change their policies and connections, particularly when they feel you are impinging on their core services. (You can’t “just use Facebook” 100% and expect to have enough ownership over the technology, process and user experience to achieve civic goals.)
  • To foster volunteer civic technology engagement – We’d like to see Open Twin Cities become the ultimate CfA Brigade and add efforts to tap coding and social media talent from the Twin Cities’ many Fortune 500 companies like Target, Best Buy, 3M, General Mills, and more.
  • Partnership tools for sponsorship revenue sharing – Partner with local media including neighborhood and ethnic press and share public broadcasting style sponsorship revenue based on members joining via their outlet’s outreach and ongoing participation. Emerging .com neighbor connecting models are parasitic with local media and seek to extract local advertising revenue out of local communities. What good is online neighbor connecting to open government if the main vehicle for summarizing local government news for neighborhoods is put out of business?
  • Proximity connecting and other experiments – We are interested in open source tools for connecting nearest neighbors dynamically. We seek explore VOIP Drupal and similar tools for connections to telephone, sms, and more for use right down at the block level.
  • Fundraising “CoMobon Tools” – Or a hybrid community small business money bomb, a flash mob and Groupon-like tool to gather scores of participants based on location or interests to share a meal, build trust via in-person connections, and send ~20% of the tab to support the network. This is an idea we want to test.

5. Engagement Initiative – Lesson Sharing, Convening 

A cornerstone of our current programming is national and global lesson sharing where we convene online engagement and open government practitioners and experts. Through Democracies Online, the Digital Inclusion Network, Locals Online, and the CityCamp Exchange we gather online civic leaders around the world in simple online communities of practice. However, in this era of social media exhaustion and torrents of updates, there is a need for value-added, more deliberate lesson sharing and skill building.
We seek to:

  • Launch a major education and training program – We will generate, gather, aggregate, synthesize and share lessons. With extensive connections to community foundations via our participation in the CFLeads community engagement panel and the Knight Foundation Media Learning Seminar, we are in the process of proposing an e-course with site visits to share knowledge on inclusive community engagement online. This proposed effort will be ripe for expansion.

It is our view, that building knowledge and lesson sharing is central to our current efforts. We are honored to have secured the resources that we have and unless we share openly and widely, we will not be achieving our mission nor benefiting the wider civic technology community as we seek to improve the local worlds around us.

  • Establish major research and evaluation components – If the Twin Cities is truly going to share value as global test bed for next generation citizen-driven open government and online civic engagement it needs a robust and well staffed research and evaluation initiative. It needs to partner with independent researchers and open itself up every step of the way.
  • Create an “Exchange” for value-added in-depth exchange – As travel is extremely expensive, we seek to create technology enhanced experiences online for trusted connections among practitioners in open government, online civic engagement, and more. With the Democracies Online network going back to 1998 and today exchanges on Twitter at #opengov #edem #demopart and other places, something is missing and remains untapped … in-depth exchange that fosters collaboration across the technology, practitioner/good government, expert, and research communities. Work today is increasingly becoming siloed with technologists unintentionally become self-referential due to the resources and attention they have earned.

What is your project? [1 sentence max]

Audacious plan to inclusively engage over 100,000 households in open government/communities through E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org effort starting in the Twin Cities.

Where are you located?

St. Paul/Minnesota/United States

How did you hear about the contest?

  1. In-person event in my area
  2. Email from Knight Foundation
  3. Knight Foundation website
  4. OpenGov group or listserve
  5. Twitter


More pictures

BeNeighbors Logo

BeNeighbors outreach to Somali communityEffective tech - St . Paul sign-up sheetVolunteer neighborhood online forum manager

Sharing Lessons – New Voices: Civic Technology, Neighbors Online, and Open Government – Video and Slides

E-Democracy hit the road to share lessons widely as we closed out an amazing 2013.

In a recent trip to New York hosted by the UNDP with outreach via betaNYC, Steven Clift went in-depth on raising new voices with civic technology. Thanks to Joly MacFie with the Internet Society New York for sharing this video. To join a future online event/teleconference Q and A discussion on these topics, indicate your interest here.

The slides are available here with active links. As noted in the video, here are the civic technology investment and civic technology and inclusion/justice discussions from the Code for America Brigade forum.


For a slightly more concise presentation (where the questions came at the end), watch this version from Finland. It was part of a four city European speaking tour.

Can you hear me now? The troublesome democratic divide online – Oct. 16 virtual gathering

Online Civic Communicators Chart - Knight Simple 3Recently, the New York Times shared a story on the millions of Americans who remain unplugged. Our view is that democratic divide is much wider than the digital divide, so therefore we must proactively use civic technology to help build stronger and more inclusive communities and democracies and not wait for everyone to be online.

Over recent months, E-Democracy has hosted “New Voices” round table discussions on the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s report titled Civic Engagement in the Digital Era. Events at the Sunlight Foundation in Washington DC and Code for America in San Francisco were sold out, so we’ve added a third “virtual book club” to the mix. It is tentatively scheduled for October 16. All attendees are expected to have reviewed the report and our inclusion summary.

The Chart Above

We need help from the broader research community to help us visualize this and other data to give us a better perspective on the opportunities and gaps related to increasing civic engagement online (and off). If we aren’t raising new voices and building connections across more representative voices, we are simply left with those who already show up. Empowering those with the greatest voice already online, takes us in the wrong direction. Granted with “more” input into government, in theory government might make better decisions and be more accountable to the public. However, the fact that online participation is apparently widening the democratic divide compared to offline participation is exactly the opposite of the goals of our field. (See more complicated version of the chart below.)

Can you hear me now? This leads into the next point – accountable to whom? Most likely those with the loudest collective voice. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, by displaying who is signing online petitions, emailing government, etc. with bar based on the width of the adult population surveyed you can get a rough sense of the collective voice being heard – by those in power, across the media, on social networks and across society as a whole.

While Pew no longer translates their percentages directly into statements like X million people do this, in our view, the chart above helps us “see” who is being heard online. It helps us prioritize the targeting of our inclusive community engagement work to bring out new and less represented voices. While 67% of adults are non-hispanic whites (2011), that is dramatically changing as just over half of the babies born now in the U.S. are people of color. Communities and nations that do not hear from their more diverse futures today are not the democracies they need to be.

My open question is – what solutions do you have to raise new voices online? How are you or how can we make online political and civic participation far more representative?

Echoing extremes? Another chart I want to share is one produced from the Pew data by Dr. Genie Stowers at San Francisco State University on discussing politics (the entry level form of civic engagement).

New Voices and Civic Engagement in the Digital Age - Post Event Shared While I don’t have pro-rated bar width here, the chart suggests those who are the most liberal and most conservative are far more likely to discuss politics online DAILY or WEEKLY and therefore be seen by their friends and others via online news sites. (According the survey, 33% identified as moderates, 28% conservative or 7% very conservative and 17% liberal or 6% very liberal – 9% don’t know/refused). More moderate folks are even less relatively heard online than offline as well. Is it no wonder, most online discussion spaces on major media websites seem like an ideological war zone with almost no civility? It is notable how many people never talk politics online topped by moderates at 61% and overall how many do talk politics offline.

Add it up

If you add up the two charts in this blog, it is pretty obvious that to raise new and more representative voices online, you need to reach out to people of color and to people in the political center to make up the most ground. As a non-partisan, non-profit online civic engagement project, we have a special responsibility to make up for .com and .org advocacy efforts whose bottom line is either to reach the most advertiser sought out people or to reach those most willing to speak out for their cause.

One of our goals moving forward is to convene people across the civic tech/open government movement and connect them with those active with digital inclusion, civil rights, and civic engagement/deliberative democracy. You can get involved by signing up for our virtual book club on the Pew report, by joining the Digital Inclusion Network (or other online communities we host), or by offering to help visualize and gather more data/research that will help the civic tech field more effective focus our scarce resources in a way that increases our democratic impact.

P.S. A more complicated version of the top chart: Online Civic Communicators Chart















¡Junta con tus vecinos por el Internet con E-Democracy! (with English translation)

Last summer Dan Gordon of our summer outreach team wrote this article on BeNeighbors/E-Democracy for La Prensa. Below is the article in Spanish (on La Prensa) and below also in English. Note our BeNeighbors information page in Spanish.

On a related note, we seek Spanish speaking volunteers as well as candidates for our current Latino forum engagement position. In the Summer of 2013, we will have additional outreach positions.


Somali E-Democracy outreach lead with Latin American Native dancers
E-Democracy es una organización con una meta sencilla: crear un espacio en el Internet donde cada barrio puede tener su propio voz, sin costo. Fundado en 1994, hemos crecido poco a poco con la ayuda de donaciones, becas, y voluntarios.

Ya tenemos más de 40 foros sobre Minneapolis y St. Paul, con más de 15,000 vecinos participando. Cada foro es un lugar para discutir cualquier asunto que se aplica a la comunidad. Ahora mismo la mayoría de la conversación es en Inglés, por nos gustaríamos que hay comentarios en Español y cada otro idioma hablado en el barrio. Algunos han tenido éxito en usarlo para encontrar una mascota perdida, otros para anunciar que hay un negocio local nuevo que viene al barrio, y otros para discutir la delincuencia y maneras para combatirlo con otros vecinos.

Somos “E-Democracy” porque creemos que la verdadera “democracia” tiene que empezar con encontrando soluciones locales a los asuntos que todos enfrentamos como vecinos. Por la primera vez, gracias a una beca de la Fundación Knight, tenemos un grupo que está dedicado a hacer alcance comunitaria, para asegurar que nuestros foros representan toda la diversidad de cada barrio.

Hemos pasado este verano tocando puertas, visitando a organizaciones comunitarias, y dando charlas sobre nuestra misión-creando un sitio de web donde todos pueden participarse como iguales. La comunidad Latina representa una gran parte de los barrios en Minneapolis, especialmente en Powderhorn (32%), Phillips (31%), Corcoran (28%), y Whittier (20%). En San Pablo, tenemos el West Side (27%), y Dayton’s Bluff (14%), que también tienen una población muy significante.

Tenemos foros en cada uno de estos barrios, y nuestra esperanza es incluir más voces Latinos en las conversaciones que están tomando lugar sobre su barrio por el Internet. Para inscribirse, sigue a www.beneighbors.org. O, si te gustaría ayudarnos con nuestro alcance, contacta a E-Democracy. ¡Bienvenidos a tú barrio de Internet!



Meeting with your neighbors by Internet E-Democracy!

E-Democracy is an organization with a simple goal: to create a space on the Internet where each local area can have its own voice, without cost. Founded in 1994, we have grown gradually with the help of donations, grants and volunteers. We already have more than 40 forums on Minneapolis and St. Paul, with more than 15,000 participating neighbors. Each forum is a place to discuss any matter that applies to the community. Right now most of the conversation is in English, but we may comment in Spanish or any other language spoken locally in the neighborhood. Some have succeeded in using it to find a lost pet, others to announce  a new local business in the neighborhood, and others to discuss crime and ways to combat it with other neighbors.

We are “E-Democracy” because we believe that true “democracy” has to start with finding local solutions to the issues we all face as neighbors. For the first time, thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, we have a group that is dedicated to including all, to ensure our forums represent the diversity of each neighborhood. We have spent this summer knocking on doors, visiting community organizations, and giving talks about our mission, creating a web site where anyone can participate as equals. The Latino community is a big part of the neighborhoods in Minneapolis, especially in Powderhorn (32%), Phillips (31%), Corcoran (28%), and Whittier (20%). In St. Paul, we have the West Side (27%), and Dayton’s Bluff (14%), they also have a very significant population. 

We have forums in each of these neighborhoods, and our hope is to include more Latino voices in the conversations that are taking place in your neighborhood by the Internet. To register, follow www.beneighbors.org. Or, if you would like to help us with our power, contact E-Democracy. Welcome to your neighborhood Internet!

Join E-Democracy’s 2013 Inclusive Forum Engagement Team!

BeNeighbors Collage


MAR 19 UPDATE: Applications are coming in, but we need your help to spread the word in particular in the Latino and African-American communities.


Be an Inclusive Engagement Leader – Apply Now

We believe in building strong, inclusive and connected neighborhoods. This can happen in many ways like having great public spaces such as playgrounds and trails decorated with public art. This can also happen by creating opportunities for all neighbors to be able to connect with one another and build the kind of community in which they want to live.

Our Neighbors Forums are online spaces where neighbors connect with one another, learn about local events, ideas, or issues they can be involved in and build real community. In Saint Paul, we already have over 7,000 diverse forum members across 17 active online forums focused on different parts of the city.

We are looking for passionate community builders in Saint Paul who are highly skilled in communications and community organizing, and are strongly connected to their cultural communities. We have four contract ~5 hours a week positions for individuals who are interested in bringing these Neighbors Forums to life with community content and dialogue reflecting the great diversity of our neighborhoods.

National statistics on neighbor connecting online demonstrate a huge income gap and some dramatic ethnic gaps in terms of participation. We expressly seek to address that problem by building online and in-person bridges among neighbors from ALL cultural communities as well as immigrants and lower income residents.

Each Engagement Leader will work at the intersection of race/ethnicity and place with a focus on different cultural communities in Saint Paul, including:

  • Latino communities – Focused on the West Side and East Side
  • East African communities – Working primarily on the lower East Side, but also in other areas with concentrations of East African community members
  • Southeast Asian communities – With an emphasis on Frogtown, the North End, and the East Side
  • African American communities – With special attention to Summit-University (Rondo), the East Side and Frogtown

E-Democracy has additional team members involved with general outreach to all community members.

We seek resumes and letters of interest from those who can help us pave the way for multicultural dialogue in these communities.

Position Description

Title: Diverse Communities Forum Engagement Leader

Context: Your efforts will be supported by initial training and regular team meetings, coordinated engagement strategies and activities, and shared lessons in inclusive online engagement and digital technologies. You will work closely with other E-Democracy contractors and volunteers to develop, refine, and further the goals of the inclusive online engagement campaign.

Scope: The Inclusive Community Engagement Online project is primarily focused on the lower income, higher immigrant, and/or highly diverse neighborhoods of Saint Paul, but opportunities can include events and activities throughout Saint Paul as well as in other Twin Cities communities.

Key Roles

  • Intentional content seeding: Join targeted Neighbors Forums as assigned and post information relevant to the cultural communities with significant populations within the forums.
    • Attend community events and share short stories/summaries of the event with photos (with permission) or short YouTube videos; training will be provided.
    • Monitor ethnic press and cultural organization websites and share links to important news and information with the Neighbors Forums with a local connection. Knowledge about Google News Alerts and monitoring web feeds will be useful.
    • Meet with and train cultural organizations and community groups on how to join, post, and generally use the forums to reach out to the community; provide ongoing coaching and support to organization staff, as needed.
    • Build transferable relationships with community organization leaders and staff.
  • Promote community dialogue:
    • Identify and build relationships with diverse forum members initiating conversations to mentor/coach inclusive forum engagement and provide support for overcoming barriers to participation. Identify and promote intentional online discussion topics to promote digital storytelling about community life experiences and happenings across the community.
    • Collaborate with other E-Democracy contractors to provide digital capacity building training/tools to the community.
  • Deepen community engagement:
    • Encourage diverse community members to join area forums of interest.
    • Help the community feel empowered to raise their voices by recruiting volunteers to help build community in their neighborhoods via the forums.

Secondary Activities: Additional activities include field outreach, grassroots organizing, team communications and reporting, project evaluation and lesson sharing. More information will be provided.


  • Highly values personal accountability and reliability. Can meet deadlines and manage multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment.
  • Highly self-motivated, self-directed, and organized. (As part of the contract process we will ask candidates to sketch out a rough work plan.)
  • Excellent written communication skills, preferably with a background in or experience with journalism.
  • Effective communicator. Values and fosters open communication; uses and understands the importance of active listening skills and is an effective public speaker.
  • Bilingual in one of the many languages spoken in Saint Paul, such as Spanish, Somali, or Hmong, and able to connect as a liaison with your primary cultural community.
  • Deep connections to the targeted communities, including involvement in neighborhood, community, or cultural organizations. Applicants with both deep Saint Paul and cultural community connections are strongly encouraged to apply. Residency is not required, but regular and consistent connections to Saint Paul are a preferred.
  • Passionate and enthusiastic; positive outlook and willing to lead. Inspires others to do high-quality work.
  • Deeply believes in the power of community building.
  • Willing to learn and values self-improvement. Able to accept and offer praise and critical feedback; seeks and offers feedback and evaluation.
  • Reliably and consistently available via email and mobile phone.
  • Must have reliable transportation to anywhere in the Twin Cities, including ability to haul materials for events and activities.

Desired Qualifications and Experience
We are looking for exceptional people who may have talents in the following:

  • Experience or training in leadership development, multicultural outreach and communications, political science, online civic engagement, digital technologies or other related fields.
  • Field outreach or organizing in diverse communities (tabling, door knocking, etc.).
  • Proficiency with online technologies, including online forums/social networking, Google Apps, social media, and digital cameras/video devices, uploading video to YouTube, etc., preferred.

Time Commitment: 200 hours from April through December 2013 averaging 5 hours / week over the course of 38 weeks. Contractors must be reliable and able to work on a flexible schedule.

Rate: $15.00/hour. As an independent contractor, you are responsible for all of your own Federal, State, Social Security taxes, and any insurance you choose to carry.

To Apply: Send a statement of interest describing your qualifications and resume with three references to team@e-democracy.org. Use the subject line: Inclusive Engagement Leader Application. Be sure to include any relevant work samples and/or links to online content you’ve generated (blog posts, articles, digital media, etc.). Include any questions in your email. No calls please.

Deadline for Applications: We are looking for applications NOW and are conducting interviews in March. However, these positions will remain open until the people with the right skills, community connections, and time availability are found. To apply after March 25, email team@e-democracy.org to ask if there are still openings.

For more information, about E-Democracy, please visit the Blog and About pages at http://e-democracy.org

E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org Virtual Booth and Video from Knight Foundation Media Learning Seminar 2013

E-Democracy was honored to be part of the Knight Foundation’s Media Learning Seminar in 2013. This is a mobile phone video tour with our Executive Director Steven Clift. It was a living version of our 2012 St. Paul outreach year in review blog post.


Why Inclusion Matters – Building Powerful Networks for ALL

One thing not mentioned in the video are national statistics about online neighbor connecting from the Pew Internet and American Life project released in 2010. While 7% of adult Internet users are members of neighborhood e-mail lists or forums there is a large divide based on income. Those households making over $75k a year report at 15% participation rate and those 50K and under are five times less connected at 3%. Online neighbor connecting is too powerful to limit the movement to wealthier neighborhoods or communities with less racial diversity. This divide is something that can and must be closed. All neighbors in all kinds of neighborhoods can make this happen and we seek to help them with civic models that are inclusive, open, and agenda-setting in public life and not limit ourselves to virtual gated communities with exclusive resident-only designs. More stats.

Joiners - Income Divide


joiners - Inclusion Matters Demographics


Their survey sample was too small to pull our Asian, Native American, African Immigrants or immigrants generally. Our experience suggests their participation is likely closer to Latinos than Whites and long-time African-Americans. Our pilots have demonstrated the potential for opening up communities and promoting neighborhood-oriented immigrant integration.

Presentation Slides and Audio

We also had a desk copy of our recent Neighbors Online presentation (sign up for a future webinar version):

Meet Your Neighbors Online in San Francisco – Bay Area Workshop – Wed. Jan. 16 @ The Hub

Post Event - Slides, Audio (MP3) for Download (1:45)


Neighbors Online: Connecting Communities for All Workshop

San Francisco, Wed. Jan 16

Golden Gate Bridge


Join us for a dynamic two part conversation on building inclusive online community engagement in neighborhoods.

  • 1. Neighbors Online NetworkingBay Area and Beyond – Who is doing what locally? Multiple tools and models from around the world.
  • 2. Inclusive Community Engagement Online – Stories and lessons you can adapt and use in your own community are emerging from the world’s largest effort to inclusively connect 10,000+ diverse neighbors online in St. Paul, Minnesota by 2014.
A key focus of this gathering will be how to reach and engage ALL neighbors including lower income, immigrant, diverse, etc. neighbors.
When and Where

The gathering will be facilitated by Steven Clift, with Minnesota-based E-Democracy.org. Steven, as Ashoka Fellow, has spoken about online civic engagement across 30 countries since 1993.

Virtual Introductions: After you register, please join the Locals Online and/or Digital Inclusion online communities of practice to introduce yourself.



 A similar workshop was held in Seattle recently. These slides will be updated for our gathering in San Francisco. They we also include a new short post-Sandy section on using online neighbor connecting for disaster response and community recovery.


1. Bay Area Neighbors Online Networking – Who is doing what?

Part one will start with a friendly networking roundtable where you are invited to share a few minutes about your online neighbor connecting efforts or put your “I am just getting started” questions on the table. Let’s highlight great online neighbor connecting efforts already happening in the region (here is what we found in Seattle for example).
Together, we will briefly introduce conversation-based neighbor connecting “tools” many of us use like simple e-mail lists, forums, Facebook Groups, NextDoor, etc. and dig into why, when, where, how (public v. private) as well as introduce inclusive outreach and engagement that matters to diverse local communities.


2. Inclusive Community Engagement Online – Lessons to adapt and deploy locally 

Part two will provide an in-depth presentation with extended discussion on E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org outreach effort to build inclusive and integrated online community engagement in lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant neighborhoods in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Why inclusion? Online neighbor connecting is useful and powerful for those who discover it, yet among the divides, the Neighbors Online study of the Pew Internet and American Life project found that households making 75K a year are 5 times more likely than those making 50K or less to be a member of a neighborhood e-mail list or forum.

With 2 years of pilot funding from the Ford Foundation and now extended St. Paul funding from the Knight Foundation through 2014, the BeNeighbors.org effort hopes to exchange lessons with projects around San Fransciso and beyond. By openly sharing our challenges and insights, we hope to learn from the work of other great projects.


This is event is being organized by the non-profit BeNeighbors.org outreach initiative of E-Democracy.org. Co-Sponsors include:

CTN Logo


HUB Logo


EDem Logo


A huge thanks goes out to Molly Hankwitz, a researcher on place-based digital communications, for making the introductions that made this event possible.


If you have questions about this event, please contact E-Democracy.org at contact@e-democracy.org or 612-234-7072.



Thousands of New Members Across St. Paul – BeNeighbors Outreach Highlights from 2012

What an exciting year!

Thousands of St. Paulites have joined their new local online Neighbors Forums (info) and you can too.

Last January, we announced our BeNeighbors.org outreach campaign to inclusively connect 10,000 neighbors online across St. Paul by 2015.

Our dynamic 10 member, part-time, summer outreach team, led by our Outreach Coordinator Corrine Bruning, hit the pavement in late May.

They delivered.

Today, we’ve almost tripled our forum memberships to just shy of 6,000 (up from 2,189 on Jan. 1) across the full network of St. Paul Neighbors Forums.

Our goal is to lead a respectful and meaningful effort that reflects the vibrant diversity of St. Paul as the city approaches 50% people of color. We will not just recruit the easiest-to-reach people to achieve 10,000 neighbors online.

No one in the world has attempted a local online civic engagement effort at this scale with this level of inclusive outreach seeking such a great diversity of participants. The support from the Knight Foundation and our partnership with the City of St. Paul is just the start of a lesson generating effort for all communities interested in civic technology that raises new and diverse voices. Building community bridges across race, ethnicity, income, generations, political perspectives, and more is important and challenging work.

Building Diverse, Lively and Compelling Forum Engagement

Donna Evans is our African-American “grandmother” and the Summit-U volunteer Forum Manager for E-Democracy.  This summer, Donna worked with our Outreach team going door-to-door to connect with neighbors and invite them to our forums.  Donna worked with youth baseball coach and outreach team member Vang Yang, who recruited his baseball team of 11 and 12 year olds to help.  These youth were able to help Donna by translating in Hmong, as the team went throughout the neighborhood.

“Working with these young people and seeing them connect with the Hmong-speaking community in a way that I could not, brought to life the importance of building connections and reaching out to people where they are.” – Donna Evans

Donna’s rewarding experience of working with these Hmong youth culminated in late summer when the team assisted her in her own personal journey.  Nearly six years ago, Donna was living in her truck and on friends’ couches after a house fire left her homeless.  Near the end of this summer, with the help of some of Yang’s team, Donna moved into her first permanent housing since the fire.

“These youth, at such a young age, understand the importance of building community. Their desire to connect with their neighbors and to help me in building my community, is what E-Democracy is all about.” – Donna Evans

If we want to build virtual connections that build bridges in real community, we first need to reach people where they are.  Second, we simply need to ask. We can’t let fears about the digital divide or concerns about someone’s ability to speak English stop us from giving people the opportunity to decide if an online local community connection is relevant and useful to them. By creating an outreach team made up of community members already connected to their local and cultural communities, we not only give neighbors the opportunity to say “yes,” but we instill a sense of trust and comfort in what our online forums can offer.

Walking the talk of inclusion and diverse community outreach is hard work that takes real resources.  We have the Knight Foundation to thank for setting in motion the nation’s largest locally concentrated effort to inclusively connect neighbors online.

What We’ve Achieved – By the Numbers


St. Paul Neighbors Forum Growth

  • Recruited over 3,600 new Neighbors Forum members across St. Paul—Up 266% to almost 6,000 members from 2,189 at the start of grant on January 1. This number above does not include the over 1000 memberships on our long-time citywide online town hall for St. Paul.
  • We now have over 16,000 forum memberships across the Twin Cities on all forums. St. Paul is catching up to Minneapolis, where the combined neighborhood and citywide number is 9,200+ members today. We are seeking support to extend inclusive outreach across Minneapolis. It works.
  • 3,000 members signed up in-person through door knocking and across 129 different outreach events. Our part-time, 10 member Summer Outreach Team, spoke six different languages and each worked about 15 hours a week. They recruited:
    • 917 new members by door knocking in 20 targeted areas; 132 individual assignments
    • 692 new members at 39 community events
    • 340 new members at 28 community locations (tabling at libraries, etc.)
    • 182 new members at 10 National Night Out sites
    • 89 new members at 4 ethnic soccer games
    • 76 new members at 12 community meetings
  • Over 10 new forums launched across St. Paul’s, including the very diverse East Side, North End, and West Side areas. Central Corridor forums were bolstered and are among our largest with Frogtown, the most diverse and lowest income area of the city, now reaching almost 800 members. Some neighborhoods host their own forums on Facebook, YahooGroups, etc., which we also promote through our “Got Milk?” style BeNeighbors.org directory.
  • Gathering diverse neighbors into a unified virtual room is only the beginning. Making the experience useful, relevant, and reflective of the diversity in that room is our current focus. The evaluation of our previous Inclusive Social Media pilot supported by the Ford Foundation shares lessons in-depth that are guiding our work. Stay tuned for a future blog post on our forum engagement and volunteer development strategies.


Thank You Team

You made a real difference for people of St. Paul that will have an impact for years.

You’ve also inspired deliberative democracy and civic technology projects around the nation to explore ways to step up their inclusion efforts. In October, we shared lessons in Seattle at a community event and at the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation. Our view is that it is not good enough to build a good “civic app” that in reality ends up being used almost exclusively by those “who are already show up.” Expanding social benefits and generating new social capital is a challenge the engagement and technology field can tackle together if we capture and share lessons from outreach efforts like we had this summer.


We are excited to announce that Will Howell and Donna Evans from our summer team are still with us on a part-time contract basis. Stay tuned for future position announcements for diverse community forum engagement and our next wave of field outreach as we innovate further in 2013.

Neighbors Online Webinar: Connecting Communities 101 – Postponed – Register Now

Neighbors Online Webinar: Connecting Communities 101

Community Engagement Online for All – Introductory Webinar


BeNeighbors.org Collage


Place: Online Webinar/Teleconference – Details will be sent near event

Cost: Free, Space is Limited – Free-will donations support outreach to lower income, diverse communities.


Join us for a dynamic two part webinar on building inclusive online community engagement in neighborhoods.


  • 1. Neighbors Online – Who is doing what? Multiple tools and models from around the world.
  • 2. Inclusive Community Engagement Online – Stories and lessons you can adapt and use in your own community are emerging from the world’s largest effort to inclusively connect 10,000+ diverse neighbors online in St. Paul, Minnesota by 2014.


The webinar will be facilitated by E-Democracy.org. It is funded by the Knight Foundation as part of E-Democracy’s Inclusive Community Engagement Online initiative.

This special webinar is free. Intensive training and coaching options are in the works (see below to request more information) for interested communities. For a preview of related content, see our slides from our recent Seattle workshop.

Webinar Details

1. Neighbors Online – Who is doing what?

Part one will introduce conversation-based neighbor connecting “tools” like simple e-mail lists, Facebook Groups, new .com sites, etc for both nearest neighbor “block clubs” and larger neighborhoods/communities. We will dig into why, where, and how (public vs. private, inclusive or resident-only). We will put numbers to the startling divide related to the powerful online neighbor connecting that should and can benefit all people. With millions of participants across scores of platforms, it is time to give this below the radar movement some deserved attention.

Special Superstorm Sandy Update: We’re adding a short section on using online neighbor connecting for disaster response and community recovery.

2. Inclusive Community Engagement Online – Lessons to adapt and deploy locally 

Part two will go in-depth on E-Democracy’s new BeNeighbors.org outreach effort to build inclusive and integrated online community engagement in lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant neighborhoods starting in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. E-Democracy hosts over 50 Neighbors/Community Forums across 17 communities in three countries.

Why inclusion? Online neighbor connecting is useful and powerful for those who discover it. However, among the many divides, the Neighbors Online study by PewInternet.org found that households making 75K a year are 5 times more likely than those making 50K or less to be a member of a neighborhood e-mail list or forum.


If you have questions about this event, please contact E-Democracy.org at team@e-democracy.org or 612-234-7072.


Further Background and Future Training

With 2 previous years of pilot funding from the Ford Foundation and now extended St. Paul funding from the Knight Foundation through 2014, the BeNeighbors.org effort hopes to exchange lessons with projects across Knight Communities and beyond. By openly sharing our challenges and insights, we hope to learn from the work of other great projects.

If your community or organization is interested in related intensive e-training, hosting a local workshop, or ongoing coaching on these topics in 2013, please contact us.

Our educational extension goal is to help local communities dedicated to inclusion and equity among races, ethnicities, income, generations, etc. bring the awesome benefits of integrated neighbor connecting online to all. Pick your own technology and model locally and we will help you build for real inclusion online that unites rather than divides your local community.

We are approaching interested funders to support intensive training for “community teams.” Many foundations we are speaking to are very interested in the community benefit goals of our efforts and are asking how this work might apply to their community. We are offering our lessons, trainining and coaching and NOT saying “import” our exact model or technology. Local funders need to know that you are interested adapting inclusive community online engagement by expressing your authentic grass roots demand. Then we can meet in the middle.