Facebook-Native Politicians – Slides, Webcast and Live Hangout Q and A Dec. 3/4

Minneapolis City Council Members - Source MinnPost

Are you ready for something completely new?

Introducing the “Facebook Native Politician” … meaning someone on Facebook from their teens or college days now entering elective public office. Facebook user first, politician second.

In my view, Minneapolis has the most exciting 24/7 “Facebook” engaged City Council in the world.

With this embryonic case study, you can decide for yourself, explore the lessons, and adapt them to your community.

This unfolding story is about what happens when you elect seven new city council members with an AVERAGE age of 33 who are Facebook Natives. This is combined with 6 returning council members and a new Mayor who in their own right  are also quite social media savvy and engaged online with their constituents.

This is no longer a story of using social media to gather votes and then going silent once power is gained. This “engagement generation” sees things differently.

You may have heard about #pointergate. Now check out the deeper context of social media engagement in Minneapolis public and political life and join our live online Hangouts and Facebook Group topic to share Facebook engagement stories from your elected representatives around the world.

Image Credit: MinnPost


Watch the snappy half-hour presentation by E-Democracy Executive Director Steven Clift hosted by Involve with the University Westminster’s Centre for the Study of Democracy  (Clift starts at 5:15):

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Google Slides (includes updates)

SlideShare (as of Nov 18 2014):

Blog Posts

About this event/presentation:




Poplus – E-Democracy supports collaborative civic coding, Chicago gathering


PoplusCon Partcipants
PoplusCon participants say, join in!

Special event: Join us in Chicago on Tuesday, August 5 for information session on Poplus and learn about Open Twin Cities and service design as well.

E-Democracy is a big supporter of the global Poplus civic coding federation. In particular, we are gearing up to help with strategic outreach for the highly interactive online group and related committees.

Check our slides from the Chicago event to learn more. Includes short video clips.

New – Video from the Chicago event thanks to the Smart Chicago Collaborative – Forward to 8:22 to skip E-Democracy 1994 mini presentation:

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Below is a guest blog post by Myf Nixon from mySociety about Poplus.

Poplus: reusing code across international borders


All around the world, governments work to different models. The problems that citizens face differ, too. So it’s something of a surprise, perhaps, to realise that their democratic or civic needs can be broadly similar.

In any nation, people benefit from being better informed about what their politicians and rulers are doing on their behalf. In any regime, transparency of information is a boon. And everyone wins when citizens can report problems within their own community.

It is with these broad parities in mind that Poplus was founded. Poplus is a new international initiative to promote the sharing of code and online tools that meet the needs of citizens everywhere.

It was originally conceived by the UK’s mySociety and Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente in Chile, and is now an international federation that is open for anyone to join.

Civic experience

mySociety has been creating civic websites and tools for a decade. During that time, we’ve gained a lot of experience and learned from a lot of mistakes. We knew we could help other groups around the world who were attempting to do the same things we do: hold governments to account, make freedom of information more accessible, and open the channels of citizen to government engagement.

Our code has always been open source and free for anyone to use, but over the past few years we’ve come to realise that this isn’t enough. If we really wanted to help other organisations, that code needed to be supremely easy to install, and it needed to work with as few modifications as possible, no matter what the political landscape.

So in 2012, we partnered up with FCI to create Poplus to tackle this problem face on. Poplus aims to support coders to make Components – bits of interoperable code that should be easy to implement, are non-country-specific, work alone or with one another, and are available open source.

April of this year saw the first Poplus conference in Santiago, Chile. Delegates came from 27 different countries. There was a mix of coders and campaigning organisations, all with differing experiences, differing needs, and a thirst to communicate.


Poplus Conference video round-up

The conference was a great way to kickstart the initiative, putting together people who make code and the people who need it, and then sending them home to every corner of the world, with a mandate to both stay in touch with one another, and help spread the word about Poplus.

Since then, communication has been via a lively mailing list, its members meeting the challenge of shaping an international federation across many different time zones, different languages, and working entirely online.

This network brings us many strengths, so it’s worth overcoming the logistical difficulties.

Global growth

Clearly, with people all around the world we can spread the word about Poplus more quickly. We can learn from one another, and that will feed into making Poplus Components more shareable and usable in every type of jurisdiction. We can tap into translation resources. We can find the local groups who will most benefit from our work because we have people on the ground.

Right now we’re very aware that Poplus is in its infancy. It’s an idea that has a lot of buy-in, and several concrete projects that organisations can start using. We would like to see Poplus grow, with many more Components on offer.

We’d like organisations that need software to come to us, and if there isn’t already a Component that can help, we’d like them to be able to explain their needs to an ever growing pool of coders, some of whom might take up the challenge of making it.

Everyone is welcome to join Poplus, whether you are a coder, an organisation that would benefit from using code, or just someone who is very interested and would like to help. The first step is to join our mailing list and introduce yourself.

– Guest blog from Myf Nixon, mySociety

Connect with E-Democracy’s Steven Clift Across Europe – Nov 25 – Dec 2 2013


Now that CityCampMN and Give to the Max Day are behind us, I (Steven Clift) can focus intensively on preparing for a ten day speaking trip across Europe. This all started with an invite to participate in the World Forum and then others stepping forward to sponsor additional stops and gatherings. I am grateful.

These wonderful invitations provide an opportunity to both share lessons from our inclusive civic technology work and synthesize some “it really matters” trends combined with big big questions challenging us to ensure that open government/civic technology/e-democracy actually make democracy BETTER and fundamentally embrace all by engaging new voices.

For the next week via my Democracies Online Newswire (and other online spaces) and @democracy Twitter account you will see me reaching for examples and reactions – I fundamentally believe that the intelligence is in the network, but sometimes it needs the right questions to spark an outpouring of insightful conversation.


This trip is sort of a “back to the future” experience for me. Prior to my Ashoka Fellowship in 2006 and grant support from the Ford and Knight Foundations, I used to use speaking and consulting to support E-Democracy’s then all-volunteer network. One of my goals with the embryonic New Voices Working Group exploration is to develop funded programming that will bolster E-Democracy’s convening role that remains informed by cutting edge online civic technology work in the field like our BeNeighbors.org effort. We see this as a grounded one-two punch for the future of democratic engagement online.



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















Sunshine 2.0 – Top Ten Indicators of Local Government Support for Democracy Online Released, Aspen Institute’s FOCAS 12 Conference

(Skip the fluff … See page 8 in the full draft for the table with all the details, check out this one page handout, or read on below for context and a summary.)


Drum roll please.  The moment you’ve been waiting for … or more likely forgot was coming. 🙂

Awhile back I (Steven Clift) led a Sunshine 2.0 effort for the national League of Women Voters to draft a set of indicators that can be measured by local league chapters to help their local governments improve their support for democracy online. With Citizens United dramatically changing the democratic scene for the League and the launch of our Inclusive Community Engagement Online effort, we’ve all been busy to say the least. Luckily or unfortunately, governments are moving slowly with open government where it actually impacts democratic transparency and public engagement in decision-making, so hopefully this build some momentum.


We started with dozens of indicators and reviewed dozens of reports. Mid-course we switched gears and decided to keep it simple.  So we picked ten indicative indicators that make it easier to compare how your government is doing quickly. One person or small group can just get it done instead of taking months to implement.

Now I have pushed through my major changes in the draft and sent them to the League. Whew!

Just as the drafting was done fully in public online, so to is the final draft submission (Google Doc) to the League. It would be great to get further feedback in the comments that we can share with them as well as to have some people try it out by using it to evaluate their local government. Below is the summary of indicators.

FOCAS 12 – Toward Open and Innovative Governance

Part of my motivation in finishing the draft is that it relates directly to Aspen Institute’s gathering next week hosted by their Forum on Communications and Society in Aspen, Colorado. Now I have a hand-out to share.

Most of the sessions will be webcast live starting Monday, August 6th and unlike most of the off-the-record Aspen events, this one will have lots of tweeting.

Here is a clip from their press release:

“Citizenship and governance in 2012 can benefit from the same digital disruptions that have transformed the business world,” says Charlie Firestone, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. “This forum will explore exciting new ways to move that process along.”

“Technology has transformed media in the past decade from a one-to-many experience to a participatory one,” said Michael Maness, Vice President for Journalism and Media Innovation at Knight Foundation. “But we’re only beginning to tap the potential of technology to make citizenship and governance far more participatory, allowing individuals and communities to be much more engaged.”

Participants of this year’s FOCAS will include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, California Controller John Chiang, Ushahidi Executive Director Juliana Rotich, and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Susan Gardner.

 It is quite humbling to be invited a second time to an event like this. Last year Vice President Al Gore stopped by to chat with us and I recall being in line at breakfast and noting, “hey, that’s nice, someone is in jeans … oh, that’s a Supreme Court justice” (Elena Kagan was there for a different gathering on justice).

Anyway, this list of indicators is my best way after 20 years in the “e-democracy” space to say, “Ideals are nice, but let’s decide what actually matters. What must a government now do online to considered a real democracy in the 21st Century?” My take is that information transparency and data are only a part of the equation, so for some balance, here is what I proposed really matters when it comes to government support for democracy online (focused on local government, the closest government to the people.)

Indicators Summary 

See page 8 in the full draft for the table with all the details.


1. Elected Officials Directory – Full contact information for all elected officials including direct e-mail address provided online

2. Election Information – A comprehensive collection of election and candidate information for voters.

3. Council Member/Mayor Web Site Section and Social Media Links


4. Electronic Notification – Option for public meetings available.

5. Meeting Documents – All official public meeting documents online before the meeting

6. Public Meeting Webcasts – Live and On-Demand


7. Direct E-Mail/Web Form Contact – Response Time Test

8. Public Online Engagement – Hosted two-way public exchange and/or policy support for government officials and civil servant use of social media in official work


9. Transparency – Key government information and accountability resources online

10. Government Spending – Detailed spending information reported regularly online

Groundbreaking Analysis – Inclusive Social Media Project – 60 Page Participatory Evaluation


Our 2010-11 Inclusive Social Media pilot funded by the Ford Foundation built a foundation for taking our inclusive online engagement work to the next stage. “Knowing” what we are experiencing requires a reflective evaluation.

Led by Anne Carroll, with extensive participant interview assistance from Boa Lee, Julia Opoti, and Marny Xiong, it shares more “ah ha” moments than anything I’ve read related to local civic engagement online period. Dig deep. Go long.

Jennifer Armstrong and Steven Clift contributed to the report and Barry Cohen, Ph. D with Rainbow Research advised us on its design. Thank you everyone who assisted with this report and agreed to be interviewed.

As this evaluation focuses on 2010, it should be noted that in 2011 we focused on dramatically expanding and scaling our inclusive outreach efforts to more neighborhoods and added another 2,000+ plus members across many more forums.

Notably the 2010 focus on “engagement” is extremely relevant to our new 2012-14 project as we scale our efforts to 10,000 participants across all of St. Paul with $625,000 in funding from the Knight Foundation. Today St. Paul is 44% people of color and 17% percent foreign born. In 2010-11 we focused on working with lower income, highly diverse neighborhoods to discover what was possible. Our success is embryonic and we now know far more about the real challenges and seek to meet them.

This project and evaluation has inspired us to take the next step and attempt to establish the world’s most inclusive and diverse network of public neighborhood spaces online over the next three years. Inspired by the exciting online neighborhood movement, frankly almost exclusively linking “the haves,” it is only from understanding and sharing our initial experience that we can hope to gather the many people and organizations needed to build an effort that that truly reflects, engages, and build bridges among ALL the diverse people and communities of St. Paul.

Report feedback, particularly during our online teleconference/webinar gathering on May 16, will directly shape our new effort’s metrics, research, and evaluation.


Inclusive Social Media Project: Participatory Evaluation (2010)

A strategic effort generously supported by The Ford Foundation
December 2011, Final Version Released Online May 2012

1    Executive Summary: Overview and Key Learnings

This section provides an overview of the objectives and methodology for this participatory evaluation, and then highlights key learnings.

1.1     Objectives and Framing

This participatory evaluation of E-Democracy.org’s Inclusive Social Media project responds to the Ford Foundation grant supporting this work, as well as key goals of E-Democracy’s Strategic Plan. A complete description of E-Democracy’s Inclusive Social Media project can be found on our website at http://pages.e-democracy.org/Inclusive_Social_Media.   

The primary objectives of E-Democracy’s Inclusive Social Media project are as follows:

  • Demonstrate that neighborhood-based online forums can and should work in high-immigrant, low-income, racially/ethnically diverse neighborhoods
  • Identify how such success is accomplished
  • Serve as a platform to help improve the success of others pursuing similar goals
  • Increase interest by other funders to expand such efforts

At the beginning of this project, E-Democracy executive director Steven Clift framed our commitment, making clear that within the online community dialogues and spaces we host, with intent we can and should increase the diversity of participation and content by doing the following:

  • Reaching out to and engaging people from communities who are racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically underrepresented on neighborhood online forums[1]
  • Identifying community and cultural organizations and individuals, elected officials, neighborhood organizations, and other local leaders to intentionally contribute more information and conversation to the forums – what we call “digital inclusion for community voices”
  • Moving forums beyond token experiences where the diversity “in the room” is recruited, but silent or essentially ignored

Through this work, E-Democracy hopes to debunk assumptions that people in poverty, of color, new immigrants, and others historically disenfranchised are digitally disconnected or less interested in connecting with their neighbors online than those in homogeneous, wealthy neighborhoods – and instead demonstrate that they in fact bring assets, capacities, information, and agenda-setting value to online civic participation.

To this end, two high-immigrant, low-income, racially and ethnically diverse urban neighborhoods were selected for this Minnesota-based project: Frogtown in St. Paul and Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis.

1.2     Methodology and Program Outcomes Evaluated

Central to this evaluation effort was determining the suitability and value of our approach and methods relative to outcomes – what we can learn from the results to inform our future work and that of others committed to inclusive online engagement.

We chose a participatory approach that relies on the insights and wisdom of the outreach staff, volunteer forum managers, and numerous participants in our Frogtown and Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood Forums, supplemented with simple data analyses of forum posts and posters.

The program outcomes evaluated are as follows:

  • Develop outreach and information leadership-development structures and techniques
  • Increase forum size, diversity, energy, and community-building potential
  • Engage community organizers, community organizations and institutions, and elected officials

1.3 Key Learnings

It could be better. It could always be better. Cedar-Riverside is very diverse, so more voices are needed on the forum.

—Julia Nekessa Opoti, Cedar-Riverside outreach staff

1.3.1     Outreach

We learned a great deal about how to attract and retain forum members in these high-poverty, high-immigrant neighborhoods, and believe these lessons apply across the full range of E-Democracy forums.

  • The fact that our forums are online doesn’t change how people make decisions to participate – or not – in one of our forums. Face-to-face connections, paper signup sheets, and a personal approach are by far the most successful recruiting methods.
  • Building trust is essential. Knowing that “someone like me” is on the forum makes a difference. Personal invitations and direct support help people get started.
  • Understanding people’s needs and then helping them find ways for those needs to be addressed through the forum smoothes the path for their participation and continued involvement.
  • Partnering with respected neighbors and event organizers creates opportunities to participate in community activities and offer people the chance to sign up for our forums.

1.3.2     Content and Participant Diversity and Animation

As discussed in detail in Section 5, intentional content “seeding” by E-Democracy staff, volunteers, or forum members, accompanied by some level of active support and encouragement for participants has a huge impact on content and participant diversity. That combination of seeding and support helps set a welcoming and inclusive tone that in turn increases the numbers of forum member and participants and likely adds to forum stability.

We have also seen that the Frogtown and Cedar-Riverside neighborhood forums have a less intimate feel than some others in the E-Democracy network because they’ve stayed more issue-oriented rather than having a large base of community life exchanges. In all cases we are aiming for that “tipping point”[2] of around 10% of the households, and have to find ways to make that work whether community residents are renters or homeowners. In some cases there have been active exchanges about community life issues such as child care or school choice or safety, and as we discuss in the section on Age, Digital Capacity, and Forum Relevance, there is more work needed to help a cross-section of community members see neighborhood forums as great places to ask questions and share information.

1.3.3     Cultural Competency

Issues around culture, home language, race, and ethnicity are central to all of these discussions, whether around who is reaching out to whom, who posts and who doesn’t, or the content of the posts. Being able to discuss the forum with cultural awareness and in the community member’s home language is essential. In high-immigrant and racially/ethnically diverse neighborhoods, one outreach staff person cannot reach all communities. Building and supporting an active and diverse forum base will increase capacity and forum sustainability. At minimum, everyone involved in outreach or forum leadership must be able to demonstrate cultural awareness and cultural proficiency, and continually evolve on both fronts along with the communities they serve.

Both forums and especially Cedar-Riverside have also been challenged because many of the forum’s posters have English as their second or even third language. And on both forums members not only speak different languages and dialects but also cross cultures, races, sexes, political affiliations, ages, affinity groups, and so on. The understood challenges to email communications are compounded many times when both forum posters and readers are e-talking across such diversity.

There are also complex cross-cultural and cross-gender issues as noted in the Culture, Race, Power – and Gender section, especially when the inherent transparency of an E-Democracy forum post or exchange gives community members information about someone that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Additional and very real dynamics that we did not explore in this project include the high number of immigrants on both forums who may currently or recently have been at war with each other “at home,” as well as the varied and sometimes volatile legal status of some immigrants.

1.3.4     Forum Structure and Leadership

While issues around culture, language, and power are explicitly not E-Democracy’s responsibility, we must nonetheless be aware of and sensitive to their implications on our forums, and consider ways we can design, structure, or run our forums that help minimize or mitigate unintended negative impacts on forum members.

Even that limited scope seems daunting, but we learned that E-Democracy’s forum outreach staff made exceptional headway on both forums by putting in an average of only about 7 hours a week. In addition to these two paid contractors, the neighborhood residents serving as volunteer Forum Managers contributed to this effort. That means the cost of effectively engaging and supporting forum participation – particularly at startup – is extremely low, making it realistically replicable.

We also need to continue providing support as each forum defines its own tone and tenor, style, and energy. Frogtown and Cedar-Riverside “feel” very different from each other, and equally different from other neighborhood forums and the larger citywide forums around them. That is, of course, a positive measure of the localness of these forums, but as each forum settles into its own rhythm it’s not always easy for E-Democracy to discern what is “normal” within that forum community compared to what we’re accustomed to seeing elsewhere.

1.3.5     Moving Forward

Having already shared several lessons, the best insight gained from our intensive outreach and support in 2010 is a much deeper understanding of the potential of our neighborhood forums to increase civic engagement and accountability.

Neighbors told us the forum has provided them with new information and alternative viewpoints. We learned that elected officials pay attention to posts appearing on the forum, even if only a few post. Community organizations that found ways to actively participate found it relevant and rewarding. We believe all of this is a testament to the hard work of community members – those who participate in their forum and who volunteer to keep it healthy, respectful, supportive, and animated.

The range and depth of conversations on the forum is dependent on forum members’ willingness to share their opinions, ask questions, and seek input from people of many backgrounds. Thought of another way, the success of the forum is circular, where the participation of all members sparks newer, far richer, and increased numbers of conversations, expanding the circle and emboldening all participants.

Finally, while this evaluation of our inclusion efforts in Frogtown and Cedar-Riverside is for 2010, E-Democracy continued to actively support these efforts in 2011 with a substantial additional grant from the Ford Foundation that deepened both our outreach and the sustainability of these forums. In 2012 we were awarded a major grant from the Knight Foundation to fund our three-year Inclusive Community Engagement Online initiative. Current information on all our work can be found at http://e-democracy.org/inclusion.


[1]  According to the “Neighbors Online” report released in June 2010 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 7% of Internet  users report being members of neighborhood e-mail lists of forums. While Whites and African-Americans participate equally at 8%, those in households making over $75,000 a year are 5 times more likely to belong than those making $50,000 or less (15% versus 3%). Latinos participate at 3%. While there are not data on more recent immigrant groups, we suspect it is even less nationally.

[2] “Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas,” Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2902, 25 July 2011.




Empowering Diverse Community Voices One Person at a Time – Our Exciting Team, Trust


Whether it is Somali Independence Day in Minneapolis (video), Rondo Days, or the CHAT Hmong arts festival in St. Paul, our new outreach team will be in the field across the community this summer.

Our goal is to recruit at least 1,000 new participants across our Twin Cities online neighborhood forums (15 forums open with 18 new forums in the pipeline) with major growth in the diverse, lower income neighborhoods we work with as part of our Inclusive Social Media effort.

Here is our lead summer outreach team – along with their diverse community and neighborhoods of focus:

  • Corrine Bruning – Outreach Coordinator
  • Ayanna Raven Benitez – Latino (Powderhorn, Phillips)
  • Damon Drake – African-American (East Side, Summit-U Rondo, Frogtown)
  • Deanna StandingCloud – Native American (Phillips mostly)
  • Julia Nekessa Opoti – East African (Special engagement work, Cedar Riverside extending to Seward, Phillips)
  • Kaying Thao – SE Asian (East Side, North End, Frogtown)

As great applicants for the part-time positions above (most are two month summer jobs except for Julia and Corrine) came in, we felt compelled to add some additional outreach roles. Let’s call them “volunteers+” for their dedication, as they provide additional grass roots outreach in the community. The idea is to time-efficiently leverage their existing networks and existing activities deep in the community as they recruit up to 100 people each.

Thank you for joining us:

  • LaShunda Jackson – African-American/Everyone in Frogtown
  • Mustafa Adam – East African Outreach (Any Forum)
  • Salmah Hussien – East African Outreach (Any Forum)
  • Sandy Ci Moua – SE Asian Outreach (St. Paul-wide)
  • Possible – Additional Latino Outreach (West Side St. Paul) – Interested? Contact us.

This project is supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, and the Knight Foundation (St. Paul Foundation donor-advised fund).

Diverse Communities Outreach Team - Some Members


With all of this “digital inclusion for community voices” work, we are experimenting and generating “how to” lessons we will be sharing via future Inclusive Social Media webinars, via the Digital Inclusion Network, and other means. One lesson we can share now is a reflection on trust.


Trust is a powerful thing.

Going to a community and saying “we will empower you, just trust us” simply does not work. If anything, it will get you tossed out. Further, taking a technology-first approach can create distrust and generate conflict if you roll over long-time and essential community voices who happen to be the wrong side of the digital divide. Inclusion isn’t providing an “opportunity” and then being satisfied when few show up.

With this in mind, we had one of the most powerful and humbling E-Democracy.org gatherings in our 18 year history the other week.

Gathered around the table/phone were most of our recently contracted ten member Diverse Communities Outreach Team. While our funded Inclusive Social Media effort is focused on lower income, high immigrant or highly diverse neighborhoods, all of our all volunteer-based forums should strive to broadly represent the full diversity of their neighborhood not just of those who most easily “show up.” The fact that Internet users who make 75K a year are 5 times more likely to belong to a neighborhood e-mail list or forum than someone online who makes 50K of less a year can not stand (15% v. 3%) (Source: PewInternet.org). Our direct experience is that all neighborhoods can benefit from digital community engagement and the digital divide is no excuse to wait.

During the meeting it dawned on me that this was NOT about E-Democracy.org building enough trust to get people to join forums on a website they have never heard of, it was about our team members putting their own hard earned trust on the line.  They are sharing their trust to help build our shared effort and vision that all people who live near each other (of many different backgrounds) should be able to talk to each other in an open, accessible, welcoming, civil, and effective local community building setting online.


(On a related note, one outreach leader noting skepticism in initial conversations, said anything that starts with “e-” is thought of as a likely pyramid scheme in their community.)

So together we are rolling up our sleeves and getting out into the community to reach people one at time so every voice can be heard one click at a time.

Some Video

Say here is our video from our Somali Independence Day as well as May Day outreach.

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Neighbors Forums Presentation – Let the Summer of Outreach Begin!

As our summer of Inclusive Social Media outreach gets underway across St. Paul and Minneapolis, we’ve put together a presentation introducing “Neighbors Forums.”

The slides are detailed so you can skim or go in-depth. Additional download options are at the bottom of this post.

Invite us to present in-person in your neighborhood. Our Outreach Coordinator Corrine Bruning is also available for small group overviews in our target inclusion neighborhoods in particular. So far we have an on-demand video version with audio that goes in-depth (play it below).

In addition to the presentation, we have a new flyer available in our print materials section.

Flyer Front

If you would like the start a new forum in your area anywhere please contact us. With renewed grant funding, we are focused on growing and launching as many diverse community forums (see our outreach summer job posting) as possible in St. Paul and Minneapolis. tcneighbors.org is our new promotional web address where folks can quickly find their local forum or request a new one.

How can you help?

If you don’t see yourself starting a new forum in your neighborhood, you can still get involved! Please join our Projects online volunteer group here or monitor it via Facebook or Twitter. We put out calls for assistance there. If you are covered by a forum, contact your local Forum Manager and offer to assist with outreach.

Also, if you are software developer, please join the GroupServer Development group and help us develop new features or join our proposed next generation BeNeighbors.org effort.

Flyer Back

New communities?

Are you from outside Minnesota, Oxford and Bristol in the UK, or Christchurch, New Zealand? We are open to hosting forums both at the neighborhood-level but also city-wide “online town halls” based on our classic Issues Forum model everywhere. Eau Claire, Wisconsin is next. If you have the will and the dedication to do real outreach, we have the technology and lessons that plain and simple – work!

This isn’t an auto-pilot, set it and forget model (nothing is), but wouldn’t you rather build your local online community supported by a network providing mutual benefit and support? If not, if you prefer your own technology or think Facebook Pages really work over the long-run (you need 20x the “Likers” for comparable activity so we use rather than rely on Facebook at our core), that’s awesome. Take our lessons and run with it because millions remain unserved. Also join the Locals Online community of practice that we host with hundreds of people doing local good online.

Additional Slide Options

Download options: PowerPoint – Full Version, PowerPoint – Short VersionPDF Online Viewing, PDF Print Full Page, PDF Handout 6 to Page

Watch/listen with extended audio:

Civility Online – Why are you hurting America?

When Jon Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire, he essentially brought that show to an end, with the admonishment:

And I made a special effort to come on the show today, because I have privately, amongst my friends and also in occasional newspapers and television shows, mentioned this show as being bad …

And I wanted to — I felt that that wasn’t fair and I should come here and tell you that I don’t — it’s not so much that it’s bad, as it’s hurting America. … Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.

Since then, I’ve been thinking how do the major media online news sites get their Jon Stewart moment for the incivility they are fostering (by poor design, perhaps not intent) with online news commenting. It is not that I expect partisan blogs to be civil, I don’t. But with major media hosted online points that connect people in local and national conversations across political lines, I expect far more than a virtual civil war among partisans. I expect some attention to quality, impact, and democratic mission of a free press.

With the tragic shootings in Arizona, the cause and motivations aside, the acidic and vitriolic nature of online (and broadcast media-based) exchange has hit the center stage. The New York Times noted:

What’s different about this moment is the emergence of a political culture — on blogs and Twitter and cable television — that so loudly and readily reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain.

Whether in conversations with online news professionals or the session on civility that I hosted in DC at Public Media Camp, I’ve noted an earnest, “It is a disaster. We know we need to do better. But how?” response. Again, let the partisan blogs have their echo chambers, but for online sites that seek to contribute to the whole of democracy across the political spectrum it is time to step up.

To that end, I am circulating a call widely for a “Civility Online” virtual conference and possible webinar specifically to connect online news and social media hosts interested in enhancing civility with effective techniques, approaches, tools, and technology to make improvements across the field. Sponsors are being sought to make this possible. Note the interest among the dialogue and deliberation crowd. Contact us if you would like to help sponsor this or contribute in some way.

In terms of E-Democracy.org’s experience, we use real names and have a simple ban on name calling. We accept that this requires the subjective role of a volunteer forum manager as we feel the democratic community benefit from strong civility with issue-based discussions is far greater than the backlash from those who think the freedom of any one individual to attack people or groups with name calling and insults trumps that benefit. Most media sites avoid real names (one reason Facebook is eating their interactive lunch) and they are concerned about the resources it takes to truly facilitate in an active way rather than react to just the most abusive posts. The problem is as the 2% of the most vitriolic take over commenting on a site, everyone else leaves.

To build on this theme, see my recent 14 minute speech on “Local Matters, Civility Matters, Inclusion Matters” (slides only here) is now available in video from the UK-based Guardian (see more speeches from other keynote speakers like the CEO of Google, Clay Shirky, etc.) :

My remarks calling for greater civility were controversial because they run counter the cyber-libertarian myth that it is a good thing that no one knows you are dog on the Internet. (No wonder some people then act like animals.) It led to an interview with the Guardian’s podcast and a live radio interview a few weeks later on BBC Radio 4.

Lastly, I’ve seen this problem taking root for over a decade and here is an excerpt from my speech “Democratic Evolution or Virtual Civil War” in 2003.

Join the revolution? I don’t believe the Internet is inherently democratic. To me, most people and organizations are fundamentally anti-democratic by nature. Many of those in power and those clamoring for power are self-centered actors. They operate within the miracle we call representative democracy. Most accept the idea that democracy is good, but these actors do little to ensure its strength.

After a decade working directly with e-democracy issues, I’ve concluded that “politics as usual” online may be the tipping point that finishes off what television started – the extinction of democracy and democratic spirit.

Those hoping for an almost accidental democratic transformation fostered by the information technology will watch in shock from the sidelines as their favorite new medium becomes the arsenal of virtual civil war – virtual civil wars among partisans at all levels.

When I open e-mail from all sorts of American political parties and activist groups, I see conflict. I see unwillingness to compromise.

Let’s be optimists and suggest that the Net is doubling the activist population from five percent to ten percent. The harsh reality is that we are doubling the virtual soldiers, an expendable slash and burn online force, available to established political interests.

As the excessive and bitter partisanship of the increased activist population leaks into the e-mail boxes of everyday people, I predict abhorrence of Net-era politics among the general citizenry. I fear the extreme erosion of public trust not just in government, but also in most things public and political.

Instead of encouraging networked citizen participation that improves the public results delivered in our democracies, left to its natural path, the Internet will be used to eliminate forms of constructive civic engagement by the other 90 percent of citizens. A 10 percent democracy of warring partisan is no democracy at all.

Compounding the problem, the billions of Euros in e-government focus almost exclusively on one-way services and efficiency. Government makes it easy to pay your taxes online – while doing little to give you a virtual – anytime, anywhere – say in how those taxes are spent. Many elected officials are turning off their e-mail for citizens, leaving it on for lobbyists to reach their staff directly, and building what I call “Digital Berlin Walls” of complicated web forms. One-way “e-governments” based on efficiency to the exclusion of “two-way” democracy are the norm. Unfortunately, most governments are saying e-services first, democracy later.

In summary, online political strife combined with governments that are incapable of accommodating our public will present a dark future for democracy in the information age.

Join the democratic evolution!

Everything I’ve just said contrasts dramatically from the exceptional experiences of citizen groups and governments leading the way with the best e-democracy practices.

Everyday in Minnesota, I experience the power of online discourse among citizens. I am impressed by online innovations in many parliaments and government agencies. And I’ve been inspired by the online activism of many groups.

However, we have an enemy. It is not “politics as usual.” They must compete to survive. Our enemy is our indifference to our generational democratic obligations. We have a duty to make the most honorable use of the unique information age opportunities before us.

We have a choice, we can strategically use ICTs to improve our communities, strengthen society, and address global challenges or we can ride the ICT-accelerated race to the post-democratic bottom.

It is time to give more than lip service to e-democracy experiments, research, and best practices.

It is time to bring the democratic intent and values required to make the demonstrated possibility of the new online medium a universal reality.

Build the democratic evolution!

To make what is possible probable, the time for action has arrived.

The new media, led by the Internet, must be used to help us meet public challenges. It must be used to transform anti-democratic states and break apart hyper-partisan and unresponsive politics at all levels. We must be smarter, faster, and more committed than “politics as usual.”
More: Democratic Evolution or Virtual Civil War

So what should we do about civility online?

Reflections on 2010 Community Matters Conference and Answers to Questions

Editors Note: The other month we received an invitation to have a booth in the “sandlot” at the Community Matters conference. Because I’ve been in occasional contact with the head of the Orton Family Foundation, I suggested that we could step that up and also host a virtual round of introductions. The exchange, using our simple and effective online groups technology with human facilitation, generated about 70 excellent introductions which jump started the in-person conference before people arrived in Denver. We did this successfully with the first  CityCamp unconference last year as well. The CityCamp Exchange has evolved into a model dynamic ongoing exchange.

This was one of our first booths “out in the field” so to speak. My primary goal in sending Boa and Julia was to help raise awareness of our Inclusive Social Media efforts in lower income, high immigrant neighborhoods with a new constituency. I’ll let them share their reflections before closing the post with some further comments and answers to questions they received.

In the last year with our push into neighborhood-level work, I’ve come across a number of “silos,” if you will, of community builders ramping up their use of social media and Internet-mediated knowledge exchange. The more planner-oriented Community Matters network (also note the Planning Technology online group) those in public health with the Community Toolbox, new efforts to share local “what works” story sharing fostered by the Craigslist Foundation (more from their labs on the new LikeMinded project), networks in the UK on “neighbourhoods” and now the “Big Society,” those working from civic engagement and deliberative democracy or community dialogue frames, and the Locals Online and CityCamp movements and related uses of social media in neighborhoods often led by technologists are all doing their good work in relative isolation. However, with the excellent silo-busting OurBlocks.Net blog led by Leo Romero and our own interest in convening across fields, the awareness and synergistic connections among these actors presents a terrific opportunity.

OK, Boa and Julia didn’t know they were part of some multi-year grand scheme to network local community builders, but we need to get out more among these networks at in-person gatherings like CommunityMatters to introduce our own work and connect everyone seeking to use technology to build local community and democracy.

By Julia Opoti and Boa Lee, Inclusive Social Media Community Outreach Leaders for E-Democracy.org

Reflections on 2010 Community Matters Conference

The Community Matters Conference provided an opportunity for us, Boa and Julia, to take stock of our e-democracy outreach efforts. It gave us insight as to what types of background training will be required for communities around the nation to be able to understand and utilize Neighbors Issues Forums in a meaningful way.

While both of us agree that the CMC was a great processing tool for community organizers to engage in community planning, we found that we were not adequately prepared for the audience niche.

The conference was attended by mostly planners, elected officials and individuals working in and with government.  Most of the entities came from smaller towns and our inclusive engagement work comes from the urban inner city. From our work in St. Paul and Minneapolis, we know that local communities have already established the importance of being and staying involved using the Internet and its social media tools; for communities we are familiar with has been to increase the number of diverse voices in community and city planning.

We spoke to several people at our “sandbox” (an interactive conference booth time), however many of them were from communities working on new comprehensive plans, thus they were at the conference to seek Geographic Information System planning resources.  Certainly, the majority of the tools in the sandbox were applications that a planner would use to aid in helping communities envision economic development projects, beautification projects and the like.  We wondered if Neighbors Issues Forums could be implemented into some of these platforms to serve as an auxiliary communication tool. We suggested to several of the participants that e-democracy would serve as an effective comprehensive platform for neighborhood communication and collaboration.

As mentioned, the deficit in our participation at the conference was that we weren’t adequately prepared to deal with our audience.  This being our first time at the CommunityMatters conference, we did not know the background and demographics of most of the attendees.  While we did sell certain attributes of Neighbors Issues Forums — including that it is a simple interface, has a low learning curve for computer illiterate individuals, comes with email capability, and that it requires real name use which demands accountability – it would have served us better to have tailored our message to the attendees so we could meet them where they are at.

In the future, we suggest that whenever we attend conferences, we consider the expected audience: who they are, where they’re from, their comfort level with technology, what value they place on community engagement, etc.  We also realized that in order to help people appreciate the value of a tool like Issues Forums, we must first broaden our scope of presentation to include topics like transparency/open government, civic engagement and technology/social media.  We must be cognizant about framing our discussions around why we exist — E-Democracy.org’s mission — in order to connect with our target audience.

The following questions were taken from participants visiting our booth:

  • 1. How much does it cost? (We overheard this — they didn’t ask us directly.)
  • 2. Can we have a non-geographic group (esp. a group for people working on public health issues)?
  • 3. How is E-Democracy.org different from FrontPorch?
  • 4. What platform do you use? (Too technical a question for us to answer.)
  • 5. How many people do you need in order to start your own forum?
  • 6. Can E-Democracy.org incorporate Google Translator?
  • 7. How does a politician (city councilor) seed information without getting political?
  • 8. Can the forum be part of an organization’s already existing website — added to and not just linked?

Editor’s Response:

Thank you Boa and Julia for charting our foray into broad lessons sharing. In 2011, we will be gathering up our Inclusive Social Media lessons for a virtual and sometimes in-person roadshow at conferences an the like.

Here are my answers to some of the questions you received.

  • 1. How much does it cost? (We overheard this — they didn’t ask us directly.)
    • Answer: It depends. Volunteer Forum Managers who are willing to recruit 100 initial participants may start a group for free. Here are tips on starting a Neighbors Issues Forum. We’ve found this works well in areas with high home ownership. With volunteers leading the way, a shared technology base, peer to peer support across communities, etc. our cost structure is extremely low by design. However, if you want to start a forum with real inclusion efforts in lower income, highly diverse areas, then this is where we recommend funded initiatives. Whether $5,000, $20,000 or something more for one or more forums covering 5,000 to  20,000 person population neighborhood areas each, the real cost is just how inclusive do you want to be assuming the most of your inclusion success will come from more traditional in-person community organizing. Adapting our print materials – particularly the paper sign-up sheets -  for use with us or your own independent effort is encouraged. Without paper sign ups we would fail. Period.

  • 2. Can we have a non-geographic group (esp. a group for people working on public health issues)?
    • Perhaps. We see as real market failure in common interest networking based on geography. In general it is my opinion that attempting to create a niche online interactive experience narrow-cast to a specific local community silo requires extensive resources. Getting 300 people into an online space is like pulling teeth even with people who are interested in the issue. The public needs a compelling self-interest to join if you want to get beyond the 1% “political class” that shows up already. So our magic lesson – people love – L – O – V – E -multi-purpose Neighbors Issues Forums – our largest two to three year-old forums  have attracted over ~15% of households in our public spaces online in Standish Ericsson and Powderhorn for example. By opening up to “who can recommend a good plumber” our discussions of more civic issue topics now have a far broader audience. I recommend that every community foster and support a distributed network of neighbor to neighbor spaces online (they will not all be on the same platform, but we’d be glad to host anyone) that are there on a sustained and useful when you really need them basis – like when your community seeks to respond to violent crime or when a government consultation is seeking input from the public by coming to an online forum just as they would come to existing community meetings.
  • 3. How is E-Democracy.org different from FrontPorch?
    • With lots of Vermonters connected with the Orton Family Foundation where they and FrontPorch are both based, I figured this question might come up. E-Democracy.org comes of a civic engagement background with expressly public forums. We started statewide in Minnesota in 1994 with the world first election information website and in 1998 started with the Minneapolis Issues Forum on city politics. We were discovered by the British government and our model was taken to the UK and refined with some neighborhood level forums. We’ve brought Neighborhood Issues Forums back to our strong-hold of Minnesota with great success. Expansion continues. We consider our friends at Front Porch Forum as peers in the Locals Online movement. While they are a business and we are a 501.c3 non-profit, we both generate significant income from grants. The biggest difference is that our Issues Forum model is expressly public by design, covers 5 to 20,000 residents (compared to hundreds of households in Front Porch per online group – however Front Porch currently has more users overall all in Vermont) in each space, each our forums has a dedicated volunteer facilitator connect to other volunteers for peer to peer support, and it is free to communicate city-wide via our complementary city politics forums. As I understand FrontPorch, each forum is limited to residents of a specific area, you may join and post to only one area, and the exchanges are private (or at least not in Google and each to discover through search). We see value in both models and in fact are exploring an private tier of communication in the form of electronic block clubs that are even smaller areas than Front Porch Forum in an effort code-named Neighborly that will connect up into our and others’ public online community spaces. Our biggest concern is that without real investment in more labor intensive inclusion efforts, commercial models may only serve higher income areas. We doubt this is the case with FrontPorch’s business model, but with many top-down commercial entrants like Patch.com they (coming from an online news approach) are cherry picking wealthy communities. We don’t need a new form of red-lining based on social media in neighborhoods. Can anyone commercial or non-commercial inclusively network neighbors online on an ongoing basis without some form of subsidy – be it volunteer labor or grants, etc. – that serves ALL communities or can scale beyond their boutique level of service? We do not know, but we sure are 17 years into making something important happen with an attention to civility and quality exchange versus “we take no responsibility” models filled with diatribe and conspiracy (like most anonymous online news commenting on anything political or crime-related). In the end, this is a huge country with room for many models and providers.
  • 4. What platform do you use? (Too technical a question for us to answer.)
    • We use GroupServer – an open source GPL platform that effectively combines e-mail and web participation. We also feed our groups into Facebook Pages and Twitter via the blog-style web feeds our platform produces. The key lesson – reach people where they are online based on a universal online public space. Do not split local people up by technology preference or you local online space will be a silo that lacks critical mass. For those who think e-mail is dead, why did the king of social networking introduce a new Facebook Groups platform that marries e-mail publishing with the web the other month? Web-only publishing systems do not work well if you are seeking to build new levels of community connections versus leveraging already existing passion or need (like hobbyist or health online communities for those with the same disease.)
  • 5. How many people do you need in order to start your own forum?
    • 100. See our giant guidebook for all sorts of start-up tips. Why? With 100 people you’ve done real outreach. You have a large enough group that replies are likely. The 100 people are actually the “network” and not the end points. Each person connects to their friends, families, co-workers, community groups and more off-line and online.

  • 6. Can E-Democracy.org incorporate Google Translator?
  • 7. How does a politician (city councilor) seed information without getting political?
  • 8. Can the forum be part of an organization’s already existing website — added to and not just linked?
    • While we have had partners help start-up new forums with links and credits, we don’t host generic version of forum like a general technology provider (we do host some interesting online communities of practice like the CityCamp Exchange with their logo, etc.). If you like our technology but what to roll your own thing, you could ask our host OnlineGroups.Net to host something using your site’s look and feel. Also, we do provide consulting services for other groups seeking help with online events and facilitation. Our 17 years of experience can be applied in many settings online and best of all, the revenue generated supports an awesome mission and our public work.