History of E-Democracy

E-Democracy has been a consistent pioneer in online civic engagement work in local communities for nearly two decades. We began in 1994 by creating the world’s first election information website, powered by volunteers. These key milestones shaped our history:

  • 1994 – World’s first election information website. First online candidate debate. MN-Politics online forum launched creating longest lasting statewide online citizen-to-citizen discussion active to today.
  • 1995 – Our statewide “online town hall” takes hold and E-Democracy becomes a trusted, neutral, nonprofit host of dialogue among people with differing views and backgrounds
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  • 1996-97 – E-Democracy invited to share lessons starting in Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and more
  • 1998-99 – The Minneapolis Issues Forum and St. Paul Issues Forum took the online town hall model local. More women, elected officials, and active citizens participate
  • 2000 – Winona Community Forum launched; global Democracies Online Newswire promoting civic participation online grows to 1,000 members
  • 2001-03 – E-Democracy receives Minneapolis Award from Mayor R.T. Rybak, the John F. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award, and is listed among the 25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics
  • 2005 – British government funds pilot forums and “how to” guidebook for the UK; E-Democracy receives Honourable Mention for online communities in the Ars Prix Electronica Awards in Linz, Austria
  • 2006 – E-Democracy receives Minneapolis Foundation MSNet Fund planning grant for inclusive Minneapolis neighborhood forums targeted to lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant areas; lead founder Steven Clift’s election to the Ashoka Fellow fellowship for “leading the way to healthier democracy by using the Internet for local discussion and citizen participation” allows him to focus on the nonprofit full-time
  • 2007 – Bristol and Oxford neighborhood forums launch; E-Democracy blog starts; MSNet funded Neighborhood Forums Project starts; Minnesota Rural Voices project launches with Blandin Foundation support; Forums launch in Minneapolis in Cedar Riverside, Roseville, Seward, and Standish Ericsson neighborhoods, and in Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2008 – New forums include Twin Cities: Minneapolis- Northeast, Powderhorn; St. Paul- Frogtown; Greater Minnesota- Bemidji, Cass Lake Leech Lake, Cook County, Grand Rapids, Minnesota Voices online community of practice; UK- Bristol: Brislington, Greater Bedminster; Oxford: Cowley, Headington and Marston, Central and Southwest
  • 2009 – PACE, in collaboration with the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, features E-Democracy in the guide “Funding and Fostering Local Democracy: What Philanthropy Should Know About the Emerging Field of Deliberation and Democratic Governance;” new forums include St. Paul- Highland Park and the United States Issues Forum
  • 2010-2011- E-Democracy receives a multi-year Ford Foundation grant to deepen inclusive – serving lower income, strongly immigrant/diverse neighborhoods – online forum engagement in the Cedar Riverside and Frogtown neighborhoods and to prepare for expansion; Digital Inclusion Network, Locals Online, and other online communities of practice launch
  • 2012-2014 – Major Knight Foundation funding received to expand inclusive online community engagement to reach 10,000 forum members across St. Paul and to share lessons nationally. Minneapolis forums in Standish Ericsson and Powderhorn cross 1,000 members each and connect an estimated 25% of local households daily. E-Democracy in collaboration with Code for America, serves as the host for Open Twin Cities, an open government civic technology meetup and network.
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  • 2015 – 2016 – World’s most comprehensive “neighbors online” participant survey results released showing many reason why forum members love their forums.  E-Democracy transitions to self-sufficiency doubling the number of individual donors to support forum hosting and support 100%. Contracts with the Kettering Foundation to lead experiments with their Common Ground for Action online deliberation platform and with UK-based mySociety to grow the global Poplus.org to over 80 nations in their online community. As a global convenor, E-Democracy brings their Open Government and Civic Technology Facebook Group to nearly 5,000 members from 120+ countries.

connectedheartCurrently, we have over 40 online forums with over 26,000 members across the globe focusing on inclusive online community/civic engagement. Of the 18,000+ forum memberships in the Twin Cities, over 80% of our participants engage at the neighborhood “community life exchange” level where our funded programming is currently focused. As of today, our story has been told by co-founder and Executive Director Steven Clift, around the United States and in over 35 countries.

Survey Says – 56% credit their Neighbors Forum for increased community satisfaction and more

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While we have more in-depth analysis to do, we wanted to share the top line results from our 1350 respondents. That’s a big pool – about 10% of our individual participants just on our Twin Cities Neighbors Forums (not our city-wide forums or other cities) with active accounts.

If you are new to E-Democracy and our Neighbors Forums (our BeNeighbors.org project), our online neighborhood spaces (combined email/web forum/social network) connect up to 30% of households ~daily in some areas.

Here are our top line results in PDF and responses comparing Minneapolis and St. Paul forums (PDF) (notable differences) – the answer tables for questions 9-12 are most insightful.

connecting-neighbours-online-strategies-for-online-engagement-with-inclusion-london-2013-13-638The questions PDF might be useful for those creating similar surveys for use elsewhere – we spent nearly two years crafting these based on dozens of surveys we collected and gathered feedback along the way including support from Network Impact who was commissioned by the Knight Foundation to work with a number of leading civic technology projects they had funded.

We will add more analysis as it is available here.

Here is some useful background on the three year inclusive outreach project which ended with 2014 funding wise. We even received some White House Champions of Change recognition along the way.

SONY DSCWe used Census data to help target our Saint Paul outreach and our forums use official city neighborhood boundaries which in theory mean Census data can be used in further analysis (we used this data source on neighborhood profiles extensively). We are seeking opportunities to further this extremely unique online inclusive engagement work as part of a research initiative for greater lesson-sharing. Along those lines, our public forum data is generating useful research and leading to academic papers and publications. We are interested in how survey data might be combined with forum data (of course on an anonymous basis) to generate more knowledge on impact and what works.

Some analysis now:

Some compelling results …

Percent of participants who said “as a result of information or discussions on your Neighbors Forum” (Q11) they:

  • 79% are more informed about community issues
  • 67% were introduced to new ideas and views
  • 45% learned more on how to influence community decisions
  • 32% learned more about neighbors of difference races, ethnicities (39% in the lower income parts of St. Paul we targeted for inclusive field outreach)

And amazingly (to us anyway):

  •  56% credit their forum for making them “more satisfied with my local community as a place to live or work.”

In deeper analysis, we’ve found that increasing community satisfaction is an indicator question where respondents on our four most engaged Minneapolis forums credit their forum far more at 70% for increasing satisfaction. For neighborhoods and cities seeking to attract and retain residents including new talent, fostering online neighborly connections appears to be part of the secret sauce “welcome mat” for great communities.

While our funded inclusive outreach makes our network perhaps far more representative than other online civic engagement/online neighborhood efforts, participants are essentially self-selected. To that end, we are excited to share our rough analysis from the 3,000 respondent Minneapolis Digital Inclusion survey which actually allows us to see our forum’s likely direct impact on the population as a whole.

In terms of prompting action (Q12), forums that led “you to do or increase any of the following” the forums delivered (Yes, I did this AND it increased because of the forum):

  • 8.5% more volunteer locally (39% did this already at level not increased because of forum)
  • 11% donate more often to a local charity or cause (43% did this already…)
  • 15% work more with residents to make change (32% did this already…)
  • 16% sign a petition more often (34% did this already…)
  • 17% meet community members in-person more (36% did this already…)
  • 18.5% contact elected officials or government more (32% did this already…)
  • 22% do favors or share goods with neighbors more often (31% did this already…)
  • 28% attend more community meetings (28% did this already…)
  • 41% attend more community events and festivals (35% did this already…)
  • 42% visit a business, restaurant or hire someone recommended on forum more (25% did this already…)

See question 12 for results on what people already did (Neighbors Forums do attract community-spirited people). Separating out those who would have generated social capital anyway without our forum from those who credit the forum with moving the needle on civic engagement is hugely important. Future analysis on the characteristics of forums generating more action will be useful. Future projects that build on these positive outcomes would be exciting the explore.

Emerging analysis

  • Other Platforms – With question 19, it is notable to point out that only 19% of our respondents are members of NextDoor and 29% report being on a private online group/email list for their nearest neighbors. 32% in St. Paul compared to 23% in Minneapolis report being on a public or large Facebook group or other forum outside of E-Democracy for their larger neighborhood. In St. Paul, folks who are both E-Democracy and NextDoor members compared to all E-Democracy members are somewhat less likely to be immigrants or the children of immigrants, higher educated, less likely to be a renter, more white, and higher income. This requires more analysis, but initial results support our concern that without inclusive outreach online neighborhood groups will cement ties among neighbors who are most similar or already socially connected and leave out vital parts of our local communities by the design of their systems even if not by intent. (Mar 3)
  • Gender – Also notable is that 64% of our respondents were female. A 2010 survey by PewInternet.org found a similar gender mix. Notably a recent participant survey of mySociety’s online political participation efforts had the reverse gender mix – it is our view that intentionally connecting neighbors online up into civic participation is perhaps the best path to better representation in civics online. (Mar 3)
  • Word of Mouth Power – Despite the focus on our in-person outreach on St. Paul, more people in Minneapolis learned of their forum offline (44% offline, 38% online) compared to St. Paul (37% offline, 48% online). Why? An active and engaged online civic forum like those in South Minneapolis can spread via community connections face to face. Such invites probably increase trust in the forum building a virtuous circle. Of course this also suggests just how challenging it is to go into new neighborhoods with less existing civic capacity from scratch AND how important it is to do what we did with inclusive intent to go beyond existing ties. In future work, combining our inclusive outreach with our strongest existing forums presents an untapped opportunity for reaching all neighbors with an integration oriented and inclusive bring all neighbors approach (for example Latino outreach in Powderhorn or East African outreach in Seward neighborhoods).Here is a recap on how our participants found out about their forums:
    • St. Paul – 48% Online, 37% Offline
    • Minneapolis – 38% Online, 44% Offline
    • Of those who found out offline:
      • St. Paul
        • Door – 20%
        • Community event/festival – 41%
        • Word of mouth – 27%
        • Community newsletter – 7%
      • Minneapolis
        • Door – 1%
        • Community event/festival – 29% (we did table in Mpls at major/ethnic events)
        • Word of mouth – 66%
        • Community newsletter – 7%

(Added Mar 8)

This article is a work in progress …

Survey Says … (text from our e-newsletter)

The exciting participant survey results are coming in from Minneapolis and Saint Paul with over 1350 responses. They show great comparative success in reaching the broader local community with inclusion in Saint Paul while clearly our Minneapolis neighborhood forums are stronger.(1)

Door to door worked. Community festivals worked.

Working with two awesome summer outreach teams that spoke ten different languages total over two summers was amazing. The dedication and perspiration of young people who once lived in refugee camps in Kenya and Thailand to an African-American Grandmother homeless and living with friends when we hired her was was amazing.

Here is what participants find “very important” in ranked order:

  • Get community news and event announcements
  • Neighbors helping neighbors
  • Learn about local businesses and services
  • Share information or ideas
  • Discuss or understand others views on community issues
  • Get involved in local initiative or causes
  • Meet neighbors and other community members (in-person)

The survey tells us that the more active your forum is the more you are actually satisfied with your community as a place to live. Wow.

Because of your forums directly, more of you attend community events (41%) or meetings (28), visit local businesses or hire neighbors for odd jobs (43%), do favors for neighbors (22%), donate to local groups (10%), contact elected officials (18%), sign petitions (16%) or work for local change (15%), or volunteer in the community (8%). This is above and beyond the many who said they already did these things and did not credit the forum for an increase. Our members are community builders.

In fact, on our four super active forums in South Minneapolis 70% agreed that because of their forum, they are “more satisfied with my local community as a place to live or work.” On our less active Saint Paul and Minneapolis forums, the average who agree with this came in under 50%. Notably however, those who better represent the diversity of Saint Paul that we signed up at their door reported in with one of the highest percentages strongly agreeing with this statement – more so than all but one of our super active forums!

 

(1) Our South Minneapolis forums became well established a few years earlier before the diffusion of local online spaces like Facebook Groups and NextDoor. These new choices divided neighborhood attention and likely attracted the engagement of people in St. Paul similar to those who naturally flocked to our Minneapolis forums and to this day share community content actively. Participants who share – who post useful content are key to engagement. While not all Neighbors Forums in St. Paul today are more limited one-way community announcement services, two-way community discussions and trust-building community engagement on our strongest Minneapolis forums continues to thrive.

 

Key Tables and Charts

Here are someone detailed results. See the full PDF for more including how people learned about their forums specifically.

 

9. How important to you are the following things you can do on your Neighbors Forum?

edemQ9important

 

10. To what extent is your forum meeting your needs? How *satisfied* are you with the opportunity that your forum has provided in the last 12 months to…

edemQ10satisfied

11. As a result of information or discussions on your Neighbors Forum, in the last 12 months…

edemQ11value

It will be very interesting to compare Minneapolis and Saint Paul results related to learning about neighbors across diversity. As our field outreach was only funded for St. Paul and our four most active Neighbors Forums are in Minneapolis, to really test this goal new resources to do inclusive outreach in S. Minneapolis would be crucial. It is our experience that location-based neighborhood connecting, particularly on commercial sites, connect wired, wealthier, whiter home owners most easily and that inclusive outreach requires real intent and resources.

Being more satisfied with their community as a place to live because of their Neighbors Forum tells a big story about about forum quality. Those one our four “super” forums as noted above were far more likely to give their forum some credit. In forums that are honestly relatively quiet (particularly in areas of St. Paul with competing Facebook Groups or Next Door traction) I our view people were more satisfied than they should have been. If they only knew what they were missing from how our active forums really thrive. This question showed the impact of a strong forum versus those not used on a literally an hourly basis to connect the community.

12. In the last 12 months, did something on your Neighbors Forum lead you to do or increase any of the following?

edemQ12domore

Here are open ended survey responses sorted into theme.

Select survey comments/stories sorted by theme:

  • Promoting local festivals and events –
  • Promoting local businesses and service providers –
  • Discussing community issues and happenings –
  • We especially appreciate the neighborhood councils, recreation centers and libraries using the forums –
  • And the connections made between being alert about crime and building strong neighborhoods –
  • And other local issues that matter –
  • Being connected and informed helps us take action –
  • Together, we make things happen –
  • Our ideas get carried forward to committees and local councils –
  • We build strong communities when we meet –
  • That keep us in touch with our humanity –
  • We strengthen our connections when we exchange things –
  • And, together, we care for our companions –
  • And build welcoming communities –
  • And yes, there’s more work to be done –
  • But in the end –

 

Having just completed the participant survey, this is an opportune moment to give a shout out to those who make the forums thrive by:

Promoting local festivals and events –

 

  • Because of this forum my family attended several summer events in the area. Thank you.
  • Events shared are always appreciated and make me feel more involved in my community.
  • Without a neighborhood newspaper the forum has provided basic community happenings, which has improved my sense of community.

 

Promoting local businesses and service providers –

 

  • I think one of the biggest things the Neighbors Forum does is help you when you’re looking for a service. We discovered a new mechanic who we are extremely happy with thanks to the forum. Same goes for our plumber. It’s great to hear the different suggestions and experiences folks have had. Invaluable.
  • As a local business owner, I make an effort to support other local businesses near my own. I try and use the hardware store, gas station, restaurants and other service providers in my neighborhood.
  • I just contacted one person highly recommended for handyman, and discovered he had lived across the street on my block since 1980–the same year we moved here! He’s going to patch our ceiling soon.
  • Our neighbors forum has been celebrating small business in the area. My partner and I are launching our own venture, and it has been so helpful to have community support behind our shop. This has been made possible by the Neighbors Forum, as we meet people that we don’t really “know” but have a mutual affinity for, as they are neighbors, locals who really want us to succeed.
  • I found amazing locally sourced fresh strawberries available the last few autumns by a local farmer only available with E-Democracy.
  • Someone shared CSA options in the neighborhood and I signed up for one and I very much enjoyed it this summer.
  • Finding recommended vendors and service providers has taken the stress out of guessing.

 

Discussing community issues and happenings –

 

  • The forums keep me up to date on the issues of the city, especially the controversies that people want to talk about. They’re the best place to learn about what is going on with proposed developments, vacant lots, city ordinances that impact the neighborhood.  [combined]
  • Even though not all topics are of interest to me, reading them gives me a better understanding of community perspectives other than my own. I believe this to be a crucial component of an inclusive and diverse community.
  • I did learn a little more about the complexity/differences between long-standing community members and newer residents, differences in perception regarding whose voice is “authentic,” “credible,” “legitimate”.

 

We especially appreciate the neighborhood councils, recreation centers and libraries using the forums –

 

  • I work for SENA – the neighborhood organization for Standish & Ericsson. The forum has been a very valuable means for us to get information out to a large part of the community.
  • We were able to get the word out about National Night Out and had lots of participation from the neighborhood.
  • Excellent programs and lectures at the library are posted. I have discovered this is a much better resource than expected.
  • A community member on the Forum read one of my library postings about the Library Card Art Contest. She entered her art piece and it was picked as a runner-up!
  • I like when the police liaison and the neighborhood association chime in on discussions.

 

 

And the connections made between being alert about crime and building strong neighborhoods –

 

  • It has made a big difference to me to know about crime in my neighborhood and how connecting with others can make a difference in how we watch for each other.
  • Being informed and aware of what is going on has made me feel safer and more connected.
  • I think in general when someone shares about crime or suspicious activity in the neighborhood it is helpful. Everyone knows to stay more aware and keep their eyes open for things like that.
  • There was a lot of discussion about the Ray Widstrand incident — very heated at times, with opposing voices being heard, albeit not without some hurt feelings. I felt this ongoing discussion was very enlightening because it gave insight into how differently neighbors from the same community saw this and other negative events that occurred around the same time.
  • A few years ago, when the woman was sexually assaulted in Powderhorn Park at gunpoint, with her children present — the way people in the community organized an event and got the word out through the forum was great.
  • We have helped each other be more aware of increases in specific crimes, and helped each other take precautions against them.
  • We’re not in the safest neighborhood, but when we heard gunshots right outside our house, our friend and neighbor was quick to find the police report and post it for everyone. It made me feel a little safer, just that everyone was talking about what happened, not ignoring it or hiding, or becoming too scared.
  • I attended the open forum on crime at the local police station which was advertised in the forum. The tips on how to make your home, garage, and yard more secure were very helpful. I really appreciated the time and effort of the neighborhood crime specialists to share their expertise with the public.
  • It’s kind of like a virtual neighborhood crime watch. I love knowing what is going on in the area!!  It makes me feel more secure. [combined]

 

And other local issues that matter –

(formerly Campaigns/Elected Officials)

 

  • It really helped me to understand the rationale behind some decisions being made by our local government. It was nice to hear others opinions, both those that agreed with me and those that did not.
  • When I was an appointed official, it helped me stay connected to the community and plugged into their thoughts/ideas, and what was important.
  • It has been a very useful source for information about candidates running for public office.
  • Powderhorn Park hosted a school board candidate forum which was mainly geared toward the Spanish-speaking community. As a white person, it was fascinating to listen to the stories and hear candidates point of view.
  • The discussions about Ranked Choice Voting in St. Paul allowed us to discuss different opinions on that important subject, including a lot of misconceptions.
  • I enjoy reading others’ take on city matters–what our politicians are doing and the progress or lack thereof in the school district.
  • I like it when people who know the facts of a matter can share those facts and change perceptions and the tone of a discussion.

 

Being connected and informed helps us take action –

 

  • I learned about the city’s Adopt a Trash Container program and got one placed in a garbage-strewn area. It REALLY made a difference!
  • I attended several forums/community meetings because of the Neighbors Forum.
  • I went to a local meeting and learned about the plans for the Snelling and University area.
  • I learned about the Library Love Run and Historic Hamline Village and attended a community meeting.
  • It got me to attend a couple of meetings about biking and bike lanes at the NE Library.
  • I heard about meetings concerning the new co-op that I was able to attend.
  • I heard about – and attended – a crime meeting at Matthews Park.
  • I went to the community meeting at the church next to the Arlington library and got introduced to the Youth Ambassadors. I learned a lot.
  • I was prompted to attend a MPRB meeting about “the yard” and to speak at the meeting.

 

Together, we make things happen –

 

  • We were trying to get bike racks installed at the post office. I shared information about the City of Minneapolis bicycle rack program with neighbors and now we have two new bike racks at the post office. [two combined]
  • The city parks department was going to tear down a bunch of trees and make a parking lot in our community and the neighborhood forum announced it and organized a group to make our voices heard and we were successful in stopping their actions.
  • We helped to build the new playground at the St. Paul Music Academy.
  • We helped get the co-op built.
  • I volunteered to help spread the word about the Powderhorn365 Kickstarter campaign, and we used the forum extensively.
  • Our direct neighbor was being cited for junk by a new inspector. Everyone on the forum and many others signed a petition and got them to understand it was garden art. It worked.
  • We used the forum to help spread the word about the privatization of a local recreation center and got over 100 people to attend a meeting with officials. This stopped the process and allowed us to set up a community task force to discuss what a partnership would look like.
  • We used forum to organize group to care for Hamline Park– “Friends of Hamline Park.”
  • The controversial Marshall Avenue median galvanized me and my neighbors, and the forum was instrumental in exchanging ideas and motivating attendance at meetings associated with the issue. The forum helped coalesce support to reduce the proposed length of the median on Marshall at Wilder. [two combined]
  • I have been very grateful to the work and efforts of the folks trying to get MAC to listen to our neighborhood concerns about increased air traffic, decibel levels, and noise/air pollution. They have kept us much better informed about studies, meetings, and issues than the local news.
  • When I saw that the studies on the Snelling Avenue road design were coming to a close, I was able to dig a little deeper into what that meant for our block and intersection, the West side of Snelling and Taylor Avenues. We organized, met, and discussed how the closure of the left turn lanes would affect residents on our block, and the surrounding area. This led to a signed group letter, individual letters, and documentation being sent to the proper MDOT and other government staff involved in this project. As of today, we’ve been told that the project will leave the northbound left turn lane onto Taylor Ave. W. open. I credit e-democracy in alerting us to this important study while we could still have an impact on the outcome. It is important for us to be involved in important decisions which affect our everyday lives in our community. [Edited down]

 

Our ideas get carried forward to committees and local councils –

 

  • There have been discussions about a household hazardous waste site that was going to be placed in the neighborhood and due to a lot more discussion than some local officials expected, it appears such a site will be located in a different and more desirable location than originally proposed.
  • I enjoyed the discussion on the forum about what to do with the old Rainbow store building and brought some of those ideas to the Longfellow Neighborhood Development Committee.
  • I sent an email to the list to explore ways neighbors could work together to make their homes more energy efficient. Several people responded and as a result, a group of us met several times during the year and several homeowners did energy efficiency home improvements. We are continuing this energy efficiency work now through the District 10 Environment Committee.
  • When I was on ParkWatch we posted minutes and Park Board agendas on the forum with opinions of what we thought this meant to the city. This led to the MPRB actually putting their agendas and minutes online and actually announcing newly released agenda on this forum
  • I first learned about some controversial issues (Randolph Ave) in the forum and was able to bring those issues to the MGCC Transportation committee and worked with Ramsey County to provide feedback.
  • Discussions on the forum showed me that I was just as informed on issues as anyone else, so I decided to have more influence on the community by joining the Highland District Council.

 

We build strong communities when we meet –

 

  • I was asked to lead a neighborhood history tour (posted on the forum) that led into two free sessions (posted on the forum) for neighbors to learn how to research their houses’ histories at the Hennepin County library. Forty people got to know each other and talk about their houses. Soon I will invite them all (via the forum) to share their research findings at the Hennepin County History Museum.
  • We organized a book reading with a local author at our house. A lot of people from the neighborhood whom we did not previously know came to the event. A big driver for this was the announcement posted to the forum. A lot of neighbors met each other for the first time because of this.
  • I went on a Seward Walk and met a lot of people from the neighborhood while learning some great history and having a hoot!
  • It was a source of networking for my family and me when we first moved into the Powderhorn Neighborhood and did not yet know anyone. We were able to post about ourselves as a family and offer a gathering for other people interested in meeting for social engagements.
  • I have always liked the “introduction” email that pops up at intermittent times. Sometimes I wish people shared more about where they lived (900 Block of Wilson Ave, for example) because if I “meet” someone on the forum, it would be nice to know how close they are relative to where I live. At times I have taken the next step to ask more about them and say “welcome!”  [Edited down]

 

That keep us in touch with our humanity –

(formerly Help neighbors in need)

 

  • I like hearing about neighbors who help others and make a difference in the lives of others in my neighborhood.
  • A local neighbor with a lot of history died recently and her funeral was announced on the forum. I believe many more people came than would’ve otherwise. It was a great time to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and learn some fascinating neighborhood history.
  • One of my friends who is getting older needed some help with heavy things, and he found a young person through the forum who was happy to help him. He didn’t know where else to turn.
  • I used the forum to create a list of those in need of snow shoveling help and those that could offer such help.
  • Last year during a huge storm that downed 100s of large trees in the neighborhood there was an outpouring of email exchanges sharing tools and offering help to residents who were affected. Wonderful to see.
  • I learned how quick neighbors are to help one another in times of need.
  • I am new in the neighborhood and had a bike stolen from my yard. A neighbor told me about the forum and when I posted, I think three people offered to lend me bikes if I needed one.  Heartwarming kindness and real neighbors!
  • After the New Year’s building explosion/fire last year, the forum was a great way to see what had happened and to know where/what to donate to survivors
  • I offered up some free worms for composting. Two ladies took me up on the offer so I left containers of worms on my porch for them to pick up. Later I got an email from one of the ladies. She had noticed my concrete front steps were falling apart after the brutal winter. She wanted to pay it forward and she offered to fix my steps for free. I agreed but wanted to learn a skill so I joined her. She told me that her neighbor had taught her the simple fix and she was so excited when I wanted to learn the skill, knowing that I could pass it on to others.
  • There was a call for the high school baseball team needing equipment that really stuck with me. I hope there are more requests from good people doing good things who could use more community support.

 

We strengthen our connections when we exchange things –

 

  • The reuse opportunities have been very valuable. When a neighbor took down a chimney, we were able to salvage them to better our property. They saved on hauling away costs and we saved by not having to purchase landscape materials.
  • I had a friend moving into the neighborhood from another state who was needing support with resources. I was able to help her find items for her home through postings from neighbors who were giving things away.
  • I was able to get a very nice ceiling fan for free because one of my neighbors was giving it away on the forum.

 

    • I have used the Neighbors forum to connect with other gardeners in the community, and we have shared plants. It’s fun to connect with other gardeners and to learn about gardening from people with actual experience in our neighborhood, and the plants I’ve gotten from them have been much more successful than nursery-grown plants.

 

  • I had a lawnmower that I wanted to get rid of and was able to give it to a new neighbor because of the forum.

 

    • I was looking for raspberry bushes and the forum help me find options to transplant from a neighbor.

 

  • I was able to find a free A/C unit for my daughter’s father for his apartment. The outreach from the forum was enormous and fast! I really enjoy the frequency and timeliness in which people share their ideas/post questions, etc. on this site. I visit every day!

 

  • I was looking for a Cherry tree branch to graft onto my Cherry tree. I happened to find the exact variety I needed through a neighbor.
  • I was feeling overwhelmed by yard work and hired a youth in response to his mom’s post. Not only was I glad for the help, I enjoyed connecting with the mom and the young man.
  • I was able to get many perennial plants for the teen program I facilitate at a homeless shelter downtown.

 

  • I have been trying to find a home for Christmas tree that was given to me, and was delighted to pass it along and so relieved to have it out of my house.

 

And, together, we care for our companions –

 

  • I love all of the posts about missing pets. Having lost a pet, I understand how hard it can be. Given our technological advances, it pleases me that we go to the forum before sending a rogue pet to the shelter. Very inspiring!
  • We rescued a puppy and needed to fence off our yard quickly. We posted on e-democracy and within 30 minutes a neighbor offered to lend us his posts and wire fencing and we were able to contain the pup immediately and keep her safe until we could put up a more permanent fence.  
  • We moved in to this neighborhood in March. I posted about our cat who escaped and many helpful neighbors responded and we got him back!
  • A chicken appeared in our yard and we were able to locate the owner via the forum.

 

And build welcoming communities –

 

  • I just moved here from out of state, and it has been incredibly helpful to know that there’s a community of people out there working to make this place a more welcoming, equitable, livable place.
  • We are new to the community so having access to the online forum helped us decide if it was the right neighborhood for our family. We were able to gauge how involved people are and what they do. We are looking forward to participating in this on a regular basis.
  • I enjoy living in a large city, and the sense of community that the forum provides enhances the experience.

 

 

And yes, there’s more work to be done –

 

  • I wish the city council leadership and police had actively used the forum to help us understand the discussions.
  • In the last few elections, even the primaries, I didn’t just feel like I was checking off random names on the ballot based on a few lines of political propaganda written by someone’s campaign manager; some of these people had actually engaged with each other over local issues in a forum that wasn’t carefully vetted and scripted, which too few of our candidates for elected office are willing to do these days.

 

But in the end –

 

  • It’s really inspiring to see how benevolent the community is. I appreciate reading about people taking animals in, or giving away free stuff, or standing up for things.
  • I just love that it exists. It makes me feel connected to the people in my community.

 

 

E-Democracy promoting the Knight Green Line Challenge in Saint Paul

Knight Green Line Challenge

Have a great idea for the neighborhoods along the Green Line Saint Paul?

A $1.5 million dollar challenge was announce by the Knight Foundation. E-Democracy’s Saint Paul forums have sprung into action bringing thousands of visits to their website. Submit your idea by July 24.

Join our special public drafting effort via Google Docs.

CityCampMN 2013 – Engaging Civic Innovations – Unconference Sat. Nov. 9 – St. Thomas Minneapolis Campus

 CityCampMN 2013 Live – Photos, News, Links

CityCampMN 2013

Engaging Civic Innovations


CityCampMN is our region’s unconference* for passion-fueled, technology-enhanced civic ideas and solutions.

Join us to connect active citizens, community leaders, technologists, and government officials for a day of learning, discussing, and imagining how to use technology to strengthen communities and create more open government.

Bring your ideas, energy, voice, diverse perspectives, and skills. Everyone is welcome.

  • When:  9 AM – 4 PM, Sat., Nov. 9th, 2013, Reception 4-6 PM
    See below for optional day two civic hackathon at DevJam.
  • Where:  University of St. Thomas – Minneapolis Campus, Schulze Hall
  • RSVP: Register Here – We expect ~150 participants
  • Ticket Options:  $10 Guaranteed Spot, Open Donation, or Free (Lottery, as space is limited) – All include free lunch and appetizers and at least one drink at the reception.

Topics

Participants provide the unconference session topics. Propose a topic online now or at the event. Those who show up, drive each topic. For those new to CityCamp, topics may include:

  • open government

  • civic technology apps

  • open data,  visualization and analytics

  • tech for social justice and equity

  • neighbors online

  • digital youth empowerment

  • online engagement

  • digital journalism

  • civic hacking and maker projects

  • digital inclusion

  • social media for good

  •  your new idea here!

*What’s an Unconference??

An unconference is the dynamic, informal exchange of information and ideas among participants.

This is CityCampMN’s second installment of the wildly popular CityCamp “unconference” series taking off in places like London, San Francisco, and Buenos Aires.

In short, the coffee break becomes the conference – with some structure, of course:

  1. Everyone rapidly introduces themselves with just three words about their interests/why they came
  2. Participants pitch session topics (building on online proposals)
  3. Popular “Ignite-style,” six-minute presentations will be back and expanded
  4. Behind the scenes, ideas are sorted into break-out sessions, each session will have a discussion chair
  5. Discussion sessions galore – In 2011, we had over 125 participants with nearly 30 ~45 min breakout sessions throughout the day
  6. New – One minute breakout summaries shared with all, recorded for the world
  7. New – End day with “Ideation” launch for the optional, day two hackathon (see below)
  8. New – Reception/Celebration

You are the engine for change and innovation!   Register now.

 CityCampMN Hackathon – A Hack for MN Mini-Camp/Workday – Sunday

Hack for MNThe following day, Sunday Nov. 10th, Open Twin Cities will hold a civic hackathon at DevJam Studios in S. Minneapolis to “code” upon the issues and ideas discussed at CityCampMN.

To RSVP for the hackathon, simply answer ‘Yes’ when asked when you register for CityCampMN.

Like all civic hackathons, this event is open to everybody who has passion for their community and an idea and/or desire to make it stronger. You need not be a software developer, designer, etc. to participate and share hands-on value.

The “ideation” phase for Sunday’s hackathon will start at CityCampMN.

 Thank You Sponsors 

CityCampMN is organized by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities. Open Twin Cities is a Code for America Brigade partnered with E-Democracy.

Contact E-Democracy (fiscal agent) for sponsorship details.  Sponsor CityCampMN, Open Twin Cities, and Hack for MN in one simple package for the next year.

Gold Sponsors

Knight Foundation 

University of St. Thomas

StarTribune

DevJam

Lockridge Grindal Nauen Attorneys at Law

GovDelivery

Code for America

Silver Sponsors

Ben Damman

 

More sponsors to come! Contact E-Democracy for information.See our full Sponsors page for all our sponsors and list of individual boosters.A special thanks goes to the University of St. Thomas for venue sponsorship and Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP for sponsoring our combined CityCampMN/White House Champions of Change reception and celebration.Schulze Hall

 

CityCampMN is hosted by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities                 E-Democracy.org Logo        Open Twin Cities

 



After You Register

  • Share your ideas for small group break-out sessions here or rate the ideas (soon) submitted by others.

  • Join the global ongoing online  CityCamp Exchange  to connect with others

Meet our BeNeighbors Outreach and Engagement Team Members – St. Paul’s 2013 Dream Team for Community Building

By Cirien Saadeh and Steven Clift

E-Democracy.org: Coming to a St. Paul neighborhood near you!

Many of you joined E-Democracy because one of our summer staffers knocked on your door, and in the true spirit of inclusive community building, invited you to join the E-Democracy forums. Going door-to-door in St. Paul has been a major focus of our team this summer and last, as we work to reach the goals of our BeNeighbors.org campaign.

 

20130711_190637 20130619_183941

 

We recently hired our new summer staff as well as “forum engagement” leads to help foster on forum dialogue. Men and women of all different ages and backgrounds are covering almost every inch of St. Paul. They may even have already knocked on your door. The outreach staff work about 15 hours a week and the forum engagement leads put in about seven.

We wanted to give you a brief introduction to the summer team and let you know a little of the work we’re doing.  We will be adding some related photos and videos to our Facebook page.

  • Siciid Ali joined the E-Democracy staff this summer as one of our outreach coordinators. He’s concentrating on outreach to the Somali and East African community.
  • Donna Evans has been with our team since the beginning of last summer. She is connected deeply in St. Paul. She is a jack of all outreach trades from small community events to library storytime outreach.
  • John Slade is both a new father and a new E-Democracy summer team member. He’s doing a lot of work in Dayton’s Bluff and the Greater East Side.
  • Gloria Castillo has been active in efforts to pass Minnesota’s DREAM act. She’ll be doing special outreach to St. Paul’s Latino communities.
  • Chia Lor is a college student and hip hop artist who will be doing outreach work in the Asian-American community and in Payne-Phalen.
  • Cirien Saadeh is active in food justice issues and is both helping with communications and outreach field logistics this summer.
  • Devin Miller runs a virtual ministry and is a long-time community convener in St. Paul’s African-American community. He is working to boost forum engagement in Summit-U Rondo, Frogtown and other forums.
  • Hawi Awash just graduated from high school in St. Paul. She is very active in the community. She joined our team and will being doing some special outreach in Highland to the growing Ethiopian and other immigrant communities.
  • Dan Gordon just rejoined our summer team from last year. A Spanish speaker, he will boost our door to door efforts through the summer.
  • Tong Thao works with Frogtown Farms and is making ends meet delivering pizza. He is our Asian-American Forum Engagement lead.

Much like last summer, our summer outreach team, will be going door-to-door in St. Paul to reach out to ALL people and especially working to reach communities of color, immigrants, lower income residents, and others who are vital parts of our community. Every one of them has joined the team because they believe in digital inclusion and civic engagement – and they believe in St. Paul. They believe that St. Paul can be a willingly and joyfully engaged community.

Make sure to check out our About and People page for our most recent list of contract team members and opportunities to get involved.

As of July 22, 2013 – Here is our Outreach and Engagement Team

 

Cirien SaadehCirien Saadeh, Communications & Outreach Assistant
Cirien is assisting with communications, social media, and outreach logistics and organizing, and is passionate about social justice, particularly racial equity as it relates to sharing our untold stories, “I think it’s really, really important we help people learn how to tell their stories. Storytelling is something we share across all cultures, and it’s through listening to each others’ stories that we create a common language. That’s why E-Democracy is so important. It provides a way for people to learn each others’ stories without having to go to a community meeting set up to support someone else’s agenda.” Cirien graduated with a degree in Political Science in 2012 from St. Catherine University and is a trained community organizer through the Organizing Apprenticeship Project and citizen journalist (video and print) through The UpTake and other projects. In her spare time, Cirien is a martial artist in training, a new gardener, and a writer.

Chia (Chilli) LorChia (Chilli) Lor
Chilli was born in Chiangkham, a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, and came to the United States with her family at the age of two. She lived in the McDonough Home Projects until 2000 when her family moved to the Greater East Side. She graduated from Central High School and is currently a student at St. Catherine University double majoring in Sociology and Critical Studies or Race and Ethnicity. Her passion for racial justice began with her refugee/immigrant experience and she is a trained community organizer through ISAIAH and TakeAction MN where she interned as a community organizer on the Central Corridor Light Rail Project. “I am a firm believer in grassroots organizing, because only through getting everyone at the table can there be authentic decisions.” As a poet, hip-hop artist, and b-girl (a girl that break dances), Chilli is a huge advocate for using the arts as a tool for social justice. This spring she interned at the Plymouth Youth Center (PYC) Arts and Technology High School where she helped students produce the school’s first school wide Hmong show. She is an active member of the youth group at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and volunteers as a youth mentor artist with East Side Rising, a project of the Payne Phalen (D5) Planning Council. Chilli co-leads outreach in Payne Phalen, Greater East Side, North End, Dayton’s Bluff and the Asian community.

Pastor Devin MillerPastor Devin Miller
Pastor Miller is a leader in the African American faith community. He is an Ordained Elder of the Church Of God In Christ and an Ordained Minister of the National Baptist Convention, and has worked with several communities and congregations to promote cultural understanding and improve services. “There’s a new generation of media savvy leaders coming up that have not made the connection to the African American communities. There needs to be a bridge, and neighborhood is a place where common interests can bring us together.” Pastor Miller is working to promotes African American forum engagement on the Frogtown, Greater East Side, Summit University Rondo forums.

Donna EvansDonna Evans
Donna is a deeply committed community volunteer. Her most recent efforts include collaborating with Saint Paul City Council members, the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASNDC) and neighborhood residents in a successful campaign for three additional Central Corridor LRT stops. She also served on the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board and volunteered with the Promise Neighborhood high school Solution Action Groups. She has an Associate of Arts in Computer Science. Donna co-leads outreach in central Saint Paul (Frogtown, Summit U, Union Park, and Hamline Midway) and is focusing her efforts in Summit University and Union Park. Donna first joined E-Democracy as a member of the 2012 Summer Outreach Team.

Gloria CastilloGloria Castillo
Gloria was born and raised in Mexico City. She moved to Minneapolis at the age of 12 where she graduated from Roosevelt High School. She went to Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall for two years, and is transferring to Minneapolis Community and Technical College to continue her studies. Gloria has been involved in many civic organizations mainly focused on the immigrant community. She helped to organize Dream Act rallies in Minnesota and has marched for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Gloria is passionate about social justice, and happy to be working with E-Democracy this summer to help grow a more connected, collaborative Saint Paul. “It’s very hard for the community to get together. Using the forums is a way for people to build trust among their own neighbors. They help people get along and get things done.” She co-leads outreach in Dayton’s Bluff, West Side, West 7th, and on the Greater East Side, and promotes forum engagement in the Latino community.

John SladeJohn Slade
John is a Minnesota native who has lived in the Twin Cities since 1983. He has been working as a community organizer since 2007, first with the Metropolitan Interfaith Coalition on Affordable Housing and until recently for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “Access to electronic media, the freedom of the internet, and media alternatives are critical to democracy, which is why E-Democracy.org is so important. Our work helps level the digital playing field.” John has a BA from Macalester College and an MA from the University of Minnesota in Linguistics. He became passionate about social justice as a college student and has worked as an environmental canvasser, union organizer, and media activist. He was a founder of the Twin Cities Independent Media Center (TCIMC) and has been on the board of KFAI Fresh Air Radio (90.3/106.7 FM) since 2006. John co-leads outreach in Dayton’s Bluff, D1, Payne Phalen, and on the Greater East Side.

Siciid AliSiciid Ali
Siciid came to Minnesota with relatives at the age of five, leaving behind his mother and brothers and sisters and the turmoil in Somalia, where his father was killed in the civil war. As the oldest child of a family that eventually grew to include 13 siblings, Siciid began working as a breadwinner at a young age. It was a tough decision to go to college. He recently earned his Masters in Public Administration with a focus in public management from Mankato State University where in 2011 he earned a BA in Urban Planning and a BS in Professional Geography, and obtained certificates in Geographic Information Science and Nonprofit Leadership. He has worked with the Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office, the State Department of Commerce, Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services, and the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. From 2008 to 2011 he was a member of the Mankato State University Somali Student Association where served as Vice President and organized annual cultural shows, led community gathering to promote understanding about Somali culture, and mentored Somali students. “I was raised by the community with a lot of mentors. This is my time to give back. The forums are a place where we can talk about our issues and concerns within the community. I am working to get the message out that they are welcoming and can help people find the information they need to accomplish goals and results.” Siciid co-leads outreach in District 1, Union Park, Dayton’s Bluff, and West 7th/Fort Road.

Tong ThaoTong Thao
Tong was born and raised in St. Paul and has been living in Dayton’s Bluff for over 10 years. He discovered his passion for community organizing while working for the Frogtown Neighborhood Association (FNA) and interning with the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) as a Housing Coordinator/Community Organizer. “Community is all about the people. Without the people there is no community, and if the community raises its voice about what they want to see, we can build a stronger community.” Tong is a 2012 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College where he majored in Geography. He is working to promotes Asian forum engagement on the Dayton’s Bluff, Frogtown, Greater East Side Neighbors, North End, and Payne Phalen forums.

 

Dan GordonDan Gordon
Dan was raised in Duluth, Minnesota and graduated with a degree in Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota. He’s been involved with organizing campaigns in the Twin Cities for immigrants’ rights, equal access to higher education, and putting an end to police brutality. Having served as a human rights observer in Guatemala, Dan is deeply interested in Latin American politics and global affairs, and has a particular interest in using journalism to tell the stories of people who are marginalized by the mainstream media. Dan is assisting field outreach where needed in year two of his work with us.

 

Hawi Awash

Biography being drafted …

Community Outreach Team 2013 – Exciting Summer Work in St. Paul – Deadline May 8

Join our 2013 “BeNeighbors” Community Outreach Team! – APPLY BY MAY 8!

SONY DSCWe are deepening our Knight grant-funded inclusion campaign to grow our St. Paul forums with the greatest diversity possible to over 10,000 members. We’re also planning fundraising to include Minneapolis and other communities in future years.

  • Do you care passionately about building inclusive community?
  • Do you believe commitment to diversity is an important institutional value?
  • Do you want to be part of raising diverse voices?

If so, consider applying for one of 5 part-time, contract outreach positions. These new outreach staff will work both individually and with a team to recruit members for our neighborhood forums primarily among African-American, Southeast Asian, African immigrant, and Latino communities.

Location: Saint Paul with some travel in the Metropolitan Area

Description: Work as part of a team to develop and carry out diverse community outreach. Tasks are likely to include tabling at community events and venues (including outdoor events in sometimes inclement weather), interacting with attendees and/or presenting at neighborhood meetings and events, door knocking and posting flyers, and conducting face-to-face, phone, and online recruitment. The team goal for the summer is to recruit 2,000 new members to the Saint Paul neighborhood forums by focusing efforts on our most highly diverse, low income neighborhoods. Imagine the possibilities for empowering all voices!

Your outreach efforts will be supported by initial training, weekly team debriefs, coordinated outreach strategies and activities, and shared lessons in inclusive outreach and digital technologies. You will also work closely with other E-Democracy staff, contractors and volunteers to develop, refine, and further the goals of the inclusive outreach campaign.

Time Commitment: 12 weeks from late-May through mid-August 2013. Contractors will work 10-20 hours per week and must be flexible, reliable, and able to work mostly late afternoons, evenings, and weekends, sometimes with short notice.

Rate: $12.50/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.

Requirements:

  • Passionate and enthusiastic; positive outlook and willing to lead. Inspires other contractors and volunteers to do high-quality organizing and outreach work
  • Proven ability to work as part of a team. Willing to pitch in to help others with day-to-day project tasks (event logistics, preparing/delivering materials, record-keeping, data entry, etc.).
  • Excellent personal accountability and follow through. Can meet deadlines and manage multiple tasks in a fast-paced work environment; highly flexible and able to handle high-stress situations. Highly self motivated, self directed, and organized.
  • Effective communicator.  Values and fosters open communication; uses and understands the importance of active listening skills, and is an effective public speaker with above-average English-language writing skills.
  • Detail oriented and respectfully work with volunteers
  • 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.)
  • Bilingual in Hmong, Spanish, Somali,Ethiopian, Burmese, Oromo, etc. (Not required.)
  • Deep connections to the targeted communities in Saint Paul, including involvement in neighborhood/community organizations
  • Proficient with Google Apps, social media, and digital video devices

edemsquarelogoHow to apply: Send a cover letter describing your qualifications and how you heard about the position. Also, attach your resume with three references to team@e-democracy.org by Wednesday, May 8, 2013. We will make the final decision shortly thereafter. Use the subject line: Community Outreach Leader Application. Include any questions in your email. No calls please. For more information, about this effort, please our website, and click on both “Blog” and “About”.

If you see this posting late, check here to see if the position is still open.

E-Democracy builds online public space in the heart of real democracy and community. Our mission is to harness the power of online tools to support participation in public life, strengthen communities, and build democracy.

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.

Requirements

  • 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

New Volunteer Orientation – Love your neighborhood? Want to help it from the comfort of your own home?

E-Democracy Outreach-001

Attend the next Volunteer Orientation/Training on Wed. March 13, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. and you can be a community builder too!

(Or April 18th or May 16th, same time and place.)

E-Democracy is launching a new Volunteer Program. For years, we’ve relied heavily on committed volunteers to successfully build the neighbors and issues forums. Now, as our forums have grown larger and more resources have allowed us to go deeper into Saint Paul neighborhoods, we’ve found it essential to bring in even more skilled neighbors as volunteers.

Are you interested in being a part of a stronger and even more connected neighborhood? Would you be willing to volunteer an average of 2 hours a month from home? Many of our new volunteer positions involve sharing important information online with your neighbors, helping to build a welcoming and neighborly atmosphere on and offline, or sending a review of that new restaurant in the area.

Take a look at these exciting new volunteer positions and ask yourself what you could do to help make your neighborhood an even greater place to live!

  • Local Forum Manager (needed for Summit Hill, West Seventh and four Minneapolis neighborhoods)

Monitors announcements and discussions, encourages participation, and objectively enforces the forum rules to maintain civility. As a forum leader, they work in conjunction with E-Democracy staff to involve forum volunteers in generating community value from the forum.

  • Neighbor Greeter

This personable volunteer is the kind of the person who brings cookies over to the new neighbor in the “real world.” Their role is to invite, welcome and support new forum members. They are an outreach ambassador at community events and help build a welcoming atmosphere on the forum.

  • Community Reporter

This information-seeking volunteer has a passion for community news, happenings, and history. They monitor, read and share news and announcements from different sources that have local relevance. They might also love sharing neighborhood photos and finding historical stories of how the area grew over time.

  • Cultural Connector

This volunteer has a deep passion for cross-cultural communication, connections, and understanding. Whether they share information from local ethnic organizations or introduce local cultural activities of their own or other diverse groups of neighbors, this volunteer is a bridge builder. This volunteer supports the goal of raising all local voices and assisting immigrant forum participation. An example might be sharing information about local events in the Holy Month of Ramadan or prompting a Muslim member of the community to share their experience of the celebrations.

  • Social Coordinator

Although we are primarily an online organization, one of our goals is to use our online networks to bring neighbors together in-person. We see ourselves as a “virtual icebreaker.” This volunteer organizes in-person events for forum members to get together, have fun, build community, and engage in local conversations. Forum potlucks and picnics are a great way to build forum engagement and increase neighborliness online.

  • Neighborhood Linker

This volunteer gathers web links from community groups, etc. across the neighborhood and adds them to the Neighbor Forum’s community links page. They may also produce a regular round-up of very local events compiled from community websites (weekly or monthly).

Volunteer Orientations/Trainings are held monthly. The next training will be Wednesday, March 13th from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Kings Crossing Senior Living Apartments (on the corner of University Ave and Dale St, Saint Paul). If you are interested in attending this training or another, please fill out this form and you will be contacted by the Volunteer Coordinator. You can also email her directly at corrine.bruning@e-democracy.org.

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.

team-excited

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.

Top Six Tips for Networking Neighbors Online

Blocks Collage

On the first Tuesday of August, ten of thousands of neighbors will gather block by block across St. Paul and Minneapolis and around the United States as part of National Night Out, Nite to Unite, and other similar events.

Crime prevention is the name, but in our view community building is the game.

To leverage this night into year round neighbor connecting, here are some simple suggestions:

1. Gather E-mail – Pass around a sign-up sheet like this (template) to collect e-mail addresses, mobile/text numbers, etc. Text messaging on very urgent matters with neighbors is a new opportunity. Alternatively pass around a flyer people can read (example).

2. Create Directory – After the event, type up a simple directory of neighbors who shared that information and e-mail them a copy. Print copies for those not online. You don’t want to exclude often older or lower income neighbors.

3. Connect Simply – Send everyone a cc: message so at the most basic level people just “reply to all” to people on your blocks. Millions of Americans connect in simple ways with neighbors online. It doesn’t need to be complicated.

4. Gather Ideas, Be a Connector - Join Block Connectors the new online group for people who want to make their block safer and more connected. While police departments will share information with you one-way about building neighborhood watches, etc. this online group can connect you peer to peer with other inspiring neighbors like you ready to make a difference on your street.

5. Network Nearest Neighbors – Consider creating an automated private online group for your block or two … let’s call these “electronic block clubs.” You can do this using tools like Facebook Groups (some cautions), Google Groups, YahooGroups, etc. or check out some specialty tools. Simple e-mail lists seem to work well for most. Because Facebook Groups are really e-mail lists in disguise when under 150 members, they are increasingly popular. Unfortunately, the crucial ability to “add” not just “invite” someone from a paper sign-up sheet is now not supported by these services. E-Democracy is piloting electronic block clubs and testing different open source technologies. Contact us if interested. With our system you can crucially “add” people with their permission on paper sign-up sheets you can take door to door.

Do not create a private virtual gated community covering hundreds or thousands of people limited only to residents if you seek to build an inclusive, open, and civically engaging online space – one that builds community and connects residents, local businesses, places of worship, and community organizations ALL together. Resident-only and private makes sense on your block, but NOT for larger communities. Unfortunately, national National Night Out has picked out a single venture funded .com start-up that promotes large neighborhood-wide private online networks. While a fine tool for small sets of households, that approach and unfortunately their government partners are planting seeds of division with their technology design. I guess large groups are fine for an actual gated community, but it is so fundamentally anti-Midwestern values that this choice needs to be made clear and pointed out. Areas covering full neighborhoods or communities with thousands of people should be far more public and open to the full community. (Disclosure: E-Democracy.org hosts very public Neighbors Forums for population areas from 5,000 to 20,000 people and design them to include ALL people across income, race, age, etc. differences. National surveys point out that wealthier people like connecting with their neighbors and rather than embrace that commercially, we seek to broaden engagement with a non-profit model. More numbers on new divisions we can prevent are available. I guess this is like the Walmart versus the farmers market choice.)

If you want to create a public online Neighbors Forums request one here. Our largest neighborhood networks reach over 1,000 people daily and are approaching 25% of households.

6. Keep Having Fun – Don’t let your block connecting momentum slide. Set a date for a winter potluck. We are proposing the Great Potluck the week of January 15 when our neighborly warmth can counter the cold and dark. Join Block Connectors to get involved. Or explore one the many block activities on this mega-list.

What is missing from this list? Add your ideas in the comments.

For similar ideas, see this article we wrote in 2004 before brought our online townhall model to the neighborhood level.