Door to Door to Build Neighbors Online


Here is a great post from one of our Online Neighbors Forums Outreach Team members:

Outreach team with baseball team volunteers knocks on doors in Dayton's Bluff


From: Dan Gordon-E-Democracy Summer Outreach Team 2012 Date: Jul 25 23:31 CDT

Hi folks-
    In case you haven't heard, E-Democracy has a summer team going door-to-door
in Dayton's Bluff this week and helping people get signed up for this forum.
   Between the ten of us, we speak Somali, Hmong, Oromo, Spanish, and
Vietnamese, and we've been meeting a lot of great people in the neighborhood
who haven't yet heard of E-Democracy and are excited to start joining these
forums.  Unfortunately, we're probably due for more rain that may cut our time
short this week, but I'm sure we will prevail.  Today our team member Vang Pao
Lee brought a whole baseball team that he coaches to help translate Hmong for
us.  Here's a shot of us before everyone headed out to make the rounds.
     If you can see how much fun we're having from the picture and would like
to help us door knock in your neighborhood, just drop us a line.  We were even
given some free cucumbers from a nice family's garden, so there's always the
possibility of additional perks, outside of the satisfaction of helping to
build a stronger community.  I hope everyone's having a good summer and staying

   take care,
         Dan Gordon
         E-Democracy Summer Outreach Team

Great Outreach Highlights and Pictures via Our Facebook Page


Outreach Team member, Dan Gordon, is our “embedded reporter” with our outreach team in the field. We are working up a highlight blog post, but until then I encourage our blog readers to check out our Facebook Page.

We took a risk with our scarce resources and decided to try door to door this summer in addition to community event tabling … 1,000+ sign-up later, our community connecting gamble is paying off with connections block by block.

Seeing St. Paul’s Diversity – Thank you CURA!


St. Paul Race and Ethnicity 2010 Dots


Thanks to mapping help from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, we’ve been able to target our inclusive online community engagement doorknocking in St. Paul.

Not on a Neighbors Forum? Join here for St. Paul and Minneapolis or any of our 17 communities across three countries.

(Yes, we are one of the only projects that signs people up for two-way online communities on paper … this technique is central to real inclusion and engagement. Our goal with each of our 16 St. Paul Neighbors Forums is to have forums that reflect the actual diversity of the area based on the census. We have challenging numeric goals based on population not just households (much of the non-White population is under 18) so we recruit toward the increasingly diverse St. Paul of tomorrow as it becomes majority non-White.

The “dot” format takes its inspiration from the work of Bill Rankin. When you scroll through these maps of metros around the country (note that we changed colors so you could “see” more), you get a sense of just how dynamically layered much of St. Paul is compared to other communities. In St. Paul, much of the population is all mixed together with no single absolute majority population in almost half of the District Councils. This means bridging cultures/races online within the same neighborhood is possible.

Here are the large PDF files. Zoom in via the PDF to get a close view.

  • St. Paul Map – Major Race/Ethnic Groups – Each dot represents five people. Note that white folks represent 56% of the population and are light on the image to help us “see” the diversity we are targeting in our special outreach. National surveys and our experience is that majority groups, particularly higher income homeowners, flock to online neighborhood groups.
  • St. Paul Maps by Race:Asian, African-American (includes all Blacks including newer immigrant groups like East Africans), Latino
  • St. Paul Diversity by District Council Charts – A chart showing the age break-down by major ethnic/racial groups by District Council as well as a comparative chart (image below) on diversity as a whole by District Council. It is important to note that District Councils range in size from 7500 to 30,000 people with most of the largest ones except Highland being lower income and far more diverse than the smaller ones (they were created in the 1970s).
  • Minneapolis Map – Major Race/Ethnic Groups - Each dot represents five people (image below). Other than some Latino/East African outreach in S. Minneapolis, we currently do not have funding for the kind of intensive inclusive outreach we seek to deploy in any community interested in bridge building online engagement among neighbors.

St. Paul Race and Ethnicity by District Council 2010

Minneapolis Race and Ethnicity 2010

Work for Change – Applications for our St. Paul Outreach Team – Due Now

Part of our 2011 Outreach Team


THIS POSTING IS NOW CLOSED. Feel free to send your resume for consideration in future outreach rounds. Also, we may have additional opportunities for those who can assist us with outreach to the Karen community in St. Paul as well as native Spanish speakers who reside in South Minneapolis. Contact us per the information below.


Please share this post far and wide with anyone you think might be interested.

Do you speak Ethiopian? Hmong? Burmese? Somali? Oromo? Or Spanish? Or one of the many languages spoken across St. Paul? 

Do you have deep ties to the long established African-American, Latino, or Southeast Asian communities in St. Paul?

Or perhaps you are really really good at organizing and have a passion for inclusive community engagement – online and off.

And you are looking for part-time summer contract work.

Thanks to the generous support of the Knight Foundation for our Inclusive Community Engagement Online initiative our “Be Neighbors” outreach campaign will reach thousands of new St. Paulites one person at time this summer. Perhaps surprisingly, we’ve found in-person outreach to be our most effective bridge building tool for our very online work.

We want lots of applicants. Apply today.

If you don’t have the time or flexibility for our paid work, you can volunteer to help us at major festivals or consider our St. Paul Outreach Advisory Group.

Here is a copy of the official job posting text put together by our Outreach Coordinator, Corrine Bruning:

Join E-Democracy’s “BeNeighbors” 2012 Summer Outreach Team! 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.

We are launching a new grant-funded inclusion campaign to grow our St. Paul forums with the greatest diversity possible to over 10,000 members in three years. 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 9 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, doorknocking and posting flyers, and conducting face-to-face, phone, and online recruitment. The team goal for the summer is to recruit 4,000 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: 15 weeks from May 21st through late August 2012. 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.


    • 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, doorknocking, etc.).
    • Bilingual in Hmong, Spanish, Somali, Ethiopian, Burmese, Oromo, etc.
    • Deep connections to the targeted communities, including involvement in neighborhood/ community organizations.
    • Proficient with Google Apps, social media, and digital video devices.

How to apply: Send a statement of interest describing your qualifications and resume with three references to by Wednesday, April 25, 2012. We hope to make decisions by May 11: Use the subject line: Community Outreach Leader Application. Include any questions in your email. No calls please. For more information, about this effort, please visit:, and click on both “Blog” and “About”.



Help Us Build an Inclusive St. Paul Online – Join our Outreach Advisory Group

We are seeking members for our St. Paul Outreach Advisory Group from all background and walks of life in the city.

With our “Be Neighbors” outreach campaign we will bring in thousands of new online Neighbors Forum over the next three years. Our outreach team (hiring now) will be all over the place this summer.

But will “numbers” really matter? Will numbers alone make the neighborly online experience useful and relevant to the many diverse communities within St. Paul? We don’t think so.

Without the true and deep engagement of St. Paul’s diverse communities in shaping and guiding this project, the bridge building across cultures in St. Paul’s local communities we seek will simply not happen or only reach certain communities. Along the way we need tactical forum-by-forum, neighborhood-by-neighborhood input on how to continuously improve both what our crucial volunteers do as well as our staff team. More important than that, we need partners across St. Paul who work to bring the many voices of their diverse communities into a neighborly trust-generating vibrant online community life exchange that seeks in part to respond to claims that diversity inevitably reduces cohesion.

National surveys say people who make over $75,000 a year are five times more likely to be part of a neighborhood e-mail list or web forum than those who make $50,000 or less. And while whites and African-Americans participate near equally, Latinos and likely newer immigrant groups are participating far less often. We can do better than that. We can show that there are open, accessible, and empowering models (beyond the often private virtual gated communities that many commercial efforts tend to promote) that deliver “soulful” community results.

By joining our St. Paul Outreach Advisory Group, we can build something for our community and demonstrate nationally that social media in “public life” can truly build bridges among races and cultures in local communities. Be part of this innovative online first. We can do it.

Here is the full outreach group description. And from our Outreach Coordinator Corrine Bruning:

“Thanks to generous support from the Knight Foundation, E-Democracy has committed to inclusively reaching 10,000 participants across Saint Paul on our online neighborhood forums over the next three years (for more information, visit:

“We are committed to intentionally serving our whole community, and are combining strong partnerships with on-the-ground outreach to invite those who wouldn’t otherwise find out about these neighborhood forums. In the latest census Saint Paul reached 44% people of color as are 75% of our community’s children in the St. Paul Public Schools. Our goal is to leverage existing community networks and create new avenues to bring full representation to our online neighborhood forums.

“To facilitate and help guide this outreach, we are creating an Outreach Advisory Group to serve as process stewards, share best practices, and be a sounding board. Please see the description and responsibilities below.

“We would welcome your application. We also ask you to forward this to invitation to others or to nominate excellent candidates. To apply, email Outreach Coordinator Corrine Bruning by Wednesday, April 25 and respond to the three questions below. You may also include other information (background, resume, etc.) if you wish.

    • “Why you are interested in serving on the Outreach Advisory Group?
    • “Be it through District Councils or other organizations active in local parts of St. Paul, how are you connected to cultural or community organizations or Saint Paul neighborhoods?
    • “What desired goals and responsibilities as outlined in the Outreach Advisory Group Description interest you most? Please be specific if you can.

Thank you!

To learn more about E-Democracy, please visit,, and click on “About.” To learn more about the grant funded work, see: ”

Where there is smoke there is noise … Neighbors and Online Civic Engagement

Here is a secret – politicians don’t really care about opinions expressed online … that is unless they are from their actual voters. Then watch out, because then you will see real democratic change in action.

As we’ve added neighborhood level engagement with “community life” exchange to our classic city-wide online town halls, we’ve seen a twenty fold increase in the percentage of households in the area participating (from 1% to 20% in some areas). We’ve also seen a major embrace, at least in Minneapolis … hey, St. Paul we want you next … by city council members, park board members and others.

Check out these recent passionate community discussions on airport noise (89+ posts) in Standish Ericsson and recreational fires and smoke (55+ posts) in Longfellow.

The below is the impressive and responsive full text from two different city council members. Every local elected official, everywhere should be part of an online space that makes this happen. (An not just some surface-level Facebook page that cuts you off with a paragraph or two or some puff your chest out political tweets.)

First, from Councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy on airport noise and then second from Councilmember Cam Gordon.

Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy
From: Sandra Colvin Roy Date: Sep 15 15:26 UTC

Metropol itan Airport Commission (MAC) staff have responded to my inquiry about
an increase in airplane noise.  They confirmed through statistics, what you
have observed.  There has been an increase in flights going over Standish and
Ericsson.  Between January and August of last year, 16,093 flights went
directly over these neighborhoods and in 2011, 20,441 flight flew over. That
translates to an average of 67 flights per day for 2010 and average of 84
flights per day in 2011.  I have requested numbers going back five years in
order to get a longer term view of the situation.

The flights being directed over Standish Ericsson are coming off runway 30R.
Surprisingly, overall use of runway 30R actually went down quite a bit this
year compared to last so it is puzzling why there is an increase in planes
flying over these neighborhoods. When MAC staff inquired at the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) about the reason, they said the increase was due
to their policy of using runway 30R for north and east bound planes when there
are northwest [air] flow conditions present.   This still does not answer the
question for me because I am told that this is not a new policy.  So, why are
there more departures than before that fit this criterion?  I need to get
answers from the FAA.  I am scheduling a meeting with the Control Tower Manager
to discuss this because he determines which runway to use in accordance with
FAA rules.

MAC staff was also able to document that noise levels have increased. The
remote monitoring tower (RMT) located on Northrop Elementary (installed at my
insistance) showed average noise level for 2010 as 49.9 dB DNL and the average
noise level for 2011 as 51.1 dB DNL.  At Longfellow Avenue and 43rd Street, the
RMT reported average noise level went from 56.3 to 56.8 dB DNL.

Some residents had questions about fleet mix.  This is what Chad Leqve (Manager
- Noise, Environment and Planning at MAC) said in response to those questions:
“The general trend is that the aircraft fleetmix at MSP is getting quieter. The
DC9 aircraft, the loudest in the fleet for many years, is being removed from
the fleet. It is anticipated that in 2012 Delta will remove the last of the
DC9s from its fleet. Conversely, operations by A320/319, B737, MD80, MD 90 and
regional jets have increased over the neighborhoods in question. All of these
aircraft , with the exception of the MD80, are significantly quieter than the
DC9. The MD80 is quieter than the DC9, but not to the degree of the others
listed. Overall the aircraft fleetmix trend is in the right direction from a
noise perspective.”

Are the planes flying lower? MAC staff says there have been no changes to
flight operations (take-offs and landing procedures and flight tracks).  They
could think of no reason that the planes would be flying lower. This is another
topic I need to cover with FAA staff.

Some on this group have talked about the use of Performance Based Navigation
(such as RNAV).  These are navigation techniques that could impact how planes
take-off and land, flight tracks, and noise exposure and intensity.   However,
these techniques have not yet been implemented at MSP.  In fact, the FAA is
still in the process of developing the procedures for MSP.  The new proposed
procedures will go through a review process that will include public comment
and an environmental assessment.  New proposed flight tracks are expected to be
shared as early as this November. This will be a VERY important discussion.  I
will be keeping you informed about this process. We, as a community, will want
to be actively involved throughout.  We will also need to ensure that folks at
all level of government are engaged.

I don’t have all of the information we want right now but I knew you would be
anxious for an update. I will continue to work through various channels to
understand exactly what changes have occurred and why.  This is the first step
to possible improvements.  As you probably understand, I have no direct
authority over the airport’s activities but I will do everything I can to
advocate for our community.

I will not share details now since this is already a long post but you should
know that I have been working hard on your behalf (and for all people who are
impacted by airport noise) by fighting some potentially harmful proposed
federal legislation.  I have rallied the help of U.S. Senators Klobuchar and
Franken and Congressman Ellison. We are carefully monitoring work on
reauthorization of the FAA and working with people throughout the country to
protect the interests of airport adjacent communities. If you want to know more
about work on this issue, let me know.

In the meantime, please continue to share your concerns with MAC via their
noise hotline:              612-726-9411       or online complaint form:

Sandy Colvin Roy
Council Member, 12th Ward

Now the smoke:

From: Cam Gordon Date: Sep 16

I have been reading this thread with interest.

I have heard complaints about wood burning and recreational fires since first
being elected to the City Council in 2005 and this is a topic I have done some
research about. I have enjoyed wood fires all my life and I want the air we
breath to be safer and cleaner.

My understand is that the Minneapolis City government banned recreational fires
in the past and then reversed that decision before I was elected. The last time
the ordinance was amended was in 2003. The rules we have now appear to be
focused on fire safety and are pretty consistent with what other cities are
doing, although a more thorough study of what other mid- to large-sized cities
do has not been conducted recently as far as I know. There does seem to be a
difference in most people's minds between indoor fire places and outdoor yard
fires, although air quality studies often don't distinguish between the two.
The health experts also indicate that there is a difference between the types
of stoves or furnaces as well as the material burned. Certain wood stoves and
furnaces burn cleaner that others.

It is clear to me that people have strong feelings about this on both sides of
the issue.  Some people, depending perhaps on their health and on the frequency
of the recreational fires near their homes, consider recreational fires to be a
major health issue and something that dramatically affects their quality of
life and ability to enjoy their homes.

There is an easy to read article (Health Effects of Wood Smoke Exposure) about
this in this 2009 newsletter from the state health department (pages 5 and 6).

At this point I am convinced that there is room for improvement in our
approach.  I am not sure if the problem is with the ordinance or with its
enforcement, or with both. I am slowly moving to a position that says both
could be improved. The ordinance may need to be amended in some ways, perhaps
calling out air quality a little more clearly and adding some regulations or
restrictions related to it.  Currently, the ordinance says that recreational
fires shall not be conducted if prevailing wind conditions exceed ten m.p.h. I
believe it might make sense to also limit them during particularly dry periods,
or during times when air quality is especially bad.  Examining some kinds of
additional time restrictions may also be in order.  For those with asthma,
emphysema, or other breathing difficulties, it seems unreasonable that they
should have to endure wood fires burning next door most hours of most days.

Still, most of the complaints we hear about are about fires that violate some
portion of the City's existing recreational fire ordinance.  This tells me that
some of the problem is in compliance with the current ordinance and could be
addressed with improved public education about the issue and better
enforcement.  Last spring we were able to include a mailing about this with our
water bills.  You can see the insert here:

This issue came up recently for a brief discussion at a recent Council
Committee when we were reviewing our air quality sustainability indicator.  In
the months ahead I will be talking to colleagues, community members,  and staff
from both the Health and Regulatory as well as Fire department. I think that it
would also be very helpful if the appropriate committees of our neighborhood
organizations and our citywide Environmental and Public Health Advisory
Committees would also be take the time review and weigh in on the issue.

I am open to looking at possible changes both to the ordinance and to how we
enforce it.

It is clear to me that we, as a city, don't have a clear consensus about how to
handle this issue.  Perhaps, by sharing accurate, credible information and
keeping the conversation going, we can find one.

The conversation here may be one way to help do that.  Thank you all so much
for taking the time to write and read and care about our city.

Cam Gordon
Minneapolis City Council Member, Second Ward
673-2202, 296-0579
<email obscured>


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. 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 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:

Four Frogtown Lessons – Trust, Usability, Diversity, Potential – By Boa Lee – Community Outreach and Information Leader

Editors Note: This Inclusive Social Media update is from Boa Lee, our Community Outreach and Information Leader focused on Frogtown.

By Boa Lee,
Community Outreach and Information Leader, Greater Frogtown Neighbors Forum

This year, E-Democracy intensified outreach to two Twin Cities neighborhoods – Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis and Frogtown in St. Paul.

This blog post marks the conclusion of that year-long effort, summarizing four key points learned in Frogtown:

  • 1. Trust and relationship-building is to be highly regarded;
  • 2. Model with caution how to use the forum;
  • 3. Diverse communities (communities of color and immigrant communities) require special focus and strategic outreach; and,
  • 4. E-democracy has the potential to increase civic engagement and accountability.

1. Trust and relationship-building is to be highly regarded

At the beginning of the year, the first project blog laid out how we might build upon the relationships we already had in the neighborhood – with neighbors, businesses and community organizations.  We began the year with the intent of continuing to nurture those connections through active listening and partnership – asking others what they needed in a communications vehicle and trying to connect this to what we could provide here on the Frogtown Neighbors Forum.

Yet, we understood the complexities involved with what we wanted to do.  We knew most people do not traditionally associate an online forum with civic participation; most people would still consider attending an in-person meeting to be the primary way to get involved in their neighborhood, for example.  We did not seek to change or compete with this fact but instead enhance it – providing a medium for neighbors to discuss important issues like the ones explored or debated at those meeting.  In 2010, E-Democracy invested in on-the-ground staff – a face or two to an otherwise abstract entity like an online forum – to carry that message to the greater Frogtown neighborhood.

Organizational Participation

By the end of our pilot outreach project, we returned to some of the organizational leaders we met with at the beginning of the year.  While we saw greater participation (posting versus just reading or “lurking”) among a few community organizations, we also noticed that a few never participated at all or rarely posted.  The reasons varied but one organization told us they simply were not ready to participate.  One organization wanted to preserve the quality and depth of dialogue on the forum by first having solid research and details to share with the community, its executive director said.  Another organization we met with began using the forum to regularly post meeting and event announcements.  We heard that at one of its meetings, when people were asked how they had heard about the meeting, the majority in attendance said they had seen it posted on the Frogtown Forum.

We have never expected all community organizations to participate on the forum.  We know the pressures community organizations face and, in particular, their reservations about technology and online forums – chiefly that with their base in a lower income neighborhood not all of their constituents are online.  We have used this past year in service to these organizations – helping to post their meeting announcements on their behalf on the forum.  We look forward to having them participate on a greater level in the future and in a manner that is helpful to them.


Residents are the life blood of this forum.  They are our volunteer forum managers and most active posters – rightly so, as much of what happens in a neighborhood will be felt by those living in it.  This year, we spoke with some of our most active resident participants, as well as with those who did not post as frequently or ever.  By actively participating in the affairs of the neighborhood – attending events and meetings and conducting one-on-one outreach – we learned about the communications holes neighbors felt existed.  Some forum members told us that if it had not been for our presence in the neighborhood, they would not have known about the forum, nor would they have trusted the forum enough to participate on it.  In other words, because people saw us in the neighborhood, they lent us greater credibility.

2. Model with caution how to use the forum

The website

Technology is fast-changing.  Many people are using the Internet to connect with one another – through e-mail, chat, social networking websites.  The forum is one vehicle we hoped communities could use to connect with one another – “over the digital fence” as we like to call it sometimes.  With the prevalence and ease of joining and using websites like Facebook, however, comes the expectation of what a 21st century website should offer or look like.  We heard from many Frogtown Forum participants that the E-Democracy website simply wasn’t usable.

Many told us they no longer bother going to the E-Democracy website because it is too cluttered (too many links), they do not like the layout of the website or thought the platform “too 1990s” to use.  Most told us they only respond and view messages through their e-mails (the default feature of the forum allows posts to appear in a member’s regular e-mail inbox each time a post occurs or as a daily digest).  While participating via e-mail is one feature many told us they liked best, it also has some drawbacks.  By not visiting the E-Democracy website, people did not know what was happening on other forums; did not realize that pictures or video could be uploaded to the forum; and, we theorize, did not post as often as a result.

We are now working on redesigning the E-Democracy website to increase usability.  Some changes have already happened.  (Editor’s note: New group home pages and one-click sharing to Facebook and Twitter are just being released). We also took time to explain to people, in person, how to use the website.  Had we had more time, we would have also offered free, short tutorial courses at Rondo Outreach Library on how to navigate and use the E-Democracy website.

Discussion seeding

During our year-long effort, we also hoped to show people the many ways they could use the forum.  We attended meetings and events and posted summaries, photos and video.  Frogtown is unique in that it is one of few neighborhoods that does not have its own neighborhood newspaper.  We found that community members were increasingly relying on our reports as a news source.  Some participants told us that because we had gotten so good at posting “news” on the forum, we had probably intimidated others from posting their own summaries, photos or videos.  This was clearly an unintended consequence; we wanted to seed topics for discussion  – not necessarily become the neighborhood “newspaper.”

Going forward, we must be cognizant that our discussion seeding effort does not become so overzealous.  We also have to be clear that our outreach and information coordinators are not journalists and that while discussion seeding can become a “news source” for community members, the forum should really be a place for true engagement where people can discuss community issues with one another in a democratic way, rather than using the forum as a one-way vehicle to share information.

3. Diverse communities (communities of color and immigrant communities) require special focus and strategic outreach

We spoke with many who said they welcomed more voices of the greater Frogtown Hmong community on the forum.  This past year, we were intentional in being at meetings, events and locations where we could interact with members of greater Frogtown’s diverse communities.  We spoke with many people and collected names and e-mail addresses of people from these communities who wanted to participate; yet, participation and posting in particular from the diverse communities was still below our desired level.

We know communities of color and immigrant communities are online.  The most active of them are under age 30.  We can make some reasonable assumptions about the low participation rate: issues appearing on most neighbors forums are uninteresting to the most likely participants or we just have not interfaced with those who would potentially engage, etc.  Regardless, we must do more.  We need to do more research with members of these communities; we should organize focus groups to capture these communities’ needs and their opinions about the forum.  One person we spoke with suggested we send a flyer to every household to inform them about the forum.  We are currently exploring participating in radio programs and advertising on websites and in publications of these diverse and immigrant communities.  There is much more work to be done to reach out and build relationships and trust with these groups.

4. E-democracy has the potential to increase civic engagement and accountability

Having already shared several lessons, the best insight gained from our intensive outreach in 2010 is clarity in the potential of the neighbors forum to increase civic engagement and accountability.  We learned that elected officials pay attention to posts appearing on the forum, even if they do not post.  Neighbors told us the forum has provided them with new information and alternative viewpoints.  We believe all of this is a testament to the hard work of community members – those who participate and volunteer to keep the forum alive.  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 another way, the success of the forum is circular, where the participation of all members sparks newer, far richer and increased numbers of conversations, and the circle can expand and become emboldened.

Editor’s Note: On behalf of, I want to thank Boa Lee for all of her hard work and dedication this year. First some great news, the Ford Foundation has renewed our grant for 2011. This will allow us to build our Inclusive Social Media work in Frogtown, the Eastside, Cedar-Riverside, and more lower income, highly diverse neighborhoods. Because our pro-active “digital voice for engagement” work for inclusion in such neighborhoods is nation-leading and essentially non-existent elsewhere, the Ford Foundation wants us to package up our lessons to share them around the country. Boa’s excellent blog posts are part of that practical story that we hope will inspire others to bridge the digital civic engagement divide and help direct our own work and expansion. We wish Boa the best as goes to graduate school full-time and joins our ranks of dedicated participants on our forums. – Steven Clift, Executive Director

Open Discussion – Ideas for Generating Forum Feedback

Earlier today, we closed our St. Paul Issues Forum Feedback Forum prompted by legal threats and sharp personal attacks on that one of a kind feedback forum in our network.

Here is the text of that announcement.

As I indicated in the letter, an array of new and improved standard feedback mechanisms for 30+ Issues Forums in our network are in the works including more regular use of this 0rganization-wide blog to gather input.

So, while I feel our hand was really forced by the legal threats and direct public personal attacks on our volunteer Forum Manager to act quickly before we were ready with feedback replacement options, perhaps that is a good thing. Why? You can help shape those mechanisms and benefit 30+ forums.

So as participants from St. Paul and beyond, please share your ideas about how our volunteer-based Issues Forum initiatives should gather feedback on forum management, changes in the rules, increasing forum participation, increasing the diversity of forum participation, and more.

Let me note that we will be creating a specific forum management complaint form with more formal response policies (we get very very few complaints).  We are exploring options for a yearly participant satisfaction survey of sorts (may require some funding), and we plan to use this blog more frequently for structured input on various forum management and improvement items.

Finally, from some comments about our funding sources, there is absolutely no dedicated funding for the St. Paul Issues Forum. We’ve been honored to attract Ford Foundation support for our special inclusion work with low income, high immigrant neighborhoods in Frogtown and Cedar-Riverside. It is the honest truth that the former Feedback Forum alone was taking more of our resources and attention at times than the rest of our network combined. As a small organization with limited funding serving 15 communities, we must be in a position to serve all these communities fairly as well as complete our grant funded work.


Steven Clift
Executive Director,

P.S. Please note that due to spam received by lots of WordPress-based blogs, this blog is moderated lightly. Our no name calling and personal attack rules apply, but for the next week I will do my best to answer any questions. (Please note that due to the legal threats, we may not be in a position to answer all questions until those threats are lifted.)

Dramatic Response to Dramatic Crime in the Neighborhood – Lessons from Powderhorn

Editor’s Note: Below is a post by our awesome volunteer Sara Bergen. Powderhorn Park is demonstrating how important it is for every community to start a neighbors forum now before you really need it. They really need it right now. It was humbling when the organizers of the vigil mentioned below thanked the forum we host to cheers from the crowd and said organizing the huge vigil so quickly and successfully would not have been possible without the it. The three main vigil organizers met via the forum and brought action to the “real world.”

Sara Bergen

By Sara Bergen, volunteer Forum Manager of the Powderhorn Park Neighbors Forum

Powderhorn Neighbors began in 2007 as a yahoo group. In 2009, to ensure it would continue as a neighborhood resource, and to provide a system of due process for members, the forum switched to the E-Democracy platform. At the point of the switch there were around 175 members. Over the next year and a half membership grew to around 470. In the past two weeks membership spiked, and is now up to 546.

The sudden increase in membership is most likely due to the recent media attention the forum has received. Members had been discussing a recent drive-by shooting of a 12 year old girl named Guadalupe and the sexual assault of a woman (with her children present) in the park (Powderhorn Park, the neighborhood’s namesake), and how the neighborhood could respond. A few neighborhood residents began to organize a neighborhood vigil via the forum and discussion of the crimes and continued. Then, completely unsolicited, the woman who was sexually assaulted in the park posted her statement about the crime on the Forum. The media got wind of it and hence the number of forum members began its rapid increase.

Example media coverage: StarTribune on the Letter, StarTribune on the forum and the community response, Star Tribune – Vigil slide show – It was mentioned on radio, television, and online news as one of the top local stories of the day.

Along with the increase in membership, there have been more frequent posts, many of them having to do with the following forum goal:

Build Community and healthy relationships among neighbors of all backgrounds.

There have been requests to start peace patrols, join “crafty” circles, discussions around the value of restorative justice, and an especially interesting thread titled On Trying to Love My Neighborhood…And Not Succeeding. The initial post in this thread describes a couple’s frustration with ongoing instances of assumptions and verbal judgments from white people in the neighborhood regarding their family composition and complexion. It describes two incidents that happened in the neighborhood and ends with: “So, while I still love my neighborhood for all its arty, community garden, Fair Trade goodness, I am disappointed — and yes, angry — by all the recent violence, both physical and psychological, that continues to be inflicted on families every day.”

Since its inception, the posts in this thread have totally surprised me. First, the sheer volume of the responses was unexpected: within four days there were 36 responses in the thread by 28 distinct authors, several of whom had never posted before. Second, while expressing powerful, deeply held beliefs and values, each poster has kept the focus on our neighborhood. Megan Moylan wrote:

Dealing with this stuff every day is a neighborhood livability issue and it has a place on this forum and in this thread precisely because these aren’t just deep social issues: They are daily aggressions and oversights that matter deeply, impact our daily lives, and affect our ability to enjoy this neighborhood.

Third, the tone of the posts, although often passionate, has not morphed into inflamed speech or a battle of personalities (Update: This difficult topic has become a bit more challenging). Previous to this thread, the discussions of racial relations that I have seen on on-line forums have been dominated by threats, defensive aggression, and proclamations of rightness and wrongness. I haven’t seen that here. The participation rules have been followed by each poster and I have had no reason, as forum manager, to officially intervene. This is best expressed by Rebecca Frost, from one of the most recent posts in this thread:

I even feel that your posts Kyle (getting your “Grarrrrr” off the top, as you put it), increase a sense of (albeit gun-toting) safety, in me. Cuz if we’re all stating increasingly more about where we’re coming from, and investigating our assumptions, we are (and not just in a whoohoo, liberal end of the spectrum way), actually, safer.

From its inception one of the forum goals has been to:

Maintain a membership that is representative of the ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic diversity within our neighborhood.

One initial action to help meet this goal was to sign-up forum members at various polling places throughout the neighborhood on the day of the 2008 Presidential election. Since that time the growth of the forum membership, although steady, has been less formal. The demographics of people who typically participate in online forums such as this indicate that an organically grown forum without effective on-the-ground outreach will likely not produce a membership fully reflective of the diversity of the Powderhorn Park neighborhood which is just over half renters and a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Noting this, but not having extra volunteer time to devote to sustained and targeted outreach, the Forum Manager of the Phillips forum, myself, and Steven Clift of e-democracy wrote a successful grant for $10,000 from the Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund.  This will allow us to hire someone to do targeted, specific outreach to less served communities within our neighborhoods to help get them connected to the community conversations on this forum.

With that, the Powderhorn Neighbors forum will not just be the platform for neighborhood discussions about race, but an active part of the solution.