November 2010 E-Democracy News – Forum Focus

E-Democracy Issues Forums
Connecting neighbors and communities with new hyper-local spaces

Since 1994, E-Democracy.Org has worked to build democracy and community online, from the local level up. Our model is unique – we create spaces governed by universal rules that promote civility and individual responsibility, facilitated by local volunteers, with participants who use their real names.

It’s a simple strategy, grounded in the principle that e-tools offer the possibility for people to participate from anywhere, at anytime, in a personalized manner. Most traditional political participation at the local level is based in buildings and in meetings which take place at specific times. Our modern lives mean that people do not have the time to be as engaged via traditional, in-person means. And while nothing can replace the power of the town hall meeting, where neighbors and policymakers look one another in the eye or shake hands, the Internet allows people to engage in civic life on their own terms, and when they have time.

With that in mind, those of us who are building e-democracy need to think in terms of coming home online. The time people spend going out to public meetings is decreasing and if most people’s experience online only relates to going into the world or to private life activities, and not to public life activities, there will inevitably be a decline in democratic public life.

That’s where Issues Forums come in. For many years, we’ve had active community-based forums to discuss issues – typically political issues. Just in the past few years, neighborhoods within those communities have asked for the same opportunity, which is how the Neighbors Forum concept started.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 7% of American adult Internet users say they belong to a “neighborhood listserv.” That’s 10 million people. In fact, 27% of American adult Internet users use “digital tools to talk to their neighbors and keep informed about community issues.” To us, that’s a great starting point. If only a few hundred people join each list, within no time, we’ll have several thousand people who have actively sought to connect with their neighbors online.

The goal of connecting a critical mass of neighbors is a key part of our Participation 3.0 project, and in recent months, we’ve reached a tipping point with associations and individual neighbors volunteering to start a neighborhood forum.  Once the group has identified a forum manager, the key to successfully starting a neighbors forum is in-person recruiting.

E-mail delivery is the default method for our open-source technology platform, though it can also feed Facebook and Twitter. The key is to give participants options, so they aren’t isolated via technology choice. We strive to keep people connected, whatever their preferred method.

We have nearly 20 new neighborhood forums,  including some that boast participation nearing 15% percent of the households. Here’s a sampling of what local neighborhood forums are talking about or explore the full list of issues forums to find what’s going on in your community.

Minneapolis – Powderhorn Neighbors

  • Panhandling and neighborhood crime
  • Local services (doctors, car mechanics)
  • Meetings with local officials
  • Local charitable giving events/opportunities

Minneapolis – Corcoran Neighbors

  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Community garden activities
  • Meetings with local officials

Minneapolis – Cedar Riverside Neighbors

  • Community events and meetings
  • Rehabilitation of neighborhood high-rise
  • Community free food distribution
  • Crime and policy/community relations

Oxford – Bristol-Brislington Neighbourhood Forum

  • Buses and transit
  • Community planning
  • Health and safety

Oxford – Headington & Marston Neighbourhood Forum

  • Community development
  • Cycling and transportation
  • Council elections

St. Paul – Eastside Neighbors

  • Park and recreation system planning
  • Classes and seminars

St. Paul – Frogtown Neighbors

  • Zoning and transportation
  • Community events
  • Local restaurants and businesses

If you would like to start a neighbors Issues Forum in your area, contact us.

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