October 2009 E-Democracy News — Volunteer of the Month

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Volunteer of the Month: David Brauer

David Brauer's Twitter SymbolFor David Brauer, the Minneapolis Issues Forum promised a less partisan space to discuss local issues. When he founded the forum with E-Democracy.Org Executive Director Steve Clift in 1998, he had been discussing issues on the Minnesota Politics forum for three or four years and had grown weary of the contentious nature of discussions.

But he agreed the platform works.

“Email (and later the Web) is great for letting people debate when it’s convenient for them,” Brauer says.

After 11 years of managing the Minneapolis Issues Forum, Brauer is leaving the post. A new volunteer forum manager, Matt Perry stepped forward this month.

Brauer’s day job is as a journalist, most notably blogging about the media and filing dispatches for the Daily Glean at Minnpost.com. Brauer said he was also interested in creating an online space where citizens could inform each other and provide story tips for journalists.

A cornerstone principle of local issues forums is that they focus on local issues. For better or for worse, it’s the forum manager’s job to assure posters stay on topic and stay civil.

Brauer has developed a reputation for even-handedness in managing the forum. That ability to enforce rules of participation, without regard to ideology, is key to building a sustainable culture for online discussion, according to Brauer.

When Brauer posted that the forum was looking for a new manager, several participants responded with thanks and appreciation for his efforts.

“Whenever I point to a thread to friends in other parts of the country, they are always amazed at how civil the discussion is,” said forum member Bill Dooley.

Said Clift, “he helped set me off on a path to bring these types of forums to more and more local communities. Because we’ve learned through experience how important real civility and an honest local focus are for sustained relevancy, we now serve 15 communities across three countries.”

Though Brauer noted that there are fewer politicians participating on the forum – Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak announced a run for office on the forum in 2001 – he said it’s still a good place for the public to pose concerns that members of the media can bring to those in positions of power.

Brauer’s advice to the next forum manager: don’t be afraid to enforce the rules, even if it stirs up a little dust on the forum. “Most people off-list will support you, and over time, your consistency will build up a functioning on-list culture to the point you’ll need to do a lot less enforcing,” he said.

We all owe a lot to Brauer’s contributions. Best wishes in your future endeavors, David. Go Gophers!

For more backgr0und on the history of this 1000+ member forum, read Brauer’s in-depth article, “The well-built online forum: How Minneapolis boosted civic involvement and social change.

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