It’s The Network

I’m back at home after eleven days on the road. That’s eleven days of eating, speaking, and (yes) drinking E-Democracy.Org (I didn’t mention sleep, because I did very little of that on this trip). One of the most important aspects of a trip like this one, is that it really allows me to focus on E-Democracy.Org in a way that I can never do at home. I get time to think about the “big picture” issues and put our day to day work into perspective. Of course, the other important aspect of a trip like this one, is that I’m meeting new folks and old friends on a daily basis – all of whom are challenging me with difficult questions and pushing me in new directions. A trip like this is a real work-out for the mind.

One of the really critical questions that get’s thrown at me with some frequency on trips like this one, is the question of why a local Issues Forum in a community in the UK might want to continue a relationship with E-Democracy.Org, now that the funding from central government has dried up – and if anything, we’re looking to them for help is sustaining our larger network. My good friend, Mark Walker, from SCIP in Bringhton and Hove likes to remind me that he and his collegues are quite capable of maintaining the technical infrastructure for an Issues Forum and the local steering committee can manage its operation. His question, boils down to – “Just what good is E-Democracy.Org to them?”

In all fairness to Mark, I think that his question is really more of a friendly challenge for us do a better job of explaining what E-Democracy.Org is as an organization and why we are important – if we are going to expect support from local folks like himself, who have enought to do as it is. He knows that we’re struggling to articulate an answer and is prodding us to “spit it out.”

It’s a fair question and in fact a critical question for us to answer, not just in our own minds but to to all our current and prospective partners. Its a question with many possible answers, but a question which I don’t think we’ve yet managed to answer publicly in a clear and consise manner – at least not in such a way as to satisfy Mark and others like him.

However, what I see as I travel from city to city talking about the kind of grassroots e-democracy that E-Democracy.Org tries to inspire and support, is the importance of “The Network” in terms of inspiring one another, learning from one another, and riding the backs of one anothers successes. The E-Democracy.Org projects in Minnesota and the UK (and soon Massacheusetts) are kept alive by the volunteer efforts of local individuals willing to sacrifice their own personal political agenda in the name of a broader agenda focused on community participation and access to decision makers. While, isolated projects might achieve success for limited periods of time, based upon the extrodinary efforts of one or two individuals – I don’t see this as a forumla for sustained success.

The work of buiding e-democracy projects is very hard and frustrating work. As I look at what is being done in Brighton & Hove and Newham and recognize how important those projects are (and will be) for their communities, I take some satisfaction in the belief that E-Democracy.Org has done more than act as a channel for government funding (limited) in terms of contributing to their success. I’m optimisitc that we can do more to support their evolution and growth. Even more, I’m confident that we can transmit the lessons that they are learning to other communities to amplify the impact of what they have done. One of my biggest challenges on the heels of this trip, is to do an even better job of explaining just what this means in a concrete way that we can present to potential funders, partners, and individuals considering investing time in the work that we do.

Thanks to all of you who inspired me on this trip with the really great work that you are doing and the really tough questions that you asked!

One thought on “It’s The Network”

  1. blimey, one little off hand dig and I get an essay back [ha ha]

    Firstly thanks Tim – you provide inspiration and energy on your trips and you take the trouble to think about what you’re doing and one day I’ll run out of excuses and have to spend a whole trip with you and my head will probably explode with great ideas…

    You said:
    “While, isolated projects might achieve success for limited periods of time, based upon the extrodinary efforts of one or two individuals – I don’t see this as a forumla for sustained success.”

    As well as being unecessarily prickly about resources [bad timing, sorry] I was trying to work out the relationships here and be as realistic as we can about what we need from each other in terms of sustainability. That will help define the roel of eDemocracy much better as both the network of participants and the facilitator of the forums.

    I fear that the network could end up being driven by the needs of one part [ie e-Democracy and/or further development of the software] when it could have built a network of people where no money needed to change hands to create software.

    A perfect example with which to compare to help develop your case is freecycle – which uses yahoogroups but in Brighton has 6000 members, having started about the same time you got the confirmation letter of funding from ODPM.

    I’m not belittling the work you have done in any way – we wouldn’t have a forum if you guys hadn’t helped us get one – but I’m looking for a chance to discuss how much the network relies on the software – and whether instead your focus could be switched to more clearly explaining how you get a forum started anf that it doesn’t happen without you.

    Must dash, got a game of football


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