February 2010 E-Democracy News — From the Executive Director

From the Executive Director

Photo of Steve Clift E-democracy dot Org Executive Director

Throughout 2009, we provided glimpses into the new Participation 3.0 concept that will build on local issues forums as ways citizens connect with one another. Now that 2010 has begun, so have the tangible efforts related to this new concept. We’ve received funding from the Ford Foundation (stay tuned for our official press release) specifically for these efforts, and we’ll be spending the next year working on several initiatives to enhance the ability for folks to be more engaged at a truly local level.

Among the efforts to provide e-citizens with the tools to participate more meaningfully online is our so-called “Inclusive Social Media” effort to deepen issues forum start-up efforts in low-income, high-immigrant communities, such as Cedar Riverside in Minneapolis and Frogtown in St. Paul, that are the least likely to have local community-building efforts that use social media. We’ll have part-time outreach professionals specifically dedicated to working in these communities.

Despite the Internet’s role in providing spaces for citizens to voice their opinions, discuss civic issues, and better understand and track government entities, we know there are still voices that are not being heard online.

Even the popularity of social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, have not expanded the ability for individuals to be involved in public life. Unfortunately, what these largely do is allow individuals to “publicize” their private lives, but not necessarily to engage directly in civic activities.

And while wealthier, more homogeneous areas are benefiting from a mix of neighborhood e-mail lists, blogs, Ning sites, and Facebook Groups, it’s clear that more diverse participants need additional encouragement to participate in these online venues.

This is truly the missing link in online civic engagement, and we have some ideas about how we can break through whatever barriers exist.

To start, our outreach team will look for events and other information to post in these forums to attract a more diverse community dialogue and exchange. We’ll also work on improving our existing tools to integrate more directly with various social networks so forum activity is readable there, alongside status posts about the meeting you’re attending or what you had for dinner. We’re hoping to develop a way for people to move beyond information sharing and discussion to encourage action and other civic participation.

One of the criticisms of online civic engagement activities is that they tend to attract the same people, who repeat the same information. What good is online engagement if it simply helps those communities that need the least relative help while completely passing over those diverse/lower income areas that could benefit the most?

It’s time we made some progress in these areas. Your input and energies related to this outreach is welcome – feel free to contact me.

P.S. E-Democracy.org is hosting the CityCamp Exchange which is the online group that came out of the amazing CityCamp unconference in Chicago earlier this month. The local leaders at the crossroads of transparency, open source, open data, Gov 2.0, and online civic engagement now have an ongoing home at E-Democracy.org to keep the discussions moving. Check out these videos from the event.

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