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Harnessing the power of online tools to support participation in public life, strengthen communities, and build democracy.
Updated: 27 weeks 1 day ago
In May 2011 our updated forum rules went into effect.
How are they working for you so far?
While have not had one complaint about a new rule or rule change, we’d like hear of any. Also, there are the rules and there is implementation of these rules by our volunteer forum managers. If you have any specific comments about how we’ve applied the new rules over the last few months, let us know as well.
These rules represent our freedom of assembly based our desire for strong civility and the use of real names.
Here is the verbatim summary from our full rules:
- Real Names Required: Register and post with your real name and community.
- Right to Post and Reply: Sharing your knowledge and opinions with your fellow participants is a democratic right.
- Limits on Posting within a Forum’s Purpose: Two posts per day per member on most forums. Forum charters determine geographic or topical scope.
- Be Civil: No name-calling. Respect among people with differing views is our cornerstone.
- No Personal Attacks: This keeps the forums welcoming and safer.
- Private Stays Private: Don’t forward private communication without permission.
- Avoid Unsubstantiated Rumors: Asking for clarification of what you’ve heard in the community can be appropriate if issues-based. You alone are responsible for what you post.
- Items Not Allowed in Forums: No strong profanity, pornographic content, chain letters, unsolicited commercial advertising, etc. Forum charters may detail examples or exceptions including allowing commercial exchange and advice.
- Public Content and Use: You are sharing your content under the E-Democracy.org selected Creative Commons license unless you state an alternative copyright.
- Warnings and Suspensions: You may receive informal or official warnings. The volunteer Forum Manager is responsible for facilitation and enforcing rules. With your second official warning in one year, you are suspended for two weeks. You may appeal all warnings after a third warning that brings a six-month suspension.
- Forum Managers: Each forum has a manager with responsibilities and technical privileges to meet those responsibilities. Disputes with Forum Managers may be brought to E-Democracy.org through various mechanisms.
Whether it is Somali Independence Day in Minneapolis (video), Rondo Days, or the CHAT Hmong arts festival in St. Paul, our new outreach team will be in the field across the community this summer.
Our goal is to recruit at least 1,000 new participants across our Twin Cities online neighborhood forums (15 forums open with 18 new forums in the pipeline) with major growth in the diverse, lower income neighborhoods we work with as part of our Inclusive Social Media effort.
Here is our lead summer outreach team – along with their diverse community and neighborhoods of focus:
- Corrine Bruning – Outreach Coordinator
- Ayanna Raven Benitez – Latino (Powderhorn, Phillips)
- Damon Drake – African-American (East Side, Summit-U Rondo, Frogtown)
- Deanna StandingCloud – Native American (Phillips mostly)
- Julia Nekessa Opoti – East African (Special engagement work, Cedar Riverside extending to Seward, Phillips)
- Kaying Thao – SE Asian (East Side, North End, Frogtown)
As great applicants for the part-time positions above (most are two month summer jobs except for Julia and Corrine) came in, we felt compelled to add some additional outreach roles. Let’s call them “volunteers+” for their dedication, as they provide additional grass roots outreach in the community. The idea is to time-efficiently leverage their existing networks and existing activities deep in the community as they recruit up to 100 people each.
Thank you for joining us:
- LaShunda Jackson – African-American/Everyone in Frogtown
- Mustafa Adam – East African Outreach (Any Forum)
- Salmah Hussien – East African Outreach (Any Forum)
- Sandy Ci Moua – SE Asian Outreach (St. Paul-wide)
- Possible – Additional Latino Outreach (West Side St. Paul) – Interested? Contact us.
This project is supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, and the Knight Foundation (St. Paul Foundation donor-advised fund).
With all of this “digital inclusion for community voices” work, we are experimenting and generating “how to” lessons we will be sharing via future Inclusive Social Media webinars, via the Digital Inclusion Network, and other means. One lesson we can share now is a reflection on trust.Trust.
Going to a community and saying “we will empower you, just trust us” simply does not work. If anything, it will get you tossed out. Further, taking a technology-first approach can create distrust and generate conflict if you roll over long-time and essential community voices who happen to be the wrong side of the digital divide. Inclusion isn’t providing an “opportunity” and then being satisfied when few show up.
With this in mind, we had one of the most powerful and humbling E-Democracy.org gatherings in our 18 year history the other week.
Gathered around the table/phone were most of our recently contracted ten member Diverse Communities Outreach Team. While our funded Inclusive Social Media effort is focused on lower income, high immigrant or highly diverse neighborhoods, all of our all volunteer-based forums should strive to broadly represent the full diversity of their neighborhood not just of those who most easily “show up.” The fact that Internet users who make 75K a year are 5 times more likely to belong to a neighborhood e-mail list or forum than someone online who makes 50K of less a year can not stand (15% v. 3%) (Source: PewInternet.org). Our direct experience is that all neighborhoods can benefit from digital community engagement and the digital divide is no excuse to wait.
During the meeting it dawned on me that this was NOT about E-Democracy.org building enough trust to get people to join forums on a website they have never heard of, it was about our team members putting their own hard earned trust on the line. They are sharing their trust to help build our shared effort and vision that all people who live near each other (of many different backgrounds) should be able to talk to each other in an open, accessible, welcoming, civil, and effective local community building setting online.
(On a related note, one outreach leader noting skepticism in initial conversations, said anything that starts with “e-” is thought of as a likely pyramid scheme in their community.)
So together we are rolling up our sleeves and getting out into the community to reach people one at time so every voice can be heard one click at a time.Some Video
Say here is our video from our Somali Independence Day as well as May Day outreach.
The Federal Communication Commission with the Knight Foundation have put up a very interesting challenge called Apps for Communities.
- Download GroupServer - We’ve put up GroupServer.org as the “app” for this competition. It is designed for technology hosts. End-users engage the app via the web and e-mail.
- With certain customizations that we use and most importantly a “human” outreach wrapper we call our Inclusive Social Media project, we hope to have a decent chance at recognition.
Below is the text of our submission:About the submission
The E-Democracy.org Inclusive Social Media project strategically leverages the GPL open source GroupServer.org tool (download) to work with lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant concentrated neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as the Leech Lake Indian Reservation area in northern Minnesota.
Local information exchange – including the direct participation of local elected officials, their staff, and civil servants with the public – is central to our model which attracts everyday people’s interest in broad “community life” information and exchange.
Our technology approach creatively combines e-mail, the web, web feeds, Facebook Pages, Twitter, a mobile friendly interface to reach the largest critical mass of local people possible.
We embrace access to government information via sharing among neighbors and community leaders as the real super computers rather than wait for non-existent unfunded local open data sets to become available? that are highly relevant to the Somali community in Minneapolis or Hmong community in St. Paul for example.
From a technical perspective, GroupServer (developed with our partner OnlineGroups.Net), is an open source Google Groups like tool with a far better interface for public dissemination of information. Not only is information shared, a participatory audience is built in for true engagement and discussion.
For inclusion, we’ve created a technology that:
1. Strategically supports in-person outreach - We allow the technology host to use paper sign-up sheets at community events and in the field via diverse community outreach leaders to fully register people from target communities based on their off-line permission. This is the cornerstone of our inclusion success. (Technically, we use a back-end CSV upload option based on paper sign-up forms that does not require any further action of the registrant to receive information or publish.)
You can give away 10,000 fliers and get 20 new participants and none will meet your “inclusion” target demographic or your can talk to 1,000 people in the community and get 500 or more to sign-up right then and there. Without technology that support grass roots inclusion techniques, no mass responsitory of local data will reach the target audiences of this competition.
2. Embraces lowest common denominator publishing – If we’ve signed you up for your local neighborhood exchange and you’ve never been to the website, you can still publish by simply pressing “reply-to-all” via e-mail. A geeks nightmare if you hate e-mail, however combined with paper sign-ups this means someone who only has access to the Internet via a local computer lab or the library is reached (we’ve built a bridge) only needs to know how to press reply to all to share information with the community.
Ironically, this serves the busy local elected official who fires up the Blackberry during idle moments and can share some information spontaneously (example). Of course folks can publish via the web, someday via a Facebook App, access full-text web feeds, and we deal with photo publishing on the fly and integrate YouTube and Vimeo video players.
3. Actionable technology – Use of our Neighbors Forums lead to real life action every week. Local proximity encourages such action as people are motivated to go offline and take action. This week for example residents in Cedar Riverside are using it to shape their anti-crime community safety plan. Last winter residents in Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis organized a rally with over 400 people on a cold cold night is response to a sexual assault in their park. We have many more examples in our Neighbors Forum presentation and on our raw list of example topics from our Inclusive Social Media effort from previous years.
4. Volunteer-friendly open source technology and approach reaching close to 20% of households in some areas – Key to our model is serving any neighborhood where a volunteer steps forward. Standish Ericsson, Seward, and Powderhorn Park are three of our most active neighborhoods among 16 across the Twin Cities that are open and 16 more in the pipeline. By combining easy to use web administration and minimal technology support funded by participant donations in part with peer to peer forum manager support, we have a high success rate. Nothing is worse than using technology in a vacuum and obscuring the fact that 90% of the job is going beyond the technology to reaching people.
5. Solves a real inclusion problem – Nationally according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s Neighbors Online study, adult Internet users in households making over the $75,000 a year are at least 5 times more likely to join their neighbors via online e-mail lists and forums (15%) than someone from a family making $50,000 (3%) or less or Latino (2%) for example. This is “of” Internet users. Our mix of technology and approach is demonstrating that all communities can benefit from dynamic two way community information exchange by developing and sharing lessons for how to effectively reach those communities being left behind online when it comes to raising community voices and sharing government information in a way that actually impacts people’s daily lives and hopes for their community.
Current develop efforts underway include leveraging the Facebook Registration plug-in to allow another easy route for online signing up, further mobile interface development, and developing ideas that complement our very public (open, accessible, accountable) online spaces with nearest neighbor private group communication.
Unlike many apps which have few roots and no path beyond a competition to sustain themselves, our Issues Forum approach has evolved since 1994 and has thousands of users. Also important is our open source approach to sharing our lessons so our approaches may be integrated with other technologies and projects.
We have a new forum manager training video that goes in-depth into our installation of the GroupServer tool from a “Forum Manager” or group administrator perspective. It is about 45 minutes in length.
Government data alone is boring and simply does not attract most people in isolation. The data sets available are not truly local enough to be relevant to a specific diverse communities in a unique way any more than than everyone is interested in road closures or crime data.
The government information that empowers people to shape their community, seek solutions and government spending that better serve their needs, etc. is often nuanced and available through people in the political process. As a civic engagement project, our Issues Forum model breaks through this problem by combining a diverse community audience with the ability to share of the local information desired of this competition. Indeed, such information is shared and crucially used by diverse communities everyday.
Watch/listen with extended audio:
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.
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. tcneighbors.org 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.
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
Watch/listen with extended audio: