Christchurch Neighbours Forums FAQ
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A draft list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the new Christchurch Neighbours Forums.
- 1 How will it work?
- 2 What will be discussed?
- 3 Why online? Why not in-person?
- 4 Why not just use Facebook?
- 5 Why real names? Why public?
- 6 What about the digital divide? How do we include diverse voices?
- 7 How did you choose the area/suburb/neighbourhood names?
- 8 How long will the forums be open? When can I start posting?
How will it work?
Imagine you are sitting around a table with a cup of coffee talking to your neighbours.
Now in addition to cherished in-person gatherings, you can communicate as a group with similar expectations of respect, civility, and friendly community building engagement online.
Technically, your message sent in via a simple e-mail message (all you have to know is how to push reply to publish) or posted via the web site goes to our computer for distribution.
To read the forum we provide many options so as many people in a small geographic area as possible can be included. Follow the forum via e-mail (default), e-mail digest, web-based, blog style "web feed," Facebook Page, or Twitter.
The Facebook and Twitter options will be set up as forums open with 25 to 50 initial members.
Again, while to fully participate, you do have to register (ugh, not another website), once you do, participation is easy and convenient based on your preferences.
Further information on E-Democracy.org's city-wide and neighbourhood Issues Forums model used across 15 cities is available.
What will be discussed?
Local issues and announcements. Ultimately it is up to you.
You have to believe it to see it.
Meaning, until initial members form a critical mass and take a leap of faith that online engagement with your neighbours is a good and very useful thing, we won't see it in action.
With over 20 existing Neighbours Forums across E-Democracy.org building real community everyday, here are examples from a recent 24 hours of activity across the entire network:
- Discussions about:
- Lack of a pharmacy in a low income neighbourhood
- City responsivenes to fixing a pot-holed street
- Reuniting a found dog with its owner to keep it from going to the pound
- Recommendations on a good auto mechanic
- Planning approval for local student housing
- Recycling and garbage incineration
- About how "local" charities canvassing for donations door to door are
- Where to get great service for kitchen appliances
- Where to get violin lessons for their children
- Changes to liquor store spacing restrictions and schools - started by a city councillor asking for input
- Why a local coffee shop went out of business with many thanks for years of service
- Light rail construction
- Ceiling plaster work recommendations
- Neighbors helping neighbors in tough economic times
- Announcements about:
- An awarded pedestrian safety grant
- A community theatre event
- Local food shelf donations
- Gathering photos of local business
- A video about the online response after the collapse of major bridge
- A job creation policy conference at a local college
- A dog park fence contract opportunity seeking neighbourhood contractor bids in a low income area
- Primary school fundraiser
- A video from a community event written in the second most spoken language for the area
- Local news headlines from a community media website
- A new local photo of the day website
- An internship opportunity in a local arts organisation
- A community forum with the Mayor
The necessity of communication is one of the biggest drivers of information exchange. On our forums that established before a crisis, they help unleash the communities capacity to respond to challenges. What we have not tried before is helping our local volunteers launch multiple forums all at the same time in response to such a major event like the Christchurch earthquake.
Most of the proposed forums will fail to quickly (or never) attract critical mass participation because they will only come to life if a few local people come to champion their forum. Once one or two break through, our experience is that neighbouring areas say, hey we can do that too!
Why online? Why not in-person?
We seek to increase in-person neighborly connections across broader communities beyond immediate neighbors. The ability for people to "take it offline" and meet together to "do something" about an idea or problem is extremely empowering. As daily routinues for many return, this online connection will help sustain community bonds built from helping each other through this difficult time.
Why not just use Facebook?
We use Facebook Pages (and Twitter) as a option for monitoring a forum. Sometimes (Facebook decides) excerpts from new posts will show up in your News feed. bccqq
Facebook is really best for connecting friends and family in private life. With our local public life networking, we have found that building and sustaining connections is real work. "Liking" a Facebook Page and the way people use their News Feeds (and the fact the Facebook only shows you some activity if any on pages you like) means most of what happens is not noticed. Inviting your neighbours to a party and then ignoring them doesn't work.
The new Facebook Groups might work great for a small private online group for 15 nearest neighbors for example, but that tool is far too blunt for larger public spaces. That tool allows friends to add their friends without permission. Something that concerns us. However, we should note that this new feature adopted our own effective practice of default e-mail delivery of all new posts.
Why real names? Why public?
Real names build trust, encourage civility, and promote accountability. We have been using them online since 1994. They work. Folks who need or want to use aliases or be anonymous have the rest of the Internet to participate in that manner.
Our forums are public to promote openness and access to community life. Not everyone will want to register, but with the content discoverable and linkable across the web it can be shared and attract new participants. If the exchange was private, Facebook and Twitter following options also would not be possible. With our foundation in "civic engagement" we find public forums using real names give the public greater agenda-setting power in local governance because through your exchange you will be generating new public opinion. The forums cover small enough an area that local councillors will be able to say "those are my voters" and have an incentive to engage their constituents like any gathering of the people they represent.
We prefer our forums to cover areas with a population of 2,500 or more whenever possible. We find a population of 10,000 is a sweet spot for local exchange that is intimate enough to be extremely neighbourly.
What about the digital divide? How do we include diverse voices?
We view each person on a forum as the beginning of the network. They talk at the dinner table. They have friends or grandparents who are offline, but as a participant they can relay the information or conversation on to them.
Depending upon take up of the new forums, E-Democracy.org is considering how to best share its lessons from our foundation funded Inclusive Social Media initiative to support forums in low income, highly diverse neighbourhoods in our international headquarters cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota in the U.S..
In short, the best way to include all kinds of neighbourhoods is to invest in outreach. We seek community partners in Christchurch already on the ground with diverse and low income communities who can leverage their established trust and help build membership as well as post announcements and engage in the conversation themselves. Contact us with your ideas or questions: email@example.com
How did you choose the area/suburb/neighbourhood names?
Local residents John Veitch with StreetGroups and Andrew Groom with Placerama with E-Democracy.org staff helped craft the proposed list of areas large enough in population and strong in identity to attract critical mass "neighbourly" participation. One step up from a dart board. We determined that using the larger Community Board boundaries was not appropriate.
How long will the forums be open? When can I start posting?
Forums need at least 25 members to start posting and ideally 50. If 20% or so will post on average to our forums (normal web forums are well under 10%), 50 members gives us 10 likely posters. (In our normal process we require 100 members, but tend to only open one forum at a time with a local volunteer in that neighbuorhood already leading the way.)
Once open, we are committing to facilitating and hosting a forum for at least one year. At this time next year, as long as a volunteer who lives in the neighbourhood steps forward as the volunteer "Forum Manager" it will remain open indefinitely.
Forums that fail to attract members will not be opened until they do.