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E-Democracy.Org Neighborhood Forums Work Plan

By Steven Clift, E-Democracy.Org - August 16, 2007


This work plan is based on a budget of $25,000 from the MSNet fund of the Minneapolis Foundation. It reflects the extensive e-mail exchange with JoAnne Walz and the MSNet advisory committee.

In reducing the budget from $43,000 to $25,000 we simplified the project to prioritize neighborhoods with highest concentrations of immigrant, low income and communities of color.

We agreed to approach a couple neighborhoods first, likely serially, starting with Cedar Riverside in Minneapolis. Our second target neighborhood will leverage our Americorps CTEP position focused on digital inclusion efforts of St. Paul E-Democracy with a neighborhood forum near the Rondo Outreach Library.

In addition, to save coordination and technology costs we are combining project management with a complementary $50,000 Blandin-funded “rural voices” effort to promote citizen media and online engagement leading to the launch of online forums in at least three rural communities.

Work Outline

The majority of this project will be carried out over 12 months starting with the receipt of the grant this fall. However, the forums will be designed to continue indefinitely based on local participation. To gain the most value from the limited resources we will time the outreach expense to gain the most value and front-load the process with partnership building in order to leverage community and in-kind resources.

1. Engage and Establish Partners – Initial 2 Months in Each Neighborhood

Neighborhood forums must be "of" the neighborhood, therefore the first phase must start with extensive consultation with organizations and individuals the target neighborhoods. Identifying and engaging those from diverse communities is central to this approach and the creation of partnerships. Local “launch committees” will be established to involve this diversity.

2. Shared Guides and Technology – Initial 2-3 Months

E-Democracy.Org's extensive training material will be adapted and simplified for neighborhood use. Templates for print and other recruitment materials will be designed (e.g. online ads to run on Somali diasporas websites). In conjunction with the rural voices project, key enhancements will be made to our open source forum technology to in part promote multimedia sharing (as opposed to just text) to draw in those from cultures with oral traditions.

3. Outreach, Training and Opening of Initial Neighborhood Forums – Next 4-6 Months in Each Neighborhood

The recruitment and engagement phase is crucial. During this phase project partners and contractors with deep connections to diverse communities will be engaged to open forums broadly reflective of the low income, communities of color, and immigrant populations of that neighborhood. Extensive outreach at in-person at community and cultural events will be required. As a “second-level” digital justice project we will connect with and leverage the Internet public access options in the community by providing them promotional materials and engage their staff be it a community center, library, or other location. Training sessions for potential volunteers and initial participants will leverage our digital inclusion work in St. Paul and the newly funded citizen media and online engagement outreach events planned for the rural voices initiative.

Based on neighborhood interest, forum public launch events are envisioned to bring people together to "see" the diversity gathered online. Depending upon our and partner resources we hope to capture and share multimedia via the forum that tells the story of the people in the neighborhood.

4. Forum Support and Extension – Final 4-6 Months, Ongoing Support for Local Volunteers

With hundreds of neighbors now gathered, our "built to last" forums will be sustained like all of our forums with volunteer support over the long-run. We will provide special assistance in the target neighborhoods to help animate the discussion if required and to continue outreach efforts.

Our goal is to engage at least 200 forum participants in each neighborhood within a three months of opening a forum and that the membership be broadly reflective of the area’s diversity.

Based on the experience in the first, then the second neighborhood, proposals for extending the model to the many other neighborhoods with greatest need will be developed.

5. Evaluation – Ongoing

E-Democracy.Org will evaluate the initiative and document the lessons learned. This will start with a basic member survey.

Updated Budget Outline

Outreach and Recruitment - $14,000

 - Cedar Riverside Assistance
 - St. Paul Americorps CTEP
 - Launch Events
 - Outreach Materials

Coordination and Training - $5,000

 - Tim Erickson, E-Democracy.Org
 - Includes in-kind time of Steven Clift

Technology - $4,000 Research and Evaluation - $2,000

Total - $25,000


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