Community foundations play a vital role in strengthening the civic life of local communities. This is a selection of links compiled by Steven Clift (E-Democracy Chair, Ashoka Fellow, and Knight News Challenge Winner) to help guide your exploration of the potential of the Internet in building local civic life.
In its early years, the Internet was used to "go to world" and more recently to build personal social networks based on their private life. However, in recent years local public life is beginning to emerge online - people are coming home online. Unfortunately, in most cases the interactive local digital "home" is being modeled after highly partisan and conflict ridden national politics online. While local media wouldn't print a substantial number of the online reader comments they post on the web, most promote anonymous comments online because that is what everyone else seems to be doing. This does not bode well for building local community online. There need to be alternatives.
Are there other models for local engagement online? Yes.
- Community Forums and Place Blogs
- Issues Forums - E-Democracy.Org hosts ongoing, multi-issue local Issues Forums in cities and neighborhoods led by a citizen committee and facilitated by a volunteer forum manager. Live examples are available from forums.e-democracy.org and a free 60 page guidebook, videos, and other resources are available. Issues Forums may be launched by volunteers or increasingly with funded special assistance and dedicated resources for "new voices" outreach. The premise of an Issues Forum is equitable participation like a face-to-face conversation around a table.
- Place Blogs or Community News Blogs - While many local blogs are created in opposition to the local government or against/for one local cause, other blogs take a community media approach. Many place blogs are modeled on the Hyde Park soap-box model and depending upon the individual owners approach to facilitation and compelling content, a community of commentators may develop. A related model is a community news blog where the editor (or team of editors) take a more journalistic approach. Placeblogger has scores of links to place blogs and the Knight Citizen News Network hosts a directory of citizen media projects. Two specific examples include Locally Grown Northfield and the West Seattle Blog. Most of these efforts are run by individuals as hobbies or small business start-ups while others are registered 501.c3 organizations.
- Online Events (or online consultations, e-consultations)
- An online event is a time-limit exchange on specific themes. "E-consultations" as they are called outside the United States have developed in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Many of them are hosted by governments, but in the United States the non-profit or media sector may make more ideal hosts.
- Ask Bristol - An example from the United Kingdom
- Consult Queensland - How the Queensland government gathers input on reports.
- E-Debates - E-Democracy.Org has a unique model for non-partisan candidate debates which take a deep deliberative approach over two weeks. The 2006 Minnesota Gubernatorial E-Debate (funded by the Blandin Foundation) is a recent example. E-debates are labor intensive, but the potential to host substantial candidate exchange down the ballot in this is significant be they funded or volunteer-driven.
- Consult @ DoWire.Org - An online community of practice for those interested in online consultation,
- Greater Access to Government Information
- There is a significant opportunity to improve online access to and importantly "use" of decision-making information from local government. A foundation can support evaluation and comparison of governments in your area with what is possible in this medium. While the ongoing provision of government information rests on the governments shoulders, convening citizens to identify their priorities and helping jump start government exploration of Web 2.0 tools and technologies can take new resources.
- Best Practice "Briefs" - Including "how to" tips about essential personalized e-notification tools. This basic service makes what is placed online much more useful with timely access.
- Recent Articles - Steven Clift released two short articles of recent interest including Ten Practical Online Steps for Government Support of Democracy and as part of the Rebooting Democracy series put together by the Personal Democracy Forum, an article titled, Sidewalks for Democracy Online (or in PDF format) which explores the challenge of saving local democracy in the information age.
- Democracies Online - Extensive resources on this topic.
- Additional Resources
- Knight Commission on the Information Needs of a Communities in a Democracy
- Knight Community Information Challenge - A grant-making challenge to find creative uses of media and technology to help keep communities informed and their citizens engaged.
- For more information on launching non-partisan, non-profit citizen-based local democracy online building projects in your community or region, contact E-Democracy.Org.