E-Democracy.Org Fact Sheet from 2007 - TO BE UPDATED
Mission and Overview
E-Democracy.Org is a 501.c3 non-profit, non-partisan, volunteer-based project whose mission is to expand participation and build stronger democracies and communities through the power of information and communication technologies and strategies.
In 1994, we launched the world's first election information web site as Minnesota E-Democracy. Today as E-Democracy.Org, we are building the world's largest network of local online town halls we call "Issues Forums."
With over a decade of experience as a volunteer-based, trusted, neutral host of online civic dialog, E-Democracy.Org now hosts online community and neighborhood forums across nearly a dozen communities in Minnesota (USA), England, and most recently New Zealand. We are entering a phase of rapid community expansion and participant growth.
Issues Forums - Our Unique Online Town Hall Model
Issues Forums are a unique and highly effective model for sustained discussion of local public issues. Unlike the coarse and divisive partisanship we too often see, our "online town hall forums" encourage participation from across the political spectrum and bring in diverse community voices. Based on real-world political value, Issues Forums attract participation from community leaders, engaged community members, local elected and appointed officials, and journalists.
New forums launch when a local volunteer Forum Manager supported by a steering committee recruits at least 100 charter participants. This "built to last" model creates an ongoing and agenda-setting conversation on local issues that is web and e-mail accessible. Our most active forum reach 200 members (and many more web visitors) within a year and Minneapolis has the largest forum with close to 900 registered participants.
At E-Democracy.Org, we do things differently. Participants agree to use their real names and keep the discussion civil. And as a true "public space" -- unlike most other commercial online forums -- our rules limit E-Democracy.Org's arbitrary power and instead focus on facilitation and community accountability.
In 2005, the British government funded our expansion into the United Kingdom. Now in four English communities, we are a global model for local democracy in the information age. A 60-page guidebook and videos about Issues Forums is available from: http://e-democracy.org/if
Our local Issues Forum network includes the following (current to November 2007):
- Canterbury (including Christchurch)
- Brighton and Hove, England
- Bristol, England (Greater Bedminister Neighbourhood)
- London Borough of Newham, England
- Oxford, England (Oxford Central SW Neighbourhood)
- Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts (Special clean energy forum)
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Roseville, Minnesota
- St. Paul, Minnesota
- Winona, Minnesota
What do people discuss?
People exchange information and views on a wide range of very local issues. A quick scan of the discussion topics make it clear that the community "intelligence is in the network."
This is a sampling of discussion topics from October 2007:
- Local schools
- Support for local war veterans
- Neighborhood park changes
- Local business regulation
- Redevelopment of a burned down building
- Local home foreclosures
- Local candidates and elections
- City "sustainable" status
- Local events and festivals
- Water quality and shortages
- Policies in support of cycling
- Crime and policing
- Housing subsidy system
- "Young Mayor" campaign
- Critiques of local media, sharing story ideas
- Local roadway changes, street cleaning
- Community engagement opportunities
- Local incinerator proposals
- Neighborhood livability
- Problems with feral cats
- Noise pollution from an area speedway
- Leadership of elected bodies
While each local forum has its own independent message space, as our network grows, E-Democracy.Org is developing proposals for ways to connect active citizens across communities to share experiences and solutions to public challenges.
Expansion Goals and Strategic Plan
E-Democracy.Org seeks to expand the number of communities it serves from 10 to 20 over the next year. Our model is partly rooted in the century-old service club movement with a modern locally-led franchise approach and shared technology base. We are building the infrastructure for hundreds of direct local democracy online/citizen media as a direct part of our network and hope to inspire thousands of similar independent community-based efforts.
In the near term, we seek to deepen our presence in existing communities by quadrupling the number of registered participants to 10,000. We will do this by recruiting new and diverse voices and increasing the number of neighborhood forums where we are most established. In addition, our new strategic plan lays the path toward network support for local online citizen engagement activities.
Our official goals are:
- Engagement: Strengthen, expand, and diversify engagement through effective and meaningful online discussions and information exchange on public issues
- Information and Civic Education: Increase the use and relevance of information resources about elections, governance, the media, and public affairs to help address public challenges
- Best Practices and Tools: Develop and disseminate best practices and tools to promote community conversation and engagement, civic education, and information exchange
- Promote Active Citizenship: Empower participants with online skills and experiences to have an impact on their communities and governments
- Organizational Capacity and Sustainability: Maintain an ethical, stable, and financially strong organization of volunteers and staff that effectively and efficiently responds to growing and changing expectations, opportunities, and responsibilities
Our Project Blog contains the inside scoop on our growth and development: http://blog.e-democracy.org
Praise for E-Democracy.Org and Issues Forums
- For anyone with an open mind, the Issues Forum is a tantalizing and an ever-changing banquet of ideas. - Christine Viken, Minneapolis
- A good, fast way to keep up with what the citizens of our city are thinking about at the moment. It also gives me the ability to put a question out there to them and get responses when I have a decision to make regarding a Park policy. - Annie Young, Elected Minneapolis Park Board Member
- I find out breaking news long before it goes through the filter of one of the standard newspapers or news channels. Because so many people with differing opinions contribute to this forum I get a much wider perspective of thoughts from which I draw my conclusions about how I feel on a particular issue. I really appreciate getting the information from the "grassroots" level without media savvy spin placed on it even if I don't necessarily agree with it ... Truthfully, I hate to admit it but the issues list for me is almost like a drug. I gotta have it. I know that I would feel a big hole in my "info. world" if I didn't have the forum at my fingertips. - Barbara Lickness, Minneapolis
- This forum has been a way to explain the issues around our local neighbourhood problem (an incredibly noisy racetrack) in-depth in a way that mainstream media won't allow. Most people reading the forum had no idea of the scale of our problem beforehand and as a result the forum has proven useful for networking. - Wanda Shaw, Christchurch, New Zealand
E-Democracy.Org is led by Co-Founder and Board Chair, Steven Clift.
Steven is among the world's foremost experts on "e-democracy" in government and community using public speaking and consulting to support his volunteer time with E-Democracy.Org. Steven was elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2006 which included a three year stipend allowing him to dedicate himself full-time to E-Democracy.Org full-time for the first time.
Along with Steve's hard work, the recent E-Democracy.Org expansion was also the result of Tim Erickson, online facilitator and one-time Forum Manager of the St. Paul Issues Forum. He was a dedicated volunteer who subsequently led our UK funded pilot expansion and other new grant funded initiatives and Issues Forum development. He has moved on to other opportunities after mentoring Edward Davis, a local community activist, as his partial successor.
Edward comes to E-Democracy.Org with hopes to increase opportunities for effective discussion of public policy issues at all levels. He has experience in natural sciences, urban planning, and environmental management.
- Steven Clift, Co-Founder and Chair
- Mick Souder, Co-Founder, Vice Chair and Treasurer, Project Manager, IBM
- Anne Carroll, Public Participation Consultant and St. Paul School Board Member
- Dan Jellinek, CEO Headstar (UK) and Editor, E-Government Bulletin
- Alan Rosenblatt, Internet Advocacy Center (DC)
- David Woolley, Thinkofit, Online Conferencing Consultant
- Joanne Caddy
Additional background details from http://e-democracy.org/about.html
E-Democracy.Org was an all volunteer organization with a donated information infrastructure for its first decade. Over the last few years our efforts have attracted an estimated $300,000 US worth of investment. This includes funding for our expansion into England from the UK Local E-Democracy National Project, in-kind technology support from OnlineGroups.Net in New Zealand, a three year stipend to cover Steven Clift's time from Ashoka, and two recent project grants providing approximately $75,000 in funding.
E-Democracy.Org adopted a basic one year budget of $150,000 from July 1, 2007 through June 31, 2008. We need to raise a minimum of $85,000 to meet that budget. Based on the demand for our services we expect the budget to increase and are planning for a mix of revenue streams including major donations, smaller voluntary participant and supporter donations, providing e-democracy services to other groups and governments for a fee, and grants (to support new programming and features). Based on our participant survey, in the UK in particular, we will explore ongoing local government support for Issues Forums.