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This should NOT be viewed as the actual outline for this volunteer coding effort. What emerges may be significantly different.
From mid-2009 ...
E-Block Clubs - Rough Draft Concept Outline by Steven Clift
Context: E-Democracy.Org hosts over 2,000 people in a mix of very public communitywide (2) and neighborhood specific (4 open, 2 more soon) "Issues Forums." We are proposing a Participation 3.0 pilot to promote an array of cutting-edge and effective forms of local online civic engagement that engage at least 30,000 people (~10% of households) across the central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul everyday. Our experience is that while the technology has to work and work well, it is the on-the-ground outreach and community partnerships that gets you participation penetration rates with average Internet users in a local community. Helping us get the technology right combined with our effective in-person and online outreach methods means we won't end up with another virtual ghost town project. Comments to: email@example.com
Main start page: - Promo about why to join. Communicate privately with your closest neighbors for: - Be Safe. Be Social. Share Stuff. Combine Voices on Local Requests/Issues. - Sign-up with real name, address. - Start page is stand alone site, Facebook application, other?
Next: - Is this you comparison with people and address data we gather/buy from telephone directories/voter registration files/other??? Question: Where do we get this data? How much? How often? We are starting in Minnneapolis and St. Paul, but we want to build this using a "local everywhere" approach for scalability.
- Show address location on map (with muted stars of other registrants) and default square around their likely e-block area and any existing "virtual intersections" where neighbors are connected and communicating. Question: What mapping tool(s) do you recommend?
- Set password.
- Enter profile for neighborhood directory - with various privacy/security promises/cautions, decide what is open to all and only visible to those who live right around them
- Others you know right near-by - option to see list of neighbors/addresses (like Obama's Neighbor to Neighbor tool) and fill in addresses that way or just a simple list (most current informal "e-blocks" are group cc: e-mails, some are YahooGroups or GoogleGroups (but that is more likely at a larger neighborhood level) - Question: Who are the masterminds behind Obama's Neighbor to Neighbor tool?
- Friends and family in other places (in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also placeholder invites/registrations accepted to "say bring this to our town")
Logged In - Your E-Block/Profile Mix:
Show default "Neighbor Directory" area. In urban areas, "two blocks" in every direction? In rural areas, one mile (e-township). (Variable based on density. Question: Where do we get the data to help determine the default geographic size of an e-block to be displayed?)
- Default setting is that those in your full neighborhood directory may see your profile and contact you via a web form on site. People may opt-in to even display their e-mail address if they so choose or alternatively force people to request permission to contact them.
- Other registered users in your city/zipcode may see only a basic listing and request permission to contact you.
- People in other cities those not logged in may only see stars on maps that represent registered users.
- "Know Them" - People you know acts like social networking "friend" feature.
- New by this Person or "Status updates" - Hmmmm ... would reflect latest post made to their "e-block virtual intersection" and more. Question: What should/could we do here? I don't think "just for your neighbors" status updates have legs in a traditional Twitter/ Facebook sort of way.
- Profile development/encouragement - The registration process should be really quick and easy with prompts to build out profile information later - Please note that at least within your "e-block" area we are solidly promoting "public life" meaning the idea that people who live near one another can benefit from knowing each other. This is NOT the view held by many Americans, particularly in more populated areas where people can self-select to interact with those who share the same interests/styles/political views. This site will NOT be for those who do not want to get to know their neighbors nor those who wish to be anonymous.
E-Block Virtual Intersections:
This is how people will actually use their e-block other than learning about their neighbors via their neighbor directory.
Based on critical mass sign-ups in close proximity (say 1000 feet in urban area) of five or more people, "virtual intersections" are defined. Existing registrants are assigned a default and new members may choose among those if more than one near-by option exists. A "Vi" is the core group concept of an electronic block club. Each Vi will at its core have a simple e-mail list "myblock@" which will dynamically know if is from X person to whom it should be sent. As the membership grows, people will be able to choose the types of announcements/queries/invites they would like to receive and posting via a web form or special e-mail addresses "crime@" "tools@" "free@" etc. will help channel communication.
Recruitment/tell a neighbor options heavily promoted. Flyers, walking-list with paper signup, calling list generated.
Super Block Leaders:
Super-user "block captains" may also declare a Vi and limit who may join/approve applications. They may add e-mail addresses matched to physical addresses within their Vi manually. Only those new members confirming their membership/setting password will be listed in the Neighborhood Directory as well as have the ability to post.
This will likely take some time to develop in the pilot, but for certain areas people will not participate if they do not know exactly who they are joining in with or will avoid the system if they see it as making them more vulnerable to crime perperated by their neighbors. People attempting register from addresses with criminal records available in current public databases are screened/reviewed by local partners. Neighbors able to anonymously block certain addresses from seeing their own information - e.g. the drug house on the block. Question: Where can we get this data on a regular basis for Minnesota and/or beyond? A huge question for the "private" e-blocks is what how to handle request to join by those who are viewed as troublesome by their neighbors or in higher crime areas where people are reasonably leary about gang members living on the same block for example.
Neighborhood/Community-wide Public Issues Forums
If e-block clubs are designed to be "private" or neighbors-only behind a login, Issues Forums are the broader public complement. These "declared" online public spaces are typically based on political boundaries and help the public connect on local issues with elected officials and others in their midst. The real name, civilty required model of EDemocracy. Org goes back to 1994 and is well tested and highly transferrable. Here is one of our more active examples with close to 10% of household participating (4,000 households with 7,500 people in the Standish and Ericsson neighborhoods of Minneapolis.)
As more and more e-block clubs are established over an area, participants may opt-in to participate in this open civic exchange. The field intelligence about where people are signing up will allow E-Democracy.Org to focus assistance on those areas with growing interest (or identify the gaps with grant-supported outreach in low income, rural, high immigrant areas, etc.). It is quite likely that many initial system members will remain isolated registrants unless they lead an e-block recruitment effort. These public Issues Forums will provide immediate value to those not on blocks with critical mass use.
Steven Clift is communicating with a number of foundations on the possibility of a next generation Participation 3.0 pilot. We think a mix of more private e-block clubs combined with public neighborhood Issues Forums (say 40-50 neighborhood forums with 150-500 people each ... some independent forums already exist that we would invite to join us or simply link to instead) will be the participation public interest engine for about a dozen community-wide e-participation services. Without an engine that brings in everyday people into a full service environment, e-participation in community-wide affairs will simply not attract the level of engagement required.