I am using this page to collect data from recent discussions about the management of SPIF and SPED. Please, feel free to edit or add to this document.
- 1 List of Issues
- 1.1 The Rules are Too Complicated
- 1.2 The 2 Posts Per Day Rule is Stupid!
- 1.3 SPED is not considering the views of people who have looked at our forums and decided not to join
- 1.4 Quit Suspending People who exhibit differing viewpoints or use of language
- 1.5 SPED Needs more diversity on the Executive Committee
- 1.6 SPED needs to do more to solicit input from its members
- 1.7 SPED Needs more Checks and Balances on Power
List of Issues
The Rules are Too Complicated
The basic rules that everyone needs to know are:
- Each person is limited to 2 posts per 24 hours
- You are only allowed to talk about issues specific to St. Paul, in the St. Paul Issues Forum
- You should not be rude or engage in personal attacks in the forum.
- You must use your real name (first and last) and indicate which neighborhood you live in.
A more detailed version of the rules are available at: http://e-democracy.org/rules/
Yes, both the "no personal attacks" and "stay on topic" rules are subjective. It is the job of our forum manager to set the boundaries and enforce those rules. We also coach participants on how they can best comply with those rules and offer informal warnings/guidance before taking any punitive measures.
The 2 Posts Per Day Rule is Stupid!
Here is a link to more discussion on this rule: http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/74
Clearly, many of our users like this rule and many do not. If this is of serious concern to you, please gather a list of like-minded folks and submit a specific proposal for change to the Executive Committee, or submit your name as a candidate to join the Executive Committee.
NOTE: 63% of the people who leave our forums and fill out our EXIT survey, report that amoung the reasons they are leaving is, "Too many messages, I just can't keep up."
SPED is not considering the views of people who have looked at our forums and decided not to join
This could not be further from the truth. E-Democracy.Org volunteers and staff have been participating in public discussions and debates about how to manage online forums like this for over a decade. We regularly meet with elected officials, community leaders, and members of the community and talk to them about the forum and why they belong, don't belong, or why they left at some point.
Members of the SPED Executive Committee are all members of other community organizations and have many opportunities to get feedback and criticisms from people who are not currently members of the forum. BY FAR, the most common reason that people tell us they have left or chosen NOT to join the forum, is their perception of the forum as being too hostile or combative.
We understand that not everyone feels the same about this and we struggle to achieve some kind of balance. Only a year ago, we had a group of members petitioning us BECAUSE they thought we were being too weak in our enforcement of the rules. One of the people currently criticizing us for overly enforcing the rules, was at an Executive Committee meeting a year ago, demanding that we crack down on "offensive" speech in the forum and be more aggressive in enforcing our rules.
Quit Suspending People who exhibit differing viewpoints or use of language
It has been over a year since anyone was suspended for attacking other members in the forum - and that suspension was for six month (having been preceeded by multiple warnings and a shorter 2 week suspension). That person has returned to the forum and is currently active in the forum.
Since then, there have been two suspensions of 1 year each. These two suspensions were both issued by the Executive Committee (a majority of which are elected by members of the forum). BOTH, of these suspensions have had little or nothing to do with use of language. BOTH of these suspension were a based upon some combination of:
- using the forum to post, not insults, but false information about other volunteers or other members of the forum - that included:
- accusations of murder or other criminal activity
- untrue accusations of professional misconduct (completely outside the scope of the discussion or issues inside the forum)
- offline coorespondance with groups or individuals associated with SPED volunteers, accusing SPED volunteers of criminal activity (again, completely outside the scope of discussions in the forum)
- offline threats or intimidation of volunteers and other members of the forum
- an unwillingness to work with forum Volunteers to address complaints brought against the individual
The SPED Executive Committee took the extreme step of imposing 1 years suspensions ONLY after much debate and consideration of the implications. Ultimately, the decision was not made because someone was "offended." Rather, both of the 1 years suspensions were issued because of ongoing activity that SPED organizers felt was directly inhibiting our ability to maintain the forum and or potentially putting the forum into legal jeopardy.
While it has been repeatedly stated in the Feedback forum, that the SPED is using suspensions to limit potentially "offensive" speech in the forum, in FACT the suspensions in question were based much more on behavior that we felt either put the forum in legal jeopardy and/or threatened our ability to recruit and maintain volunteers.
Again, at no time during the discussion of these suspensions, was there any consideration to protecting an individual or group from being offended. These suspensions were enacted to protect the organization and its volunteers.
In each of these cases, SPED volunteers spent MANY hours in attempts to work with these members to keep them and their viewpoints in the forum (as we do value diverse viewpoints), but in each case the person in question refused to cooperate and continued to abuse the forum and the volunteers who run the forum.
SPED Needs more diversity on the Executive Committee
RESPONSE: On February 6th, 2007 all members of the St. Paul Issues Forum were given the opportunity to vote on a constitution and by-laws to govern the management of St. Paul E-Democracy and the St. Paul Issues Forum. According to that popularly approved constitution, SPED is managed by an Executive Committee. made up of 9 members, 5 of whom are elected by the membership of SPED and 4 of whom are appointed by the Executive Committee itself.
Our last election was less than six months ago, during which 4 candidates ran for 2 open seats on the Executive Committee.. For more info:
Anyone who has attended one of our Executive Committee. meetings will recognize that there are significant differences of opinion among members of the committee and much debate about forum policy, prior to any action being taken.
SPED needs to do more to solicit input from its members
RESPONSE: The members of the SPED Executive Committee are all very committed to listening to and responding to concerns, complaints, and ideas of forum members (or other interested parties). However, this does not mean that we can or will be able to satisfy everyone. We believe in making ourselves available to the public for input or discussion about forum management.
Here are some of the opportunities that SPED offers for input into the management of the organization and the forum.
- St. Paul Feedback forum - This is an open online space where anyone my post comments, criticisms, or feedback on the management of the forum. Members of the SPED Executive Committee regularly read and respond to messages posted there.
- SPIF Advisory Committee, the SPIF Advisory Committee meets regularly to discuss and make recommendations on the management of SPIF. Meetings are open to the public and everyone is encouraged to attend.
- The Executive Committee - Members of SPIF may always contact members of the Executive Committee directly and raise concerns with them. Or attend Executive Committee meetings. NOTE: While Executive Committee meetings are open to the public, the agenda is usually tight. To get on the agenda of the Executive Committee, one should contact the chair of the committee in advance of the meeting.
- Surveys of membership. SPED has survey members in the past and we are planning a new survey on membership attitudes towards rules and forum management. Please, check out this survey and offer input on the questions Member Survey
- Members of the Executive Committee are available to talk about forum management at the periodic "happy hours" organized by SPIF members or other public events sponsored or co-sponsored by SPED.
- At least three members of the SPED Executive Committee are regularly available at the Rondo Community Outreach library, during our weekly tabling and workshops. During this time, we often talk to members of the forum or potential members of the forum about their aspirations for the forum.
If you have specific ideas about how we can be more open to input from members, please let us know.
SPED Needs more Checks and Balances on Power
The forum manager can only hand out suspensions of 2 weeks and 6 months. The rules are pretty clear about how this is to be handled. While 2 weeks suspensions cannot currently be appealed, 6 month suspensions can be appealed to the SPIF Advisory Committee, which is appointed by the SPED Executive Committee.
Only the SPED Executive Committee or E-Democracy.Org board can suspend a member for more than 6 months. The SPED Executive Committee has a majority of members that are ELECTED by the membership.