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Local Issues Forum Guidebook from e-Democracy.org

This comprehensive guidebook is designed for those interested in establishing online “Local Issues Forums.” It is focused on the United Kingdom but evolved directly from the experience of E-Democracy.Org, which is based in Minnesota. Care has been taken to present this guidebook for a UK audience, it is general enough for a worldwide “local” audience.

The main audiences for this guide are new local E-Democracy.Org Issues Forum steering committee members, individuals who work with local authorities, and citizens exploring the Issues Forums idea in detail. Left in one piece, this guidebook is not designed for individual forum participants nor is it meant to provide a basic introduction to Issues Forums. That is the role of the E-Democracy.org website and the multimedia E- Democracy Experience.

A local Issues Forum is an online forum like a town hall meeting or public commons where any citizen, journalist, or elected official can:

  • Post an idea
  • Ask a question
  • Make a public announcement
  • Connect with one another
  • Monitor public opinion
  • Ask for public input, and
  • A place where journalists can look for story ideas or identify sources for articles.

The goals of a local Issues Forum are to give everyone a greater voice in local decisions and encourage more citizen participation in local public policy making. It provides a forum for decision-makers to receive immediate feedback from the community on issues that must be decided or voted on in council.

One of the most important features of a local Issues Forum is that it is citizen-driven. Anyone can introduce a topic, concern, or idea for discussion as long as it relates to an issue that impacts the quality of life in the local community. A local Issues Forum empowers individual citizens to bring their ideas, suggestions, and concerns to the forefront of public attention.

Download the 60-page PDF here:  http://e-democracy.org/if/guide.pdf

In the NCDD Forum, Steven Clift (founder of E-Democracy.org) also shared these links and tips:

The drafting zone for the updated version of the guidebook above: http://pages.e-democracy.org/Issues_Forum_Guide

Outline on how to open the state-wide online phase of a dialogue after a set of in-person gatherings: http://groups.dowire.org/r/topic/3FcVFRc4U43ldpKNYSCsYi

Finally, let me just say that we use “in-person” expectations all of the time with our local forums at E-Democracy.org. A few notes:

1. Real names – If you want to meld the values of f2f with online, in almost ALL circumstances real names are essential. Pictures can help too, but are not as important. This is for civility and accountability. Exceptions are working with youth, very sensitive topics, or in unsafe countries where even private online exchanges can get you thrown in jail or worse.

2. Round of Introductions – We now launch our neighbors Issues Forums with a round of introductions. First we require 100 people to join before opening (imagine starting a f2f event before half of your participants arrived) and then make it feel safer to folks with a round of introductions. This gives people a chance to say hello and mention issues they would like to discuss without the pressure of staking out a position. Note: http://pages.e-democracy.org/Starting_introductions And: http://pages.e-democracy.org/Starting_a_neighbors_forum – You’ll note that we use volunteer “Forum Managers” to guide our forums … do not expect technology to produce high quality exchange without a real named human personality guiding the discussion from time to time. (Do exactly the _opposite_ of online news commenting which is the anti-guidance).

3. Inclusion Matters – Without in-person outreach with local forums, just engaging those who show up first or most easily online provides limited value. Note: http://e-democracy.org/inclusion and our recent blog post on print materials: http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/923

4. Local Matters – Building on the last point, we have the distinct advantage of having our online exchanges interact with the “real world.” A post gets discussed at the neighborhood association meeting, at the park, etc. I’ve been organizing the “hosts” of Locals Online here: http://e-democracy.org/locals To me this has tremendous potential as people can see the impact of online engagement in a way they can see and measure. (Just imagine the impact you could have with your dialogue and deliberation skills if you could effectively apply them online starting in the neighborhood where you live – perhaps another topic … but what kind of technology (existing or not) do we think we need to have to allow those not so tech-oriented to comfortably facilitate online? The technology is in far greater supply than the skills required IMHO.)

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