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Catalyst Entry: “e-Liberate, Roberts Rules of Order in the 21st Century”

e-Liberate is an online version of Roberts Rules of Order (RRoO) for distributed meetings. It has many innovative features including an online manual and a context-dependent user interface. e-Liberate is intended to be just one tool in a larger deliberative toolbox. After we successfully host meetings with RRoO, we plan to integrate other modes of deliberation into e-Liberate and integrate e-Liberate with other deliberative systems.


Douglas Schuler
President of Public Sphere Project; Professor at Evergreen State College
Roles: Manager, proposal writing, communications, community liaison

Fiorella De Cindio (not a member of NCDD)
Professor at University of Milan (Italy) and President of the Milano Community Network
Roles: research, system integration, field testing, future development


Due to its ubiquity Roberts Rules of Order is a foundation of civic infrastructure. Extending its use to remote users extends its effectiveness. Focusing on integration with other deliberative modes, systems, and deliberative bodies (committees and organizations). As a Seattle Community Network board member, I plan to work with local organizations to use and extend e-Liberate.


Michael O’Neill
Cowlitz County (Washington) Health Department
Roles: field testing, evaluation, future development

Ele Munjeli
The Evergreen State College
Roles: coding, software design, integration, testing


Our major objective in developing e-Liberate was to support Roberts Rules of Order as it currently exists. In respect to existing organizations and with a pragmatic eye, we wanted to support a familiar approach and not presuppose that we knew a better way. At the same time we are well aware of limitations to Roberts Rules of Order. For that reason we starting with the known but are designing for evolution.

The first goal is completing the re-architecting of e-Liberate. This should take 2-4 months. Then we will begin testing — and using — it with organizations in Seattle and elsewhere who use Roberts Rules of Order. This will give us an idea of the utility of the system. At that time we will be gathering requirements for changes and enhancements from these users, and engage in dialogue with people who have developed other online systems (including other NCDD Catalyst efforts). Realizing that Roberts Rules of Order is only one deliberative approach among many we specifically want to integrate e-Liberate with other modes and systems. We also see the need for the “output” of one deliberative setting to be the “input” to another. In one plausible scenario, a large number of affiliate or coalition organizations could all feed their input into an umbrella organization.

We intend to use e-Liberate with many of the organizations who have already contacted us and with others, including, for example, faculty organizations at colleges and universities. As members of Seattle Community Network and Milano Civic Network, we are interested in exploring deliberation in actual civic settings. We also are very interested in a variety of research issues including, for example, how effective the built-in learning support for Roberts Rules of Order in e-Liberate is for users, and what additional deliberative modes people would like to see supported in the future.

We plan to involve multiple NCDD members in meaningful ways over the coming months. Through our email notes to the NCDD membership and our presentation at the national meeting, we have briefed NCDD members on our plans. This is has resulted in several conversations and some positive feedback (e.g. from Cheryl Honey of Community Works). Once the tool is ready (within the next few weeks) we will re-open the conversation with NCDD members. In addition to testing and evaluating e-Liberate with actual organizations, we’re especially interested in working with people who are working on framework projects. The fact that Ele Mooney is working with us and is also a significant contributor to the ODDI project increases the viability of an effective collaboration with that group significantly. Our plans for NCDD collaboration primarily include (1) testing out e-Liberate, (2) using and evaluating it in their work, (3) integrating it with other online engagement tools, and (4) helping to envision future directions for the system.

This project will benefit the field of civic infrastructure in two major ways. The first is that this is significant step forward in terms of a workable online deliberative testbed. This could help weave together the network of NCDD members who are working on online systems. Having a viable technological testbed could also be very important in obtaining funding for future work. The second benefit would be an expanded deliberative community. Having online systems that can attract organizations who depend on deliberation will greatly expand the reach and visibility of NCDD. Also, as the list of our proposal endorsers demonstrates, deliberative needs are not solely national needs. People all over the world are interested in dialogue and deliberation and this effort can help support that need. In fact, although we are applying under the civic infrastructure award category, the ability to deliberate across distances is a major benefit that we hope to gain from this work.

If our proposal was selected, the plan would be to use the funding to support programming, grant writing, requirements gathering, and community deliberation support.

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Link to Additional Web Presence

Questions? Email Douglas at douglas@publicsphereproject.org