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CivicEvolution is a web-based technology created by Brian Sullivan that helps people develop proposals collaboratively. You can propose an idea and lead a team to develop the idea into a full proposal. Or, you can join a team to help develop a proposal suggested by someone else. The estimated time to complete a proposal in this deliberative, asynchronous environment is three weeks.  civicevolution.org

The proposals that are developed have six sections: an idea, goals, action plan, impacts, first steps, and key research. Proposals are developed as people submit and rate key points for each section of the proposal in order. The key points from the previous section provide the foundation for the next section.

As of January 2008, the following details pertain to a CivicEvolution project for Western Australian called “Sustainability Within a Generation.”

Key points technique

Each section is developed using the key points technique. The key points technique starts with discussion about the proposal section. During the discussion, participants identify and record key points. While the discussion continues, the team also discusses and refines the key points. Team members then prioritise these key points. The top ranked key points from each section will be included in the proposal.

This key points technique helps a team capture its collective wisdom in a concise format that will be compiled into its final proposal.

All team members should read the posts, respond thoughtfully, and generate key points to capture the team’s wisdom. We make it easy to stay involved, each morning, team members receive a daily email summary that includes the comments, replies, and key points that were added during the previous day.

It takes many conversations to complete a proposal

Many conversations are required to develop a proposal, so we provide many different places to have these conversations. As we have already seen, each section of the proposal has a discussion area and a set of key points which can also be discussed. In addition there are several other discussion areas:

  • Team Introductions – this is the place for the team members to check-in and make their initial introductions before they get started.
  • Proposal steps discussion – this is the place to discuss the schedule. Is it too fast, too slow, or do you want to revisit a section that has been locked?
  • Working together team discussion – this is a place for general discussions about team issues, questions, and problems.
  • Proposal endorsement discussion – this is the place to discuss issues related to endorsing the final proposal.

We provide these additional discussion areas so the team can stay focused on specific issues and tasks in each of the areas. We also provide a Comment viewing tool that allows you to explore the comments and suggestions without having to visit each page of your proposal.

Endorsing and submitting your completed proposal

Your team must endorse its proposal once it has been completed. The fact that at least six team members endorse the idea gives it more credibility. You can endorse your proposal by clicking the Endorse link on the left side. Click the I endorse this proposal button at the bottom of the page. Your name will be added to the “This proposal is endorsed by” list.

Encouraging respectful teams

Proposal development teams have at least 8 members but no more than 25 members. This size ensures there are enough voices to deliberate about the proposal while maintaining an intimate atmosphere where the members can know and respect each other. In addition to the size of the teams, we encourage respect by discouraging anonymity: members are asked to use their real names, reveal their city location, and minimize anonymous posts.

Teams are self-managed

The teams are self-managed and one member will act as a team administrator, but everyone is responsible for the team’s success. The person who posted the idea for a proposal will be the team leader unless she or he chooses to find another team member who wants to do it.

Here’s a 9/8/06 article on CivicEvolution from CNET’s news.com blog (http://news.com.com/8301-10784_3-6113955-7.html).

Brian’s rules of order: CivicEvolution

Posted by Rafe Needleman

Brian Sullivan believes that motivated groups of people can accomplish great things if they’re only given the tools that encourage them to communicate well. So he’s building an interesting wiki-like product, CivicEvolution, that will embody, and enforce, his rules of order.

CivicEvolution, still in development, is designed for political committees, nonprofits, and small collectives like neighborhood groups and teams. Fundamentally it’s a wiki, but unlike most first-generation wikis, it offers a great deal of structure. (This is an important trend in wikis, which I’ll be covering more soon.)

For example, on a CivicEvolution page, anybody can make a proposal, and all proposals are on a special part of a project page. Users can then endorse these proposals. When a proposal is endorsed by multiple people, its highlighting changes and it moves up in the section. If there are a number of proposals in a project, this feature makes it easier for people to see which way the group is leaning.

Brian’s rules of order are enforced in other ways, too: If a user group on a topic gets too big, it can automatically split into chapters, which can then elect spokespeople to the group at large. In other words, Brian can encode representative government into his wiki.

Some of the features of CivicEvolution transcend Brian’s ideals. For instance, a CivicEvolution project site loads into the browser in one big chunk when a user first visits it, and clicking on links causes data to pop into a project page immediately, reducing the user’s penalty for exploring a topic or a discussion — they don’t have to wait for page loads, and they’re less likely to get lost. That’s an easy technological improvement for anyone to digest.

Brian says, “I want to get out of the technology and into the social engineering aspect.” While I am sure there are groups and people who will feel at home in Brian’s wiki utopia, I’m not so sure there’s enough flexibility for the social makeup of all the groups Brian would like to serve. It’s easier to engineer Web servers than group dynamics.

Resource Link: civicevolution.org

NCDD hosted an online dialogue at CivicEvolution on the 5 challenge areas we focused on at the 2008 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation in Austin, Texas. See our summaries of the dialogue on the Framing Challenge and the Systems Challenge.

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