Archive for the 'E-democracy' Category

Connected Citizens — Enabling Common Ground

Friday, January 5th, 2007

The Canadian Community for Dialogue and Deliberation (C2D2) 2007 Conference has been scheduled for November 12-14, 2007 in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada).

Three potential main themes are currently being evaluated:

  • Citizenship: the character of an individual viewed as a member of a democratic society; behaviour in terms of the duties, obligations, and functions of a citizen.


  • Common ground: Some people say that an objective of dialogue and deliberation is to find common ground. In many cases, people with different perspectives can look beyond differences to see what they have in common. Common ground would be a great theme for the conference as this could be used to support many different concepts, such as:
    1. Bringing the community together on common ground for the conference;
    2. D&D approaches to finding common ground;
    3. Establishing common ground for the D&D community in Canada.


  • Interconnectivity: Interconnectivity is another idea being considered as a conference theme. The concept of being interconnected has many powerful interpretations and meanings. Many people are familiar with the concept of six degrees of separation. This is the idea that everyone on the earth is connected to everyone else through six people. This is a neat idea in showing that not only are people in the D&D community connected to each other, but we also use D&D to bring others together to increase understanding, address challenges, find solutions, etc.

I’m interested in all three, hence my suggestion for a combination: Connected Citizens — Enabling Common Ground

In order to help them better prepare the conference, you are invited to complete their online workbook and suggest your own topics or themes.

Via NCDD: C2D2 News - Online Survey & 2007 Conference

Phil Nobel on online politics in Europe

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Nicole just did a nice pre-conference interview with Phil Noble, founder of Politics Online. He has some pretty interesting things to say about citizens, politics, and the internet in Europe and elsewhere:

Nicole: When you look at Europe (and from your experience), what is most astonishing to you that politicians don’t do because it would be so easy to do today. What would you give as advice to somebody who wants to use the internet today?

Phil: Well, it’s really not too surprising to me that the politicians haven’t adopted the internet as aggressively as they could have. What has surprised me is that there hasn’t been more independent citizen organizations, more independent online organizations.

And again, I think that goes back to the political culture and tradition. In this country, politics is very entrepreneurial in the sense that if I decide I wanna run for governor of South Carolina I walked out my front door, call five reporters and say “I’m running for governor of South Carolina.” And if I can raise enough money and run an effective campaign, I win! And I don’t even have to — you know, other than paying my $5,000 to put my name on the ballot — I don’t even have to talk to the Democratic party establishment. And so we are very entrepreneurial.

And France and Europe in general you’re much more bureaucratic, your party structure is much more rigid. And what surprises me is that there’re not more online organizations and structures and campaigns created by individuals totally outside of that party structure. That’s what surprises me most about Europe.

Nicole: Loïc said he could imagine that for the next European election there might actually be a party of bloggers or internet-savvy people who could run as a party and try to change things. And the more I look at how Europe is structured or the European government is structured, I actually believe there could be a chance for it.

For the moment, I think most people don’t really see European government as something which is important (the national elections are much more important than that). But more and more, Europe is taking over, you have government decisions from Europe which have to be transported into national law and everything.

So it would actually be a good idea to have somebody running as independent and writing in English about what’s happening in the European Union itself to get more information, to get more unbiased information as well. But so far, I don’t see that coming.

Phil: I think that’s right. I used to do some work for the party of European Socialists in the European Parliament back in the late ’90s. And it has been something that has surprised me as to why some of the European parties have not moved aggressively to use the internet to really reach out to individual citizens.

And again, I think it goes back to the European tradition. The party of European Socialists or the EPP, or whatever, all these things, they are a creation of national parties. And so, you know, they are most concerned about being responsive to and trying to be directed by the parties — but not the individuals, not individual citizens.

And so I think that’s what’s really missing is that we haven’t had in Europe political organizations that have been interested in bypassing their party structures and empowering and linking and creating a real citizen movement. And I think it could happen. I think it’s more likely to happen on the extremes, you know, some of the, um, on the far right or the far left — I think they are more likely to use it effectively in the short term.

Although I must admit, for example, David Cameron in the UK: I’m very impressed with what he’s trying to do online. You know, I think in Germany, what Angela Merkel… I think she shows that she has some understanding of it, you know. And I think obviously the most intersting one right now is Ségolène Royal. I mean, what is she gonna do with it? I think she has the potential to be a real breakthrough in Europe because she has used her blog and internet in a way that nobody else has. And I think she may be the first real online European politician.

Citizen-centric politics? Citzen-centric parties, even? Smart use of online tools? Empowering citizens? Sounds like a recipe for success for whomever wants to get in (or stay in) the game.

I’ve been on the Politics Online newsletter for almost a decade now (Electofix, one little project of mine, even scored a mention as HotSite of the week last August). If things work out as planned, I hope to get to go to Washington D.C. next March for the Politics Online Conference 2007 (Upcoming).

Crowdsourcing — Opportunities for politics and government

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

What is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing” is a term coined by Wired magazine writer Jeff Howe and editor Mark Robinson in June 2006. It describes a business model akin to outsourcing, but relying upon unpaid or low-paid amateurs who use their spare time to create content, solve problems, or even do corporate R&D. Crowds targeted for crowdsourcing include garage scientists, amateur videographers, freelancers, photo enthusiasts, data companies, writers, smart mobs and the electronic herd.


Crowdsourcing attempts to replace selectively hired, trained and managed workforces with mass volunteer participation and self-organization. While not a new idea, it is becoming mainstream. Open source projects are a form of crowdsourcing that has existed for years. People who may not know one another work together online to create complex software such as the Linux kernel, and the Firefox browser. In recent years Web 2.0 technology has evolved to allow non-technical people to participate in online projects. Just as important, crowdsourcing presumes that a large number of enthusiasts can outperform a small group of experienced professionals. The tagline for Jeff Howe’s website,, is The Rise of the Amateur.

Back in July, over on Tim’s blog, I asked:

I wonder if this could be applied to the world of politics as well: Citizen engagement, crowdsourced policy development, only an engaged citizen is a good citizen etc.

Now two very critical postings by Chris and Tara make me want to get back to this.

Chris: Crowdsourcing — the neue sweatshop labor

Wired got it wrong when it established the term, putting business interests ahead of the community’s — suggesting it’d discovered a gold mine of cheap labor that could become the next wave after international outsourcing. What Wired should have said of course, casting it in such a light, was that it’d discovered the next source of legalized sweatshop labor where you never even need to meet face-to-face, let alone account for, the people doing the work.

Tara: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

The word crowdsourcing makes me sad.

Why don’t people just say: “wanting you to give your time to my project for free” or “could you do me a favor that will never be returned?”. It sounds so much nicer.

I don’t think I agree. If the terms are transparent and participation is strictly voluntary, I don’t see why crowdsourcing is necessarily a bad thing. Obviously, it may require a lot of effort in building relationships and community (much more so than with traditional outsourcing, I would guess, and something that not all corporations may be capable of doing).

On the contrary, I see enormous potential for crowdsourcing in the area of politics, government, and citizen participation. In a way, projects like AmericaSpeaks (to name just one among many others who were present at the NCDD conference in San Francisco this past August) do just that: they help governments and organizations crowdsource the process of finding smarter solutions and building consensus around them.

And why does that make sense? Because even if they wanted to, governments and the people involved in politics are oftentimes simply not capable of doing it on their own. Without consulting their citizens, they seem less likely to find the right solution to a complex, messy and controversial issue, let alone bring about consensus or get group buy-in. Instead, since citizen involvement is usually not an option due to organizational and budget constraints, they have to go it alone, achieving mediocre results at best.

This is what we have been used to. And this, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons why so many people around the world are frustrated with the political class, with the people who represent them, with the system as a whole.

Now what if…

What if there were an easy and fun way to do this type of collaborative work between governments and their citizens on the web? What if engaging your citizens became a viable option — efficient, affordable, rewarding for both sides? What if, as a government, for the first time in history you could ask the people for help when you need it?

Would citizens be interested? I believe so, and it’s worth a try. I am pretty convinced that more people have a pretty good idea of what makes a good citizen, and they would love to contribute a lot more than they already do — if only it wasn’t so hard.

And as for payment? My guess is you wouldn’t even need to pay people for this type of work, at least not in money terms. If you can convince someone that their contribution as a citizen, their time and effort, their learning about an issue, engaging with their peers, trying to understand each other’s points of view, trying to move things forward, going through all the sweat, tears, pain, and difficulty — if you can prove to that one citizen that all this wasn’t just a waste of her time, but instead, that her input really made a difference, then you will have rewarded her already.

RedBlue — An experiment in cross-spectrum dialogue

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, just sent a notification about the following project:

RedBlue will be an interactive Internet application that will provide an exciting yet safe way to engage directly with someone on “the other side” of the political spectrum. This new approach to civic engagement is designed to leave behind the confrontational and polarizing forms of discourse that dominate today’s Red vs. Blue debates and reintroduce Americans to the old-fashioned notion that in matters of public policy, there can be room for reasonable people to disagree.

RedBlue will create a private, one-on-one online dialogue process by matching participants with contrasting views. “Counterparts” will learn about the ground rules of productive dialogue, then engage on a difficult issue by viewing or reading a fictional narrative scenario that frames a front-page issue in personal, rather than theoretical, terms. Their email-style discussion will be monitored by a “virtual facilitator” that will make suggestions, provide feedback, and offer to step in when the heat of the moment threatens to derail the civility of the dialogue.

Another interesting approach. My guess is whoever gets this thing right might be in for something big.

E-Democracy Forum Rules

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

As the Campaigns Wikia mailing list is struggling with the challenges of how to have a meaningful discourse via email, Steven Clift gives out invaluable advice:

… you need a well defined set of rules and a forum manager empowered to warn/remove those who violate civility rules. You also need participants willing to use the delete key on the posts that might politically offend them but are not uncivil (rather than pay for a moderator or censor).

He then points to his very own E-Democracy Forum Rules:

Based on a decade of experience, these rules provide a citizen-based foundation for online civility by focusing on public issues in order to promote effective public agenda-setting through dialogue. These online public forums about the sharing of ideas and information rather than being right with one’s ideology or winning an argument. Our forums are not designed for debating abstract political philosophy or ridiculing others for their beliefs, backgrounds, or speculative motivations.

Online civility, in my view, is another key concept for any type of web-based deliberation project.

Hotsoup is live

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Hotsoup has launched (and already they made it on national tv last night). What is Hotsoup? is the first online community that joins Opinion Drivers from across the spectrum. The community connects well-known influencers from the worlds of politics, business, religion, and popular culture with influencers who drive opinion at the grassroots and community levels. Harnessing the power of social networking technology, levels the playing field by giving anyone and everyone a voice in how America’s institutions can work better.

Opinion Drivers are the individuals who, every day, influence their friends, colleagues, and peers. …

Collectively, grassroots Opinion Drivers are an enormous and growing force because Americans place decreasing trust in old-line opinion leaders such as network anchors and politicians; they’re turning to each other for advice and guidance in these fast-changing times. Where is a good place to eat out? What’s the best car to buy? Who’s the best candidate for school board and for president? More and more, Americans are turning to trusted friends and neighbors to answer such questions and manage the crush of information at their fingertips in the info-tech age. If you’ve ever been asked, “Hey, what do you think about…” then you are probably an Opinion Driver. Welcome to the community.


Opinion Drivers across the country are losing patience with party lines and PR spin. They recognize the complex challenges America faces and want intelligent discussion and reasoning. They want smart debate, real answers and, most importantly, they want the opportunity to be heard.

Carter, Chip, Joe and Mike, prominent Democratic strategists, and Mark and Matthew, Republican heavyweights, had successful private sector practices that specialized in helping corporate clients find Opinion Drivers. It was frustrating; the rise of the Internet and other societal trends made Opinion Drivers both more important and harder to reach.

At the same time, Internet veterans Allie, Bart and John were consulting on better ways to reach and engage Opinion Drivers online while simultaneously launching a new social networking site called

And Ron, one of the country’s most respected journalists, was observing his readers’ behavior change and co-authoring a book, Applebee’s America, about this audience and the community-building potential of the Internet.

Despite representing both sides of the political aisle, Internet media and journalism, we all reached the same conclusion: There is no single place for Opinion Drivers to gather online. That was the day we set out to build

Intelligent discussion. Smart debate. A voice for everyone. Will be interesting to watch if and how the makers of Hotsoup will be able to grow the community culture necessary to achieve these goals.

Today is Democracy Online Day

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Steven Clift suggested this:

Starting in 2006, every October 17th is to be known as “Democracy Online Day.” In 539 BC, King Cyrus The Great of Persia is thought to have issued the first written list of human rights on this day.

This also happens to be during Local Democracy Week in the UK and a few weeks before U.S. mid-term elections.

By having a simple day where all providers of online democratic/governance and political content alike can celebrate their efforts, more people will be made aware of the positive uses of the Internet for citizen participation.

I was hoping to be able to release today some of the findings my summer research on online deliberation and citizen participation has yielded, but I’m about a couple of weeks behind.

I will, however, point to the following two events coming up November 11/12:

Since there seems to be a lot of overlap, I have suggested that the two merge. We’ll see if that happens.

What we can expect from deliberation

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

From The Deliberative Democracy Handbook (chapter 19, Future Directions for Public Deliberation, by Peter Levine, Archon Fung, John Gastil):

What we can expect from deliberation

Although the earlier chapters of this book raise many questions that remain unanswered, they also substantiate several conclusions. First, people are willing to discuss public issues and can sustain serious, in-depth conversations about technical or highly divisive matters. …


A second conclusion also can be drawn from the previous chapters: when deliberation is well organized, participants like it. In fact, they find it deeply satisfying and significant. …


Third, the products of deliberation are often excellent. Deliberators may be asked to develop budgets, design rural or urban landscapes, make policy recommendations, pose public questions to politicians, or take voluntary actions in their own communities. When the tasks are realistic, the questions are clear and useful, and the discussion is well organized, deliberators often do a good job. They can absorb relevant background materials, seriously consider relevant facts, incorporate and balance a variety of legitimate perspectives and opinions, and make tough choices with full awareness of constraints. Experts are often surprised and impressed by the quality of the public’s deliberations, judgments, and actions. … [G]iven the opportunity, ordinary people have frequently proven themselves to be capable of generating impressive outcomes across a wide variety of political contexts and policy issues.

Within the community of deliberation advocates there:

… appears to be broad agreement that a successful deliberative initiative has the following features: (1) the realistic expectations of influence (that is, a link to decision makers); (2) an inclusive, representative process that brings key stakeholders and publics together; (3) informed, substantive, and conscientious discussions, with an eye toward finding commond ground if not reaching consensus; and (4) a neutral, professional staff that helps participants work through a fair agenda. Over time, it is also hoped that deliberative processes can (5) earn broad public support for their final recommendations and (6) prove sustainable. Taken together, these objectives are not easily met, but practitioners have found many ways of managing — if not overcoming — the obstacles to deliberation.

The question is: If citizens are ready, willing and able — why isn’t this being done more often?

Online deliberation research — Berlin, Cologne, Brussels

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Aside from attending Barcamp Berlin and Blogtalk Reloaded, I plan to do a little research in the area of online deliberation and citizen participation.

I’d like to get in touch with people in the field (members of parliament and their staff, party officials, union members, NGO activists, lobbyists, researchers etc.) to find out where their biggest pain points are today with regard to political participation and decision-making. I will organize two casual evening meetups in both Berlin and Cologne. If you’re interested, please contact me and I’ll share the details with you.

Also, it looks very likely at this point that I’ll be going to Brussels, Belgium to take a look at The European Citizens’ Consultations. Don’t know if there will be time for a quick meetup or what form and shape it would take, but let me know anyway if you’re around and want to get together.


Friday, September 15th, 2006

The Citizendium Project

The Citizendium (sit-ih-ZEN-dee-um), a “citizens’ compendium of everything,” will be an experimental new project. It will begin life as a “progressive fork” of Wikipedia. But we expect it to take on a life of its own and, perhaps, to become the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge projects. We will avoid calling it an “encyclopedia,” because there will probably always be articles in the resource that have not been vouched for in any sense.

We believe a fork is necessary, and justified, both to allow people a place to work under the direction of experts, and in which personal accountability–including the use of real names–is expected. In short, we want to create a responsible community and a good global citizen.

The Citizendium will be launched as soon as possible, meaning within a few weeks at most.

Read the essay, Toward a New Compendium of Knowledge (longer version), for a more in-depth introduction to the project.

Is it just me, or is the space of online deliberation, citizen participation etc. picking up speed?

Via Tim: Öffentliches Wissen (in German)