Yearly Archives: 2000

An Internet of Democracy – for the Association for Computing – By Steven Clift – 2000

An Internet of Democracy

Published in Vol. 43, No. 11 November, 2000 of the Communications of the ACM (CACM), a publication of the Association for Computing (ACM).

By Steven Clift

Here I sit with my laptop on a park bench outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, ah, the wonders and hype of modern technology. It was here that the American Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

To write about the use of information and communication technology and democracy requires not a hyper-speed view that everything will change in the next two years. Rather it is the principles we establish and the actions we take now that will set the course for the next two hundred years of democracy in the information age. We must ask ourselves – Do we want to build the Internet into the very nature our many democracies? Or will we maintain the default course where democracy is a burdensome add-on and side application that happens to run on the Internet? Just as we spend time and resources to make the Internet safe for e-commerce, shouldn’t we do the same for e-democracy?

Back in 1994, I thought that I invented the term “e-democracy.” I was into democracy, e-mail, and Minnesota politics. That election year a group of volunteers created Minnesota E-Democracy <>, the world’s first election-oriented web site. “E-mail” or “electronic” combined with “democracy” made “e-democracy.” In recent years I discovered an article from 1987 that used the term, but the point is that citizen spontaneously built something new on top of one of the most important institutions of humankind – democracy. We rolled up our sleeves and did the work required to move beyond the hype toward real results.

While I continue to volunteer with Minnesota E-Democracy, I am also involved in the “convergence of democracy and the Internet” around the world through my Democracies Online effort. I recognize that the social, political, and economic differences in countries, even communities around the world result in many different democracies. Despite these dynamic differences, forms of representation and public decision-making are pulling the Internet and other information and communication technologies into the heart of what they do. However, from parliaments and local councils to civil society and media groups, the sectors of democracy are primarily focused on the end applications and not the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet.

We need a generation of civic technologists who engage the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet and standards processes in the public interest. We need talented people with an eye toward making the Internet a democracy network by nature. Just as hyper-text transfer protocols and mark-up languages enable freer speech, what standards could assist electronic free association or geographic-based Internet content navigation? Meaningful online speech only seems to occur where people can form sustained audiences or within active online communities. Real democracy is also fundamentally based on geography, yet web sites are incredibly difficult to navigate and search based making it difficult for people to find information relevant to local community issues.

As I have tracked the Internet Engineer Task Force and other technical groups it is clear that you must have “standing” to contribute or influence these technical meritocracies. It is not enough to feel something should be done and there is no expectation that anyone has a right of representation. Those who want an Internet that works naturally in the public interest and democracy must be engaged with merit in both the development and promotion of Internet standards. We need civic-minded technologists who not only encourage technical developments but also take a lead in developing technical solutions and applications to gain respect, acceptance and power within the Internet’s meritocracy. We need to not only state the justification for a standard or open source solution, but also write and code solutions that make our technical goals a reality.

Let me be bit more specific. Some of the projects and ideas I’d like to see include:

  • Open Group <> – This is my first attempt to introduce the development of a technical effort with revolutionary implications for public online communities and free electronic association. I have found through experience that most transformative aspect of the Internet in democracy is many-to-many communication. While the vast majority of online communities have nothing to do with political issues or local community affairs, many do. The problem is that it is almost impossible for the average Internet user to find, evaluate or join these forums. Open Groups would create an XML standard for describing online groups, the ability to integrate this standard into e-mail list, web forum, and chat server software as well a mechanism to gather and share this data.
  • Representative Democracy Online Toolkit – This set of applications would seek to use Internet standards and open source software where possible to aide the integration of the Internet into formal representative processes. While not fundamentally designed to create new Internet standards, it would be focused on using Internet-style collaboration across governments and academic centers to build inexpensive and robust software tools for representative bodies around the world. Example applications might include E-mail Response, an advanced incoming e-mail filtering and response aide, Virtual Hearing, a system that enables physical public hearings to be made fully available in real-time online (including handouts and support materials) as well as allow Internet-based testimony, and Public Notice, a system to announce all public meetings and agendas online within a given geographic jurisdiction.
  • Digital Datacasting <> – With digital television emerging around the world, the opportunity to provide universal access to the most essential public service information is upon us. Along the lines of teletext in Europe and the public access cable television model in the United States, datacasting of text, images, audio, and video as part of the DTV broadcast stream will make the best of the public Internet content available to those without a two-way Internet connection. It will also allow the television and set-top box to be used for quick access to important government and community information such as missing children alerts, crime alerts, weather warnings, school lunch menus, community calendars, and in places like Minnesota – snow emergency warnings so your car doesn’t get towed when they plow the streets. To build such a standards based effort will require substantial development and political resources to merge the best of Internet development with the controversial area of broadcast standards and regulations.
  • These are just a few of the ideas I have with significant technical requirements. I am sure you have many more. From the signing of the Declaration of Independence it took eleven years until the U.S. Constitution was signed in the building in front of me. Those who care about “e-democracy” need to move from our declarations of interests and ideals and now shape the Internet’s standards-based constitution. We want an Internet that technically supports the nature of the democracies we want so the individual and group freedoms, rights, and responsibilities required to build a better world are the foundation and not the exception of the digital era.

    I often refer to myself as a “radical incrementalist.” I believe that we need to take small actions based on our ideal of what the Internet ought to be or could be now instead of waiting for it to happen all at once based on some grand plan. As “E-Citizens” we can take action in our own communities as well as globally in Internet technical circles. Let us contribute by sharing our successes and failures with our peers along the way and build an Internet that is “of” democracy and not settle for surviving remnants of current democracy struggling to simply exist “on” an anti-democratic Internet.

    Steven Clift is the editor of the Democracies Online Newswire <>, an Internet e-mail announcement list with over 1600 subscribers interested in the “convergence of democracies and the Internet around the world.” He has spoken in 19 countries on these topics and has a working draft of his “E-Democracy E-Book” available online from <>.

    The E-Democracy E-Book: Democracy is Online 2.0 – By Steven Clift – 2000

    The E-Democracy E-Book:
    Democracy is Online 2.0

    By Steven Clift

    Copyright 2000 Steven Clift – All rights reserved. This article may be freely linked to, cited or quoted with simple e-mail notification to the author and a commitment to share copies of any final derivative works. The full text of this article may only be redistributed online or in print with the express permission of the author.

    Table of Contents

    1 – Introduction

    Online Voting – Just Part of Democracy Online
    Democracy Online is Participatory

    2 – Government Online – E-Government

    Representatives and Decision-making Online
    Leading Government Online Support for Democracy Examples
    Policy and Research Agenda

    3 – Media Online and the .Com World

    Election News and Information and Online
    Policy and Research Agenda

    4 – Candidates and Political Parties Online

    After the Election – Still Campaigning?
    Research and Lessons

    5 – Advocacy Online

    6 – The Private Sector and Internet Infrastructure

    Free E-mail Lists
    Open Source for Democracy
    Open Standards – Information Sharing and Geographic Relevancy

    7 – Building Civic Life Online

    Minnesota E-Democracy – Moving the Model Forward
    Minnesota Forums

    8 – Conclusion – Now the Big Picture, Make that the Bigger Picture

    Democracies Online – An Incremental Contribution
    Let’s Create The Public Internet
    Public Internet Consortium

    Version 3.1 – Initially prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Centre for Electronic Governance conference book.  This is the same version placed online in June 2000.

    The E-Democracy E-Book:
    Democracy is Online 2.0
    1 – Introduction

    The Internet will save democracy. Or so Internet technohype led many to believe. With each new communication medium comes a wide-eyed view about its potential. I’d like to suggest that just as the television saved democracy, so will the Internet. Now that I’ve set a low expectation, anything we do incrementally to improve democracy through the Internet is something we can consider an accomplishment.

    Over the last two years since version 1.0 of this article was published in the Internet Society’s OnTheInternet magazine and online, there have been thousands of exciting and important democracy online accomplishments. The pace of change is accelerating, however transforming democracy through the use of Internet has just scratched the surface. I am not interested in simply adapting democracy “as is” to the Internet. Over the next few decades we can change democracy for the better and develop “wired” ways that allow people to improve their lives and the world around them. In our local communities and regions, our nations, and globally we are at the beginning of an era we can define.

    In 1998 I concluded Democracy is Online 1.0 with, “Perhaps the most democratizing aspect of the Internet is the ability for people to organize and communicate in groups. It is within the context of electronic free assembly and association that citizens will gain new opportunities for participation and a voice in politics, governance, and society. In the next decade, those active in developing the Internet and building democracy have an opportunity to sow the seeds for “democracy online” in the next century. Like the founding of any modern nation, the choices made today, the ideals upheld, the rules adopted, and the expectations created will determine the opportunities for democratic engagement for generations to come.”

    Progress across the democracy online “sectors” is considerable. Using the Internet to further an interactive, engaged citizenry and re-invigorated democratic processes remains an important and unmet challenge. This article will explore the state of the art within the existing institutional frameworks or “sectors” of democracy online. It concludes with a vision building civic life online and online public service through practical steps by developing what I call the “Public Internet.”

    Online Voting – Just Part of Democracy Online

    Let me get this out of the way, particularly as there seems to be so much myth and misconception developing around this subject. On my speaking trips, I find that journalists in particular like to ask about voting online. I receive press questions about the use of the Internet to vote in the Arizona Democratic Primary. It will happen. It will take much longer than you may think to allow an at-home voter to complete a ballot from home such that the sanctity of the election process is secure. The difference now is that my friends and relatives now ask similar questions.

    In time, many countries will allow people to vote via their preferred technology. In the scenario I expect, a citizen will receive a ballot in the mail if they are registered as an “at-home voter.” They will return their ballot through the mail, or use a touch-tone telephone leaving their voice signature, or use the unique information on their ballot to vote via the Internet – leaving their digital signature or PIN number. “Polling place voters” can still vote in-person at the polls. The “at-home” voters who did not vote before the final day can bring their ballots to secure Internet-connected polling locations.

    Neither voting nor polling technology justifies either one’s official use by any government. Their technical existence alone will not and should not bring about more frequent use of referenda or a more direct democracy. The possibility of bringing voting into more aspects of citizens’ lives versus the role of representative democracy should become a more high profile issue. The decision to apply technology in official elections will be primarily a political choice. It will have more to do with how those in power feel it will influence voting outcomes than whether the public wants the option. I don’t oppose voting online, I just don’t think it is really all that transformative. Elections are the “white bread” that hold our legitimate democracy sandwich together, but it is what’s in the middle that is most interesting and essential for the health of our democracies and communities.

    In the United States, I predict that the first states to allow Internet-based at-home online voting in binding general elections will be forced to do so via citizen-led ballot initiatives. As the costs for transition to at-home online voting are estimated by state government election offices the political momentum for such systems will be dampened considerably. The California online voting study, the Department of Defense exploration of overseas military online voting, and the pending National Science Foundation online voting study requested by the White House along with studies in other countries are building the knowledge required for eventual voting online. Again, it will happen. I must note that I view any attempt to allow Internet voting in binding general elections without a corresponding efforts to increase voting by mail and in-person as fundamentally anti-democratic and exclusionary. I call for a grand compromise that promotes at-home voting through an integrated choice of voting methods – online, by mail, or in-person. The key is to not limit our view of democracy online (also referred to as digital democracy, e-democracy, politics online, e-governance etc.) to just voting and elections. Voting online is a small part of the full democracy online agenda. We must not allow online voting become the sword that the broad democracy online movement falls on. The raised expectations generated by simplistic media coverage will obscure the successes of incremental democracy online development.

    Democracy Online is Participatory

    We all have different definitions and experiences of democracy. This article focuses on the Internet and participatory democracy within the context of representative democracy. It uncovers exciting developments. The reality is that our many-and quite different-democracies are changing because of the use of information technology and networks. In the long run we don’t know whether the changes will be for the better or the worse. Ready. Fire. Aim.

    The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is “As democracy and the Internet converge, how must we be involved now in order to improve both?” The challenge for us, as citizens, is to be engaged in this process of change. We will be engaged through our existing institutions, be they non-profits, universities, the media, companies, or governments. We must be involved as individuals and through the creation of new, mediating citizen organizations that are “of” the Internet, not just “on” it. We are experiencing a convergence of democratic institutions and processes with the Internet. Democracy is online.

    The primary democratic sectors that are flooding the Internet with political information are government, the media and .com content providers, candidates and political parties, and advocacy groups. The private sector and others in the information technology industry are developing information and communication tools and standards that fundamentally influence in this arena. Each democracy online sector is making a contribution to democracy online. Based on who is doing what, we need to ask the question “What is missing?”

    2 – Government Online – E-Government

    Government online, as it is often called, is making democratic information available as never before. Parliaments, legislatures, city councils, and even neighborhood councils are making laws and proposed laws, meeting agendas and minutes, and other reports available online. Elected-officials, be they a head of government or a local councilor are sharing more and more information which brings them closer to the citizen. Government is an important user of the Internet. I am not exploring either the politics of technology or the role of government as an Internet regulator or law enforcer. Too often the “hands off” ethos of government regulation with the Internet inhibits the development of support for public spending on necessary and essential government use of the Internet for improved service delivery and access to information and decision-making processes.

    In 1998 the release of the G8 Democracy and Government Online Services Publication <>, of which I served as coeditor, was an early phase of analysis by a number of governments. We are now starting to hear about “e-governance” and not just “e-government services.” From 1994-1997 I coordinated the top-level government online efforts for the State of Minnesota while also staffing the Government Information Access Council. There is a schism between the administrative side of government which controls most public sector IT resources and government decision-making bodies which represent the people. Improved and more efficient service delivery cannot be disconnected from the two-way democratic potential of the Internet. We do not want governments to simply automate services without evaluation of what they might doing right or wrong. Government must take a fundamental reform and interactive approach to develop the legitimacy required to govern in the information age. They need to aggressively compete with the expectations developed by citizens as consumers of competitive commercial web sites.

    Democracy is the inefficiency required to make the best public choices. While a call for openness and participatory inefficiency might be considered counter-culture to the administrative side of government, a “Democracy Button” should exist on all government sites. The vast majority of government online users do want quick efficient government online service from a well organized public portal – be it access to a quick transaction or frequently requested information. However, the legitimacy of each government agency must be clearly explained and documented. Citizens must be told how their government works, be given accurate and useful information about how they can provide effective online input and influence each agency it services, management, and ultimately its funding sources. Citizens must experience responsive government. The online medium allows it. The users of this new medium demand it.

    Representatives and Decision-making Online

    Services aside, the number one area for advanced development of government online support for democracy is that of representative and decision-making bodies. A substantial investment in the information infrastructure of parliaments, legislature, local councils, commission, task forces, etc. at all levels of government is required. The best way to ensure that online citizen involvement in decision-making is to adapt online tools into the official democratic processes. We need systematic full access to legally public information. We need to encourage complementary online participation based on the way power is structured and decisions are made. The current path of noisy one-way advocacy to government prompted by online protest is simply raising the din of democracy while not adding to the quality of democratic deliberations.

    The clogged e-mail in-boxes of elected officials without the tools to sort, filter, and respond to incoming e-mail is leading to a situation where e-mail is the least effective way for an average citizen to influence their government. On the other hand, e-mail is an extremely effective tool for an insider who knows staff e-mail addresses or other addresses used by the elected official. This disparity must be addressed head on. The development of democracy online software tools for use by thousands of governments could be launched with the development of e-mail response system open source software (i.e. software that can be developed jointly and shared across the world). If approached strategically, online public input into the government can improve the decision-making process and actually reduce the total administrative load of constituent contact as a whole. A Canadian government survey cited by Michel Cailloux of the Canada Information Office found that while 87 percent of citizens expect a response to a letter in two weeks, 90 percent expect an e-mail response within four hours. The current one-size-fits-all auto-response system (or in many cases no response) is not sufficient.

    Whether it be for the public or decision-making bodies themselves, organizing government information-especially proposed laws, rules, and regulations – into a combined pull-and-push system may represent the ultimate online contribution for participation in governance. Government decision-making bodies should have personalized “My Democracy” sections that allow any citizen on an equal basis to search in advanced ways (pull) and receive automated notification (push) of meeting notices and proposals of interest. Citizens could indicate interest in a certain topic area or a specific law and be actively notified whenever changes are proposed. There should be an open standards-based public domain database with contact information for all bodies and their elected and appointed officials as well as a legal requirement to announce all public meetings online within a given jurisdiction. Each meeting should have live and archived audio or video streams available along with minutes and agendas. Wherever there is a legal requirement to audio or video record a public meeting it should be done digitally and placed online for public access. Developing searchable digital archives of key decision-making documents for historical purposes should also be integrated into these systems. This also carries over to e-mail systems – how many backup tapes of important e-mail from the offices of heads of government or state governors are being illegally destroyed due primarily to a lack of will in applying paper-conceived laws?

    Decision-making bodies should host well-organized online interactive hearings and events to complement their in-person public hearings. Citizens should be able to testify live via the Internet to in-person meetings. As will be noted later, evolution toward interaction is essential for full realization of the potential of existing and future Internet tools to promote greater public participation in government. Governments do have a special duty to ensure broad access to formal participatory processes. So online interactive events geared toward the general public should complement corresponding opportunities that are available to all regardless of their knowledge of or access to the Internet. If three public hearings are held around a region on a certain topic, hold the fourth one online.

    Leading Government Online Support for Democracy Examples

    As we go into this new decade, the following examples will become the rule and not the exception. With thousands of governments and public authorities around the world, the opportunity to share stories and motivate collaboration must be seized upon. Some of the best examples to date are:

    • Online Input into Formal Decision-making – With the Central Bucks School District redistricting plan in Pennsylvania over 500 comments were received via e-mail – the vast majority of all comments received. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the chair of the school board commented that, “The majority of the issues raised were dealt with. The online feedback made it easy for us to evaluate where the greatest need for changes was.” Concerns were raised about the lack of public access to the comments received and how quickly the in-person public hearing went based on the changes made due to online input. Another enhanced official input example involves the new Scottish Parliament, working with the International Teledemocracy Center <>. The Parliament has agreed to accept official public petitions via the Internet. Petitions are a formal request from one or more people to the Parliament. Thus far is has been used by the World Wildlife Fund to garner 337 signatures in support of marine parks as part of a national park system for Scotland. Unlike third party petition sites, this is a formal petition to the parliament.
    • Online Government Consultations – In The Netherlands an ongoing discussion with Minister Roger van Boxtel <> has been facilitated by the Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek, (Dutch Centre for Civic Education). Extensive work was done, based on Dutch experience with previous consultations to establish a clear response mechanism and time frame to ensure prompt reply to citizen comments and questions. The key was guaranteed facilitator access to the Minister to develop responses on controversial issues. Many online government consultations place civil service staff in the difficult position of speaking for an agency. This is normally left up to political staff in highly public situations, however the expertise required for online consultation often involves civil service staff. At a minimum staff need prior permission to state existing agency policies and provide factual information. There is nothing worse than an online consultation where the citizens wonder if anyone is listening because no government response is quickly forthcoming. This lesson was learned with the initial discussion forums on UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s web site <>. This led to a dramatically better use with the launch of their Policy Forum on Electronic Delivery of Government Services. They first asked people to read the discussion document and then participate in the online discussion. Official posts and responses from Number 10 are clearly marked.
    • Online Parliamentary Petitions and Consultations – The Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government <>, the educational wing of the UK Parliament, has hosted a series of invited expert interactive forums <> in conjunction with committees in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The general idea is that an invited group discusses a topic from which a high-level report is generated at the request of a parliamentary committee. Topics covered thus far include women in science, electronic democracy, and domestic violence. In the State of Minnesota the role of the Internet in Jesse Ventura’s election as Governor prompted the State Senate Democrats to host the first open citizen discussion forum on an official state or national legislative web site. The next step is to integrate the interactive capabilities of the Internet into the official committee hearing process.
    • Official Government Exploration – In late 1999 the State of Victoria in Australia <> announced the first government-sponsored “Democracy Online” initiative with the goal of, “how best to use new technologies to open up the processes of Parliament and government to the people of Victoria.” All governments must begin to formally ask themselves the question about their official use of the Internet – including funding requirements and possible law changes that will enhance official representative democracy in the information age. It is important to point out that providing election access to decision-making information and processes requires resources. Representative bodies at all levels seem to have squeezed as much out of their existing IT and communications budgets to provide rudimentary online services for the public. Perhaps the only government funding initiative that expressly includes “online support for democracy” today is the European Commission’s Fifth Framework <> funding initiative. Their first round of grants should soon be announced.
    • Wired Elected Officials – As “Weos” take the reins of power the demands on the Internet in official representative democracy will be enormous. There are now a few dozen Weos in the world. In order to promote better representatives in the information age, Weos should be networked and encouraged to provide tips to new and existing elected officials. For example, while she visited Minnesota, I connected Australian Senator Kate Lundy, the only national Senator who does her own web page, with Minnesota State Representative Margaret Anderson-Kelliher, who reports that over half of her total constituent communication is now through e-mail.

    Policy and Research Agenda

    Many serious policy questions arise: Should the government help those indicating interest in the same topics or proposals become aware of each other? To what extent should a democratic information system serve the interest of those who govern versus those who want to influence how they are governed? With personalization comes the potential abuse of data on the information seeking interests and behaviors of people – should this data be protected or covered by privacy policies and laws? And how will the Internet public-access infrastructure in libraries, schools, and other locations be part of a democracy network for broader use that includes some training and assistance? If government cannot afford to build this on their own what models can be developed to promote the sharing of tools and costs among governments as well as connections to the commercial Internet?

    A comprehensive research agenda for all democracy online sectors needs to be established. Most academic coverage remains theoretical speculation or focused primarily on elections. Comparative qualitative and quantitative research comparing governments and the results of their actions is essential to guide better and more extensive government online support for democracy. Research ideas related to government online include development of a:

    1. Comprehensive check list of possible and recommended online features for use by decision-making bodies and elected officials in official government online activities. Comparing data on implemented features and lessons learned would allow governments to measure their progress and help others rate government action and plans. A technical review of best practices for each feature would be particularly valuable, promoting technical sharing to help save on implementation costs.
    2. Comparative survey of specific government actions and the attitudes toward democracy online across government including IT departments, government agency executives, elected officials and their staff, and others.
    3. Survey of wired citizens and their expectations and attitudes related to democratic engagement as well as their view of government and participation in a “wired” world. Compare responses to the answers of those with less online access or interests. Try to determine how online experiences with commercial and government sites are influencing their expectations and attitudes toward government.

    Having maintained connections with the G8 Government Online effort <> promoting well supported and facilitated peer to peer information sharing across all levels of government internationally on government support for democracy online with the context of other topical service related discussions would be a significant first step. Governments tend not to travel alone, they need the political support of comparative action.

    3 – Media Online and the .Com World

    Media efforts, especially those of online newspapers, major portals sites, and television networks, have made the largest investment in making content available on the Internet – and it shows. Media and .com content political sites clearly are the most influential and have the most agenda setting power – including those connected to large mass media outlets within more local areas. They receive most of the public Internet traffic from those seeking news and information on the issues and happenings in their democracies.

    The major scarcity online from a user perspective is time. From an online business perspective it is attention. With attention come the ability to promote your content, attract banner advertisements, and create opportunities for commerce. In most places the major virtual navigation pathways are consolidating. It is from these media and portal pathways that the public discover essential editorial services that allow them to quickly digest political news and commentary. While there are a diversity of media voices online, the consolidation toward established media brands is much stronger in 2000 than before 1998. However, the pie of Internet users is also much larger leading to an increase in use across many diverse sites. It is just not the Internet revolution some had hoped to see. Sustaining alternative content and user interest is a resource intensive and an extremely competitive activity.

    The approaches and contributions of media and major commercial sites to democracy online are incredibly important. How they leverage their audience for their own political content and interactive efforts as well as public service partnership efforts puts them in a strong position. For example, the decision to link directly to the full government report within a story encourages deeper understanding, but also sends them away from the media outlet’s own site. Another contribution is hosting interaction through Web board discussions on stories and local topics in general. Depending on the resources put into hosting such discussions, some are quite successful and others have had great difficulty with sustained participation or with problem-causing participants. In most places, interaction sponsored by a local media site is the only critical mass game in town.

    Some of the more successful media-sponsored democracy online activities are live online events such as moderated chats with candidates or elected officials. Like many of these events, AOL’s live online event with presidential candidate George W. Bush for example, the success is often viewed by the candidate based on the free media attention they receive. The Washington Post sponsors lunch hour question and answer guest appearances using a dynamically updating web page. This illustrates the potential for less profile live online events of interest to smaller audiences.

    Election News and Information and Online

    My respect and understanding of the power of online news grew with my direct involvement in the Markle Foundation’s Web White & Blue <> election information online public service effort in the fall of 1998. WWB provided the public with quick access to useful election information directories across the Internet. As the Project Coordinator, I coordinated the online development and “participating site” outreach. We create the largest online public service effort to date with hundreds of commercial, non-profit, government, and individual sites participating through placement of the WWB icon and link on their sites. (I continue with a consulting role in election 2000 efforts.) WWB essentially aligned the Internet from October 8, 1998 through the election to celebrate and promote online election information across the United States. While “news” is very much a competitive commercial arena, it was clear that people felt they were involved in something bigger than themselves. They are involved in something historically important.

    With the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election cycle, the climate among commercial news and election sites is much more competitive. However, there remain important collaborative opportunities. It is absolutely essential that these election-oriented partnership efforts be leveraged for ongoing citizen engagement efforts. The new wild card in the 2000 elections in the United States is the introduction of a dozen or so .com political sites and the transfer of the once non-commercial Democracy Network (DNet) to The more resources spent to develop and encourage citizen involvement in election and politics generally the better. I often refer to Internet venture capitalists as Internet philanthropists. They are subsidizing all sorts of useful and important activity as they seek to discover profitable new economy business models. While I must admit I am somewhat mystified by the expectation of profitability in the general online civic engagement area, there may be niche markets for services and transactions within the traditional bounds of political services and government transactions. The key it to attack areas of current value and not the creation of new markets based on the need to establish unknown customer or citizen behaviors. A note of caution, if a political information or interactive service is found to be particularly popular or profitable its features will most likely be incorporated or acquired by the incumbent media and portal online players.

    From a policy question perspective, what happens after the Presidential election in the U.S. and with future local and state elections will help us figure out what is commercially viable, what needs to be non-profit to work best, and what services need non-commercial funding models in order to exist. The key civic challenge is to fill the public interest gaps in commercial and government online political and election-related activity. It may be that as election information and basic political information is commoditized, foundation (U.S.) and government (most countries) funded partnership efforts can evolve toward promoting online citizen engagement using the Internet in governance and community involvement. The key is to look beyond the hype and not to cede legitimate non-commercial activity based on the crap shoot of potential profitability.

    Policy and Research Agenda

    Because online news and .com world is the central player in how most people experience democracy online it is essential that an inter-disciplinary research agenda be established to uncover the lessons and directions of this activity. A substantial amount of “public good” activity once in the government and non-profit realm will find a commercially viable home and much of it won’t if the venture capital flow runs dry. Some research areas include:

    1. Compare the civic/political news, information, and interactive offerings of .com, .org, and .gov sites. What do users think? How could they be improved? How might public interest election information be aggregated for broad dissemination?
    2. Survey online editors and traditional journalists on the role of the media in promoting political participation and in the development of news coverage itself. Will the Internet promote forms of “civic journalism” more easily than the traditional media – even within the same media companies?
    3. Explore the two-way nature of the Internet on media agenda setting including differences among media outlets that make journalist e-mail addresses readily available versus outlets that don’t.
    4. Compare the differences in market size and commercial viability of online political news, information, and interactive offers. Compare the differences between countries and the actual offerings of commercial, government and non-profit efforts.
    5. Review the liability laws and potential legal risk in different jurisdictions and countries related to online publishing and specific barriers to media-hosted online public discussions and interactive events.
    6. Explore the role of privacy policies and user views about the potential use of information on their political information seeking behavior, views, and political involvement.

    4 – Candidates and Political Parties Online

    The use of the Internet by candidates and political parties has advanced significantly since early 1998. Before then almost all efforts were essentially online brochures. In elections around the world the Internet is becoming an essential strategic campaign communication and organizational tool. While superior use of the Internet to win elections or build political parties remains the exception, the competition among candidates and parties make this a leading area for democracy online development. I am uncertain as to how this activity will dramatically transform the election process, but candidates and parties now have a direct means of communication with their supporters and voters that allows them to bypass the media. The level and depth of candidate/party information and issue positions is a significant improvement. The Internet is like a cluttered county fair booth with a hodge podge of candidate flyers and position papers scattered across a table. However, with the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections, it seems that the most major online happenings involving a candidate is geared to generate free media. I would like to see media coverage of the substance of online candidate exchange not trade press like rah rah about contrived technical firsts.

    In the United States most “democracy online” attention is focused on elections. I am interested in how we leverage this activity for sustained efforts that connect citizens to not just candidates, but also to those who win – elected officials.

    In 1998, the election of former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura as Minnesota Governor (my home state) is described by many as the first election that could not have been won without the Internet. Not that he won because of the Internet, just that without it he would not have made it over the top in his close three-way race. I am partly to blame for the resulting hype – I sat down with Phil Madsen after the election and encouraged him to claim his place in history by writing down what happened and the lessons that were learned <>. The number one lesson from my perspective – use the Internet as a strategic communication tool with your supporters. Use it to gather volunteers, seek donations, and go around the media to get your message out at crucial moments in the campaign. The specific tool I see as most essential – a one-way e-mail announcement list with your supporters. In terms of building your e-mail list, early e-mail is worth more than late e-mail.

    If Ronald Reagan was a made for television candidate, then Jesse Ventura was a made for Net candidate. You can have the greatest web site in the world, but with the wrong type of candidate it will not play a vital role. The success of John McCain’s 2000 Presidential primary online efforts has as more to do with his position as a reform-minded personality-based underdog than the fact that their online implementation was state of the art in terms of volunteer communication and online fundraising. McCain did successfully capitalize on the Internet opportunity with a first-person direct from the candidate (or his wife) approach to communication with his online supporters.

    Overall, it seems that innovative developments in online campaigns are based on necessity not access to resources. In fact, the better funded a campaign the less likely they are to take risks with their Internet strategy. This means they won’t break from their “brochureware” mindset – at least in terms of how they interact with the public. This is a hypothesis that needs testing. I have heard that at least one of the major Presidential communicate privately online with a special web site and e-mail updates for large donors.

    Except for the perhaps the last days before an election, the web is not like a television ad geared at undecided voters. You do need to help active undecided voters decide by providing extensive issue position information. The Campaign Study Group led by Marty Edlund surveyed users across a number of Republican web sites in 1998.

    They found that you can bring different categories of people one step. You can turn an active supporter into a donor or volunteer and move a general supporter to an active supporter armed with information they can share in support of your candidacy. You can also work to convert a possible supporter into a likely vote for the candidate. It remains an open question whether the Internet can be used to prompt a non-voter or potential first time voter to simply vote. Can the Internet actually be used to increase voter turnout? That seems a fundamentally important question.

    Another innovation out of necessity with Ventura’s online effort was their use of the Internet to allow distributed data entry via the web from the homes of Ventura supporters. What do you do when you 5,000 volunteer forms and no staff resources to enter the information into a database? The campaign “extranet” or “virtual campaign office” was born. Over the last decade or more political parties in Sweden have used bulletin boards for internal party communication and policy development. I believe that much of the sustained distributed “extranet” work will take place via political party web sites. You see this with the launch of the Republican National Committee’s GOPNet and the Democratic National Committee’s Interactive Party Platform effort.

    After the Election – Still Campaigning?

    With the Internet playing an increasingly crucial role through out the campaign, the competitive nature of the election will make this an exciting area to watch. What happens when the election is over? Will the winning candidates continue to be aggressive in their use of the Internet to connect with citizens now that they have won? The Jesse Ventura campaign site <> continues as an elected official political non-government site. It pushes his agenda and attempts to help build a movement. This is very rare. This may be an area where political parties will play an increasing aggregate technical support role. Most of my examples are based on the candidate-centric model of the United States. However, in parliamentary systems I have noticed that the parties tend to highlight the personality and image of their party leader over the presentation of their party platform. Party lessons, particularly as the to how the Internet is used for the political side of governance, from outside the U.S. would be useful insights. Will the Internet democratize internal party participation? Will it bring divisions to the surface like the experience of the College Democrats of America <> where a failed effort to impeach their leader was launched in part by the person in control of their 4,000 person e-mail announcement list only to be countered by grassroots support in their much smaller discussion forum?

    In the U.S. Congress we are seeing a blurring of never ending campaigning and political advocacy built into government-funded online efforts. The leading examples come from the Republican House, Majority Leader Dick Armey <> and Representative J.C. Watts, Jr., Chairman Republican Conference <>. Their increasing use of e-mail list services places them in front of the House Democrat Caucus and the Senate as a whole in the strategic use of the Internet as an ongoing communication and constituency organizational tool. On the Democratic side Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. <> has established a non-governmental political site that is used quite aggressively to promote his political agenda.

    Determining what level of political use of the Internet should be government, party, or candidate funded is a fundamental political and legal issue. It is also a significant ethical choice. My strategic advice to is that political parties should aggregate the information infrastructure requirement to support the online needs of their candidates down the ballot as well as the highly political activities of elected officials who are party members. Every elected official should have a political e-mail account unfettered from legal restrictions that may exist with their government-funded information infrastructure. The fact that most people use their work accounts for personal use does not carry over to elected official staff using their accounts for non-official political work. The government-funded information infrastructure provided to elected officials may become one of the most powerful tools of incumbency.

    Research and Lessons

    The pace of adoption of new online election and political initiatives is almost boggling. The challenge of project execution in a crowded political involvement space will be quite significant. It will be important to compare the lessons learned by different candidate and party efforts around the world. Because much of this “politics as it is, not as it ought to be” knowledge will be trapped in the competitive political marketplace, efforts to leverage this activity for broad democracy online improvements will need to be deliberate and aggressive. The <> and the Democracy Online Project <> in are researching the current election cycle in the U.S.. I am unaware of major academic initiatives researching online candidate and political party efforts outside the United States. On the other hand, most of the civic and government-oriented “democracy online” research and theory development is active in academic circles outside of the United States. Academic efforts like cross-Europe Government and Democracy in the Information Age (GaDIA) <> and the Virtual Society research project <> in the United Kingdom are important networks.

    5 – Advocacy Online

    Many advocacy and political interest groups have an online presence. The early adopters rushed online with Web brochures, yet few were kept up-to-date through mid-1998. Most advocacy applications were tied to an in-house champion or dedicated volunteer – this is still true at with small, more local advocacy efforts. Now in 2000, large advocacy organizations around the world have significantly upgraded the attention to their online efforts. They have moved toward a strategic or integrated approach by their organizations as a whole. They must to effectively advocate. The alternative is to lose their voice in society. Some advocacy groups maintain extensive online information. Others take a minimalist public content approach by highlighting action alerts and current priorities. The use of the Internet in behind the scenes organizing and advocacy to government and others is most notable. The use of e-mail and information tools is changing the way these kinds of groups function and interact with their supporters.

    We are now seeing the next generation of advocacy efforts migrate from primarily Internet-related advocacy, like the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s Blue Ribbon campaign for freedom of expression online <>, toward sustained general advocacy on a myriad of issues. One of the more interesting advocacy efforts supported by the use of the Internet before 1998 was Citizens for Local Democracy in Toronto, Canada <>. While hundreds met regularly in church basement meetings to organize opposition to the province-directed amalgamation of six cities into a larger Toronto, the online component used e-mail announcements and discussion lists to accelerate information sharing and strategy development. With the availability of free e-mail list services like EGroups and Topica, thousands of local advocacy efforts are now able to use e-mail to organize. Residents Opposed to Airport Racket (ROAR), primarily based in Minneapolis, Minnesota <>, used their list to spread the word about their night-time pajama protest at the international airport. These experiences lend support to my conclusion that the Internet is a particularly effective tool for high-energy, short-term opposition efforts or events. It remains to be seen if online advocacy can foster the creation of a successful movement “for” something new – meaning will people come together first online, develop a consensus, and actually do something in the affirmative. It does seem that you need a rough consensus from the start, although in Minnesota a citizen-formed political action committee against public financing for a baseball stadium was conceived on a general online political discussion forum when someone said – let’s do something.

    From an organizers perspective, a good Web hit is when someone finds the cause compelling enough to leave an e-mail address for future updates or decides to make an online donation. While online fundraising by non-profit or voluntary organizations (NGOs) tends to be oriented toward support of programs and general activities, specific fundraising efforts tied to political advocacy are emerging. With the attempted impeachment of President Clinton, the Internet was a political blender. While groups on both side of the issue were highly active on the Internet, the MoveOn.Org effort generated $13 million dollars in direct candidate contribution “pledges” from individuals. They pledge to “work to elect candidates who courageously address key national issues, who reject the politics of division and personal destruction, and who respect the voice of ordinary citizens.” While they are not directly collecting those pledges, they point to the potential “flash” Internet campaign in advocacy politics. While not specifically an advocacy effort, I discovered what it was like to be involved in a “flash” of Internet attention when I set up Kosovo-Reports <>. This e-mail list allowed first person accounts from Yugoslavia to be shared online to the world media and others during the NATO bombing campaign. In this case individuals in the region were able to share their personal stories and advocate their personal positions directly to the global community. The Kosovar Albanians did not have Internet access so the voices were primarily from Serbs. In this case NATO lost the online advocacy war by not having an Internet strategy that included helping the Kosovar Albanians get their personal stories online.

    Successful online advocacy efforts tend to reinforce the problems of noisy, grid-locked, one-way politics. With groups across the political spectrum using the Internet on top of direct mail, telephone solicitation, and other sophisticated efforts to prompt citizen outrage at government, it is no wonder elected officials are being flooded by e-mail and every other form of communication. The Center for Democracy and Technology <> continues to impress me with their ability to educate supporter on issues and help make their voice heards more effectively. CDT encourages their supporters to send telegrams straight to their member of Congress and now has the data-base driven online infrastructure that will allow them to develop more and more grass roots opportunities for involvement. We now see Internet privacy issues being fought out at the level of public opinion. The Center for Democracy and Technology’s latest campaign to discourage the use of data-matching that would connect individual web use to their consumer profiles generated media attention caused Double Click to slow their current efforts until the issue is explored more deeply.

    In late 1999, I helped the Democracy Online Project judge advocacy web sites awards. The award winning HotEarth <> allows site visitors to not only contact Congress, but also calculate their contribution to global warming by selecting their car and miles driven each year. Their site then provides advice on the choices the user can make to reduce global warming themselves. This is a personalization approach that people will come to expect on the Internet. People want to learn what they can do to solve a problem and not just protest to some distant elected official or government agency.

    At the global level, Internet use among efforts generally opposed to economic globalization reached a peak with protest preparation for the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Much of this global online network really coalesced with the successful effort to derail the Mutual Agreement of Investment negotiations among national trade ministers. Public Citizen’s Tradewatch site <> provides a glimpse into this arena. Within global development circles the issue of governance is also gaining in importance. There is considerable interest in networking NGOs across the developing world to build civil society within their countries and increase their voice collectively in matters of global importance. You see this in development circles related to the Global Knowledge for Development effort <>.

    I see a trend toward more and more local online advocacy along side global networking. It may be that forms of advocacy at the national level in most countries are well established and the Internet will be more or less integrated therefore making only a marginal difference. While at the local and global level the Internet is providing a new, relatively cheaper and effective communication infrastructure that enables newly sustainable activity. As interactive advocacy efforts (e-mail discussion lists often with supporting web sites) “colonize” more geographic spaces and topic areas, the connections among those participating in online advocacy spaces will radically change the way agenda, ideas and information flow. An issue that would have taken years to generate significant interest and awareness may now take days to generate a buzz on the Internet and suddenly be taken to the mass audience via global television news networks. The Internet is incredibly “leaky.” You can no longer kill an idea by simply slowing it down in one part of the world hoping it doesn’t jump overseas or across borders.

    The internal challenges to advocacy organizations are also significant. People now have the tools to become much more involved in the groups they support. They want to see how their donations are spent. Many are pressing for an increasing say in national organizations despite their geographic distance from the headquarters. The power relationships among individual members, local and regional articles, and national and international headquarters are influx. Democratization within advocacy campaigns, be it a campaign organized by large corporations, fringe groups, or labor unions is an area that requires significant study and analysis. How do you use the Internet to effectively organize? How do you provide organizational leadership when the voices of a disgruntled few reach the ears of the membership so easily? What new models of advocacy can be developed that are “of” the Internet age?

    The research agenda could include a comparison of different types of online advocacy appeals and related outcomes. Finding out which online techniques and activities are compelling to different types of citizens would help advocacy efforts develop their online campaigns. Public opinion surveys that measure public interest and attitudes toward Internet use in political advocacy and community activism would be extremely valuable. A technical exploration of how to accommodate online advocacy in governance should involve both the advocates and those in government who need to develop intelligent systems accommodate the voices of the people. Just as physical capitol buildings with public spaces and committee rooms were developed to hear from the people, virtual public spaces need to be created based on the reality of online advocacy.

    6 – The Private Sector and Internet Infrastructure

    The private sector – in particular, the online services, information technology and telecommunications industry – academic research institutions, and individuals are developing the information and communication tools that provide the infrastructure for democratic use of the Internet. The amazing pace of and competition in development of Internet-savvy applications are based on the business case that profit can be generated by a mix of goods, services, experiences, and content. When it comes to democracy online, a good portion of activity may be sustained through commercial models.

    The infrastructure role of the Internet as a technology, the network of networks, in the future of democracy is paramount. The ability to provide access to information by publishing on a web site or to communicate with other individuals or groups via e-mail is having a profound impact on our democracies. We need to ask the question again and again – what can be done to build the Internet as a democracy network in its nature? We also need to be wary of technical developments or standards that may be used primarily for anti-democratic purposes.

    While technology may enhance democracy, it takes a democratic people and practice to make it come alive. I do not believe the Internet is inherently democratic – institutions and citizens must make the choice to use it for such purposes. If we can engineer the best technical future for the Internet commerce and entertainment, how can we best engineer the Internet to ensure that important aspects of democracy and community are upheld and cherished? The key is influence the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet – its operating protocols, standards, the user access devices, and the software applications that run on it to ensure that democratic intent and interest can easily take hold and be manifest. We don’t want the Internet to be designed in such a way that democracy is difficult.

    The key role of the private sector is to establish the consumer Internet. Without a consumer Internet there can be no citizens’ Internet. I tend to speak in the most “wired” and most democratic places. There are significant and exciting ways that the Internet can enhance democracy in places where the Internet is currently not accessible to the mass population. I want to help promote those developments, while acknowledging from the start that what has been experienced in one country is not automatically transferable to another due to cultural, political, legal, and economic differences.

    The largest barrier to a citizens’ Internet is metering of basic Internet access. High telecommunications costs are fundamentally anti-democratic. While efforts to get around local telephone dial-up costs in some parts of Europe are moving forward, no level of subsidy or rhetorical concern about social exclusion will do more than developing flat rate pricing for consumer home Internet use. In the United States, discussions on the “digital divide” are developing momentum. If 70 percent of homes come to access the Internet via the private marketplace through a mix of devices and connections, access for those who would like access but cannot afford it, must be addressed. However, developing democracy online applications on the Internet must not wait for universal access. We are establishing user expectations about what the Internet does. If the democracy and community pathways are not established now they will be much more difficult to establish later. The need to establish democratic expectations strikes to heart purposeful government, foundation, and non-profit initiatives that define and fill the gaps in democracy online activity. Again, the “hands off” ethos of the Internet by government from a regulation perspective should not be used as an excuse to not invest the required public resources to promote good use of the Internet. To compete for user attention, the public and non-profit sector must learn from and adapt private sector use of the Internet. We should never be satisfied with public and non-profit online applications three or four years behind the curve.

    Three exciting infrastructure trends are the availability of free or low cost online applications, the development of open source software, and the potential of open standards such as XML for organizing and describing information.

    Free E-mail Lists

    The number one free technology trend that has emerged since 1998 related to democracy online is free e-mail group lists (mailing lists, listserves, etc.). While free web pages allow anyone to publish, group communication via the most tried and effective means – e-mail lists were generally not available on a free or low cost basis. Before sites like EGroups, Topica, and others, setting up an automated e-mail list would often take months to figure out unless you happened to be in an institution with the required technical resources. In 1992, as an online novice, it took me six months to find the place at the University of Minnesota that could host my Public Policy Network list. Now in minutes individuals and small organizations can create their own e-mail lists for announcement or discussion purposes via the web. While the ease of set-up obscures the amount of time required to effectively promote and use this tool, hundreds of thousands of groups are now communicating and freely associating online. Many of these groups related to geographic areas and niche affinity or peer groups at a more national or global level. I started with this article, with the claim that most democratizing aspect of the Internet is the ability of people to organize and communicate in groups. People are used to communicating privately with friends, family and co-workers via e-mail – this is why most people get online. We are now seeing private groups and semi-public groups of people from existing, often in-person groups, now communicating online, the next challenge is to find new and innovative ways to to pull people from private interaction toward fully public online civic discourse.

    Open Source for Democracy

    Most of the institutional democracy online infrastructure cannot rely on what it can cobble together from various “free” remotely served sources. What is free today, may be the commercial model that fails tomorrow. Around half of the web servers in the world run Apache, an open source and free to use application. Of course you need the server to run it and the technical expertise to keep it secure and fully operational. Here is the concept – what online applications and tools could be developed based on an open source model to promote an enhanced democracy online infrastructure? At the 1999 G8 Government Online meeting in Washington, DC I made a suggestion that just 5 percent of government information system/software development resources be put into open source applications. From a taxpayer perspective, it would make sense for governments to share some of the tools they develop to solve the same public or administrative problems. The silent, perhaps puzzled looks, although not negative response indicates that this is a very new question and should be raised with governments around the world. It is in not in any one government’s direct interest to host an initiative that would for the most part benefit other governments. This idea needs a handful of countries to jointly support the creation of a hub project and a mechanism to involve research centers, non-profits, and individual technologists interested these kinds of applications,

    Recently, with the European Commission’s Fifth Framework Programme <>, proposals were submitted in the area on “online support for democracy.” I am aware of at least two open source oriented proposals. This European fund may present the best opportunity to kick start activities in this area – at least in Europe. It makes sense that government service transactions will attract more public resources because this is an area of high public demand and expectation. If we can lower the costs of service applications and in particular develop a vibrant open source software exchange in the democracy area, the uptake of tools will result in better democracy online services. From an applications perspective the first two-thirds of advanced tools are required within the government online sphere and the other one-third will plug in from the non-profit and commercial area. Besides my call for an e-mail response system other applications such as a virtual public hearing system or public meeting notification system could be developed. An entire “My Democracy” system could be made up of optional component software components that representative bodies could integrate with their legacy systems. With the use of an open standards, open source based “My Democracy” system, third parties could build complementary web sites and further components.

    Open Standards – Information Sharing and Geographic Relevancy

    The final Internet infrastructure trend I want to mention is the development of open standards. At the more basic level, one open standard is HTML. Hyper-Text-Markup-Language is the way in which information is coded so that it may be made available via the web. Lawrence Lessig, with Harvard’s Berkman Center <>, often refers to “code” as the law. To have standing in the Internet standards world you have to have a solid technical base to be viewed as legitimate. You need more than a good idea or ideal to have a voice in this process. You must be able to demonstrate in highly technical terms a solution to the problem you want to solve. I hope to work with a new generation of democracy-minded technologists. The institutions of democracy need to arm themselves with technical experts and engage directly in Internet standards groups – not from an old style government setting standards approach, but from the approach as a user that is trying to have its problems solved. For example, how would the agenda for the development of standards to support electronic commerce be broadened if government service transactions were one of the priority transactions needing support? Why wait to adapt open standards after the fact for public interest use, why not bring down the cost of implementation by making sure the standards processes accommodate public purposes and unique needs?

    One exciting area of development is that of XML or Extensible Markup Language. To be honest after reviewing a number of tutorials I know that there is little chance that I will ever “code” XML, but I know that the concept of standardizing the way we describe types of information has tremendous democracy online potential. XML is an open standard adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium <> that allows additional groups to create “meta-data” standards that will assist the transfer and presentation of information. There are emerging standards in the area of chemical information and interactive voice response systems. From a government online perspective, I see XML as the future basis upon which “public portals” will be developed. Government jurisdictions will not only be able to build their own “Yahoo” to their corner of the world, but also organize their directory data in such a way that it may be seamlessly combined across governments and made available on sites across the Internet through syndication. If accurate, up-to-date, and essential public interest information is so important it should be made available where most Internet users are and not just in one hard to find online place.

    On another track, “All politics is local.” However, the early Internet technical ethos was that geography was something to overcome. XML and other data standards may also offer an opportunity to establish geography as a key organizing principle on the Internet – for those who want it. It is incredibly difficult to navigate the Internet by geography. Have you ever tried to look up e-mail addresses in your neighborhood or find the web site of business down the street? Since involvement in local democracy and community rely on a sense of geography, anything that can make geography a more natural part of the Internet is important. The motivations of early Internet users included escaping the “accident of geography” and it is the “world” wide-web. This isn’t to say that today’s Internet technologists aren’t interested in geography or democracy. There are real social and political perspectives at play when it comes to any attempt to influence the Internet meritocracy where group rights or abstract public interest efforts have little or no standing. By embracing geography as a vital component of the Internet, with real communities using virtual tools we can build a generation of democracy and community online “home builders.”

    My primary Internet infrastructure proposal based on the perspective above is Open Groups <>. Open Groups will make it easier for people to find, evaluate and join online communities. By creating an XML standard for describing online groups accurate and up-to-date directory information will be made available to portal sites and others across the Internet. Making it easy to search descriptions, keywords, and geographical fields, useful (and not so useful) online political discussions will be less obscure and much more accessible. The only way to solve the democracy deficit in online interaction is to make all public online interaction easier to navigate. Initial interest, primarily from the online community industry (e-mail list server, web forums, chat systems, etc.) and leading online community hosts (those who use the tools to facilitate or organize discussions) is very encouraging.

    7 – Building Civic Life Online

    As the sectors of democracy and the Internet as a whole develop and deepen their contributions to democracy online, we need to ask, What is missing? What is next?

    I want to help build the online public commons. I want to help others build them in their own communities and democracies around the world. I also want public and community information and services to be widely available.

    In 1998 I shared civic examples from Minnesota E-Democracy, UK Citizens Online Democracy, and Malaysia.Net’s SangKancil e-mail list <>. They all presented a foundation for the interactive online public commons. The first two developed an innovative organizational context for new, non-profit, non-partisan, issue neutral trusted mediating hosts for citizen to citizen and citizen to government online discourse. Minnesota E-Democracy remains a dynamic living experiment with a real impact on politics in Minnesota. I see democracy online and public interest use of the Internet as both a big puzzle and a riddle. I take small incremental steps with others (the only viable course with limited resources) to fill out that puzzle and look for answers to the riddle primarily based on experience.

    I believe that online public service efforts that are “of” the Internet and not just “on” the Internet are required to serve the public interest. There are unique public possibilities that are enabled by the Internet that cannot be simply manifest through a transfer of existing public goals to the Internet. Based on the evolution of Minnesota E-Democracy since 1994 and my direct experience with the Web White & Blue collaboration, my opinions have sharpened. I seek to foster the “Public Internet.” It is really a simple concept – the private sector, government, non-profits, educational institutions, and others need to work together to develop and apply the Internet in public interest ways that none of them can do on their own. Unfortunately, we are constrained by our notion of public broadcasting as an alternative channel or that government alone is responsible to solve public problems. We have a hard time seeing that a new model – only possible because of the Internet – is emerging.

    There are few “market failures” with the dissemination of one-way democratic information in the interest of existing institutions – no shortage of old media content transferred to the online arena. Put another way, the democracy online sectors I covered in this article will use the Internet in their own interests. They must to survive. I want to see them do a better and better job for themselves and their citizens, members, or customers. Official actions and applications that support “democracy online” will be a one step at a time process. While we are seeing more group online interaction hosted via existing institutions, it is extremely rare for any group to build online efforts – at their own expense – that undermine their influence or open themselves up to greater public scrutiny. This does not mean existing organizations will not interact elsewhere online – just not if the interactive host is perceived to hold a position counter to their goals or if an interactive online event’s success is placed totally on their shoulders. How we host and legally position the online public commons such that it is truly “public” is a structural challenge of the disintermediated Internet-era.

    I yearn for an extension of the transformative possibilities I have witnessed and directly experienced to other citizens around the world. An online, engaged democratic future is too exciting, too important to leave isolated in Minnesota where the Big Woods meets the Great Plains in the middle of North America. It is not just the water. People should be able to associate online with others in their communities and countries to discuss issues that matter to them. Over time these interactive citizens need to gain access to the online tools and lessons that will help them do something about the public problems that matter to them. I believe that we need to define the online spaces and start with general multi-issue forums based on geography and then over time add topical spaces both within and among places. Let me illustrate.

    Minnesota E-Democracy – Moving the Model Forward

    Minnesota E-Democracy <>, an effort with many volunteers, created the world’s first election-oriented web site in 1994. Minnesota E-Democracy is a non-profit 501.c3, non-partisan, issue-neutral organization whose mission is to promote participation in democracy through the use of information networks. I am one of the founders and current volunteer Board Chair. What we pieced together on one site in 1994 is finally emerging across a number of sites nationally in the United States with in 2000 election. Detailed candidate information from candidates and non-partisan sources, official government election information, an online space for people to discuss the candidates and elections issues, and structured online candidate debates will now be available at the Presidential level. Overall, the coverage is excellent at the statewide candidate level with scores of non-commercial and commercial sites, however the more local you go the less likely you will see a full grid of information and interaction.

    Minnesota E-Democracy’s “E-Debate” model as first developed by Scott Aikens and refined by subsequent volunteers including Rick Birmingham and Tim Erickson essentially translated an in-person time-based debate model to the Internet. The Democracy Network (DNet) also established an ongoing debate-like question and answer grid for candidates. These models helped me considerably in my early 1999 advice to the Markle Foundation for their Web White & Blue 2000 planning process. This early input will manifest itself to some extent in the WWB 2000 collaboration’s Rolling Cyber Debate among Presidential candidates that is emerging for the 2000 election. This mixed model event should be designed such that it learns from the rare successful experiments in the area of “online special events” as well as create a body of knowledge and software tools for future debates down the ballot.

    Almost by accident, we discovered that the most valuable thing Minnesota E-Democracy created in 1994 was the MN-POLITICS <> e-mail discussion forum – our online public commons. The forum, then managed by Mick Souder, didn’t close when the election was over. People continued to talk about the issues that mattered to them including happenings in front of the state legislature and local politics. Averaging 400-500 direct subscribers to this day, the forum quickly became a part of real politics in Minnesota. Its agenda setting role became well known as more and more political activists and journalists came online. The heyday of the forum in my estimation was 1996 and 1997 when the open sharing of political information by those who “do” politics was at its peak. You want a mix of exchange between those who “do” politics and those who “talk” politics. Otherwise the forum is nothing better than an obscure newsgroup or web board with little influence on anyone with power. If 99 percent of most online political discussions are pure junk, disconnected from anything “real” then ours is only half junk. The miracle is that any of it has value! This is our very pragmatic approach.

    In some cases, our continuing conversations influence elected officials and the media. They make up a substantial portion of e-list subscribers. Most discussions influence the participants as citizens and encourage basic respect for the simple idea that people can hold opinions different than your own – this idea has been generally lost in traditional broadcasting. I say, take an existing power structure and put an interactive online commons right in the middle of it. I have learned that few “average” citizens will waste their time expressing their opinions if they feel that someone who can do something about it is not present. Who is getting the message on our forums is perhaps more important than what people have to say. Relevancy and access to real politics is essential to drive useful discussion. If the world is run by those who show up, lets make it so people can show up from home.

    In 1998, we significantly updated our important charter, rules, and guidelines for MN-POLITICS and split the message channels in half – one for discussion and one for announcements. We also took our online commons model more local. The most active and dynamic online community issue discussion space in the world is the Minneapolis Issues Forum. I encourage you to visit my home page <> to access my “A Wired Agora” presentation for the full details and analysis. Let me just summarize – recruitment, broad community participation, effective guidelines, and facilitation by volunteer list manager David Brauer. We continue with efforts to build forums in a few pilot Minnesota cities and are developing extensive outreach proposals to extend even further the diversity of voices in our forums. Outside of Minnesota E-Democracy, I volunteered to host a local forum in my neighborhood and my neighborhood organizer, Zach Korb, is facilitating the Networking Neighborhoods Forum through my Democracies Online initiative <>. There is no reason to develop these efforts in isolation. I have always tried to network with fellow “builders” whenever possible.

    Minnesota Forums

    Based on my travel around the United States and speaking engagements in close 20 countries, it is my assertion that Minnesota’s political system is the more online as percentage of total political activity than anywhere in the world – particularly in terms of private and public online political interaction. I’d like to further develop Minnesota as the most comprehensive and cutting-edge democracy online project. We need to pilot test ideas and generate real lessons for other projects and places around the world. Through importing ideas, adapting online technologies, using Internet-era flexible organizational and partnership frameworks, and active research we can take leading actions toward solving the democracy online puzzle. Our main challenge is to define a useful, easy-to-use, open interactive communication system for policy development, community dialogue and public work.

    Minnesota Communities Forum

    To move the Minnesota E-Democracy model forward we must establish mechanisms to extend the facilitated online community commons’ across the state – the Minnesota Communities Forum. As the population in any given jurisdiction shrinks, discussions become less ideological and the forum is of more interest to a broader cross section of the population. We must fill out our emerging local partnership models and determine the required resources (volunteer and otherwise) to extend the model from a few cities to hundreds across the state. We also need to create statewide online public issue forums for communities based on cultural, ethnic, and language groups .

    We need meaningful “virtual corner coffee shops” or logically placed online meeting points that actually get people out of their homes to community meetings and into the real physical world of community affairs and politics. Think of the Internet as the ultimate ice breaker. In Minneapolis a few of the over 80 neighborhoods are now creating their own forums. How do we extend this activity deeply, comprehensively, and cost-effectively within larger communities just as we would city-wide in a town of 5,000 people or perhaps a rural Minnesota county with 5 people per square mile. This would allow both the sharing of meeting announcements and provide a forum for online discussion that complements local in-person meetings. As others lead efforts to ensure high bandwidth directly connected universal Internet access (fighting for dial-up access isn’t enough) and broader socio-economic use, we must ensure that the Internet matters in real local communities before it is too late to define the medium.

    Minnesota Capitol Forum

    At the state level we must build from our base. MN-POLITICS is our loud, noisy “online capitol rotunda” where in the physical world people hold their rallies and discuss politics. We need to build the “virtual committee rooms” for serious information exchange, deliberation, and citizen involvement. Establishing 30 or 40 ongoing topical spaces useful for real public policy development would be the heart of the Minnesota Capitol Forum. The online spaces would be geared toward those with a specific legislative issue interest. For example, Environment and Natural Resources or Transportation and Transit and be both a practical tool for sharing announcements and a way to involve the interested public in a deliberative manner. Along with announcement sharing and opt-in discussions, each space should have a shared link directory to key resources, a calendar for related in-person and online events sponsored by the many participating organizations, and a member directory.

    These interactive spaces need to become a shared community resource that are managed and facilitated in an unbiased manner such that they can become important communications crossroads that improve public policy development and broaden participation. Working closely with the legislature and others, committee agendas, testimony, agency reports, advocacy alerts, and announcements could be actively shared. Web links or integration of the online spaces into partner sites, especially government and media web sites will be required. Interactive spaces without extensive linking from related legislative committee pages and key policy agency sites the Capitol Forum will not attract enough awareness to warrant building it in isolation.

    While Minnesota E-Democracy could be a legal host for the forums, real partnerships would have to be developed to have this be truly “public.” An open planning process, substantial resources and formal partnerships with both bodies in the state legislature, the executive branch via the Governor’s Office, and major Minnesota media web sites will be required. Forum content should be syndicatible to allow integration of content into commercial and other sites, therefore addressing their commercial realities. All the Minnesota Forums would have to become the unofficial designated place for citizen-to-citizen and citizen with government exchange. For example, an e-mail reply from the Governor or Legislator to a citizen would proudly mention in their thank you note – “I also encourage you to participate and make your voice heard in the Minnesota Capitol Forum.” As I have noted pragmatically to government and legislative online leaders, “Wouldn’t you rather have citizen spend time interacting with each other rather than just sending you e-mail all the time.” Creating an active public sphere online can stem the tide of the current one-way flow of protest oriented e-mail to elected officials which I feel is a serious threat to deliberative, representative democracy. Let’s encourage the political forces in society to mix it up publicly online within a context that actually matters in real politics. Let’s generate public opinion as citizens and not wait for the headlines the next day to tell us what we collectively think.

    Minnesota Commons and Minnesota Open Forum

    The state and local civic forums could be complemented by a set of “public practice” spaces where those involved with solving public problems or various kinds of public and volunteer work could trade ideas, experiences, and advice. And finally, some form of completely self-governing “free” space, Minnesota Open Forum, is requiried. It would function without the more comprehensive rules and guidelines currently used by Minnesota E-Democracy. We have developed extensive rules to keep our forums focused (for example, it is against our rules to post anonymously or more than twice a day). To prevent the tragedy of the online commons (when a few people put too many messages into it and drive the audience away) and to accommodate increasing numbers of interactive citizens you need diverse choices and levels of openness and decorum. Invariably certain individuals based on political convictions, personality, or psychological condition will find themselves afoul of basic forum rules in more structured online spaces. The future of the online public commons depend both upon the ability of any citizen to reach their fellow citizens and public leaders in a group communication setting as well as the ability to defend the group space against threats to it existence. It only takes the concerted action of a few people to drive the participant audience away and destroy the forum. Self-governance is best, but it does not always work. Completely free spaces (newsgroups play this role quite well) would ensure that the Minnesota Forums were not to only interactive spaces in town as well as help ensure that charters and rules hold legitimacy by ensuring a “release valve” for occasional discontent.

    As Minnesota E-Democracy approaches the 2000 election we are again promoting election information across the Internet. We like to promote the good work of our partners through our E-Democracy election partnerships. We recently launched our Political Desktop with quick links to a few hundred of the best Minnesota political, government, and media resources and finished a very successful Winter U.S. Senate candidate online debate. We have learned that people turn to the Internet when there is a scarcity of information, therefore online events early in the political process add the most value. These special events require hundreds of volunteer hours to produce. While many good intentioned Internet projects fold when their budgets run out, we don’t fold because we don’t have a budget. We expand slowly based on volunteer capacity, use donated web space from Onvoy (formerly Minnesota Regional Net) and cobble together free services from across the Internet for such things as e-mail lists. As an organization we are now seeking grant possibilities and individual donation options that would move us from a strictly volunteer-based non-profit toward a model that would allow us to extend and deepen our activities as described above. Deepening the practice in Minnesota as pilot to the world is the best way I can think of contributing to the closure of the online interactive civic gap in democracy online. Actions speak louder than words or abstract theories, but will only have a real impact if those actions are based on a deep sense of democratic commitment and purpose.

    8 – Conclusion – Now the Big Picture, Make that the Bigger Picture

    I presented what I know about the democracy online sectors. I talked about the importance of influencing the Internet infrastructure. I highlighted Minnesota E-Democracy and its possibility. I now want to conclude with a discussion of the “Public Internet” and what I am doing to best contribute to future of democracy online. We each need to do our part.

    I helped start Minnesota E-Democracy when I was 24. I recently turned 31. The other week my grandfather died after a happy and hard working 92 years. My cousin prompted a last visit to my grandfather at my aunt’s home with an e-mail a few days before he died. Even in 1940 my grandfather took my grandmother to the midwife via horse and sleigh when my father was born. They lived on a farm in the far north of Minnesota where electricity did not come until my father was a toddler. Despite advances in technology, all they could raise successfully in that harsh climate were new rocks in the fields each spring. Within ten years they had to abandon the farm for carpentry work in the city. I recall showing my grandfather digital pictures on my laptop from one of my speaking trips abroad. I asked myself, what would this medium have meant to a man who was involved in his township board and spent retirement years back on the old farm lands writing letters to editor trying to get a crumbling bridge that connected them to county road replaces. I then think about my grandmother on my mother’s side who at 75 after being on the Internet for two weeks sent me my first web-based birthday card. What can this medium mean to her, my mother’s father and their eight kids and twenty-six grandchildren, and the small community many of them live in and near? What does this mean to people? Real people?

    While many rush to change the world or make a billion dollars in a day on the Internet, most end up giving up three hours later. I think a long-term, sustained approach is required to fully realize the potential of the Internet in our public lives. The next few years are absolutely vital in terms of establishing the expectation that Internet is and can be used for public purposes. To make the case that non-commercial applications are essential and as noble as commercial work, I argue for a “radical incrementalist” approach. Whether you work in a “democracy online sector” or come at this from a citizen perspective, what two or three simple but important things can you do to incrementally contribute to democracy online? Quit waiting for the pie in the sky plan to be finished or magic funding to get started. The Internet advances based on trial and error with sudden bursts that lead to major improvements based on simple, yet universally applicable radical innovations.

    Democracies Online – An Incremental Contribution

    Over the last few years, most of the “raw materials” I compiled in this article were shared in small pieces over via my Democracies Online Newswire moderated e-mail announcement list <>. With over 1100 members around the world, this service has brought together the “democracy online community” from across the sectors I explored in this article. Democracies Online is a space where I provide outreach and information sharing services as a “public good.” My consulting work for the Markle Foundation <> has in many ways has cross-subsidized this voluntary service. All along I have envisioned a set of public and private online spaces for complementary peer-to-peer exchange. I am slowly but surely developed those forums. The public Networking Neighborhoods Online Forum is now open with 150 participants. The currently government-only forum on Public Portals is under development. And soon the Parliaments Online Forum, open to those who work directly in parliaments, will have its official launch with a letter signed by online staff from over ten countries. Each sector within the democracy online community, whether those who run the web sites of world leaders or political section editors of media and portal web sites, could use an organized forum for ongoing peer-to-peer exchange. We could also use occasional online events and conferences to foster cross sector sharing of lessons and experiences.

    Let’s Create The Public Internet

    What can we do together that won’t happen otherwise? What public goals can we achieve through the Internet that require us to work in different ways? It seems clear that adapting existing institutions, public, private or non-profit will not suffice. We need to create “Public Internet” partnerships and new mediating institutions that allow the advantages of online competition sweeping the world of commerce to enter the public world through the form of collaboration. Collaboration is the disintermediating force that existing forms of public problem-solving resist because it requires change. We need to envision our public goals five or ten years out, set aside our existing institutional frameworks and ask how we might best serve these long-term and Internet-era public goals in the information age. To do this we need to create a mechanism for public leadership in this area and trusted hosts for collaboration without the barnacles of past public interest turf wars. In some sense we need to prevent .com-munism from limiting .org-anizing for public .gov-ernance. Not everything will be commercial nor will all non-profit models survive. One insight – not everything in commercial markets can be supported without collaborative efforts involving non-commercial actors. Cooperation can often take competition to the next level where the pie is much larger.

    Public Internet Consortium

    I have come to the conclusion that the long term goals of Minnesota E-Democracy will require the “commons” to be integrated into a much broader public interest “Public Internet” effort. Reflecting on my government online experience, I see now that it is not just about presenting government as an isolated set of hierarchical agencies through a “public portal.” The motivations behind public broadcasting and things like traffic and weather information services need to be established for the digital era. We need to make broad “public” and community information, services, and interaction available across the Internet. We must create standardized mechanisms to promote the distributed aggregation of public content and public interaction spaces for broad dissemination. And most importantly, like the Netscape Open Directory <> encourage sites across the Internet to integrate “public” directory information and essential content into their web sites. Non-commercial sites can remain ad free, but the most important public services will now find a distributed home across diverse sites and in some cases the best and most essential public and community content will be broadcast universally via digital broadcasting. I see no reason, other than complacency and an unwillingness to work together for missing children reports, crime alerts, and perhaps school lunch menus to not one day be available to all via digital television datacasting <>.

    And the truth is that no state or country can go it alone. To serve the public interest online in my home state we need to leverage the trends of the global Internet. This is a completely different way of working than the historical model of the innate “Minnesota model” development. Maybe it is the water? We can do better by importing the best ideas and lessons from around the world, improving upon them and sharing the results.

    I am now in the very early stages of developing the Public Internet Consortium concept. This umbrella effort would foster the creation of a well-funded international partnership to promote efforts to apply existing Internet standards and influence emerging open standards in the public interest. This would be a more practical, technology-oriented approach which would complement the other distinct efforts to raise public interest voices in the more political Internet governance debate. The Public Internet could be a host for pilot initiatives, public service-focused open source software applications, and outreach and educational efforts broader than my current Democracies Online effort. Promotional public interest efforts, like my Citizen Forum 21 proposal and the efforts of others might also find a home. Citizen Forum 21 <> would declare a month for citizen participation across the Internet and promote hundreds of interactive online special events around the world. I’d like to create the organizational capacity to introduce over a million new Internet users to potential on online civic engagement through interactive events sponsored all the democracy online sectors. This may or may not fit my incremental step model, but it would sow the seeds for a whole generation of civically engaged Internet users. This is the conclusion – time to think big.

    The Public Internet Consortium would necessarily involve all Internet sectors with distributed efforts based in different countries. It will require extensive start-up funding from foundations, ongoing support by governments and private sector members, and be specifically designed to work closely with and complement the work of broader Internet standards groups or technical developments. This is not about creating a public interest island, but about providing the leadership and support required to fill the giant gap in public interest Internet development.

    Through the year 2000 I plan to further develop proposals based on the Public Internet Consortium concept to determine if significant interest exists. We can do this now or wait twenty years. I’d rather act now. Join me.

    Top Ten E-Democracy “To Do List” for Governments Around the World – By Steven Clift – 2000

    Top Ten E-Democracy “To Do List” for Governments Around the Worldby Steven Clift

    Governments around the world have an exciting opportunity. We can revitalize our spirit of our many democracies and build an e-government that fundamentally connects with the people and rebuilds the legitimacy of governance. The Internet, if used with democratic intent and spirit can and will bring people closer to their governments. We can break down the “us” versus “them” mentality and embrace the miracle of government as the one institution the people jointly own in their local communities, regions, and nations.

    I started to think about these issues when I coordinated the State of Minnesota’s government online efforts (1994-1997). Today, I see even more urgency and need for aggressive government-sponsored e-democracy activity in every government office, agency and program. To help us get started I have drafted the “Top Ten E-Democracy “To Do List” for Governments Around the World.” It is up to us to:

    1. Announce all public meetings online in a systematic and reliable way. Include the time, place, agenda, and information on citizen testimony, participation, or observation options. Use the Internet to build trust in in-person democracy.

    2. Put a “Democracy Button” on your site’s top page which brings them to a special section detailing the agencies/government units purpose and mission, top decision-makers, links to enabling laws, budget details and other accountability information. Share real information that help a citizen better understand the legitimacy of your government agency and powers. Give citizens real information on how to best influence the policy course of the agency. This could include links to the appropriate parliamentary or local council committees and bodies.3. Implement “Service Democracy.” Yes, most citizens simply want better, more efficient access to service transactions and information products your agency produces. Learn from these relationships. Actively use comment forms, online surveys, citizen focus groups to garner the input required to be a responsive e-government. Don’t automate services that people no longer want or need. Use the Internet to learn about what you can do better and not just as a one-way self-service tool designed to limit public interaction and input.

    4. End the “Representative Democracy Online Deficit.” With the vast majority of government information technology spending focused on the administrative side government, the representative institutions from the local level on up to the Federal government are growing increasingly weak. Invest in the technology and communications infrastructure of those institutions designed to represent the people. Investing in elected officials’ voice through technology is investing in the voice of the people. Cynicism aside, options for more direct democracy can be explored, but invest in what we have today – representative democracy.

    5. Internet-enable existing representative and advisory processes. Create “Virtual Committee Rooms” and public hearings that allow in-person events to be available in totality via the Internet. Require in-person handouts and testimony to be submitted in HTML for immediate online availability to those watching or listening on the Internet or via broadcasting. Get ready to datacast such items via digital television. Encourage citizens to also testify via the Internet over video conferencing and allow online submission of written testimony. The most sustainable “e-democracy” activities will be those incorporated into existing and legitimate governance processes.

    6. Embrace the two-way nature of the Internet. Create the tools required to respond to e-mail in an effective and timely manner. E-mail is the most personal and cherished Internet tool used by the average citizen. How a government deals with incoming e-mail and enables access to automatic informational notices based on citizen preferences will differentiate popular governments from those that are viewed as out of touch. Have a clear e-mail response policy and start by auto-responding with the time and date received, the estimated time for a response, what to do if none is received, and a copy of their original message. Give people the tools to help hold you accountable.

    7. Hold government sponsored online consultations. Complement in-person consultations with time-based, asynchronus online events (one to three weeks) that allow people to become educated on public policy issues and interact with agency staff, decision-makers, and each other. Online consultations must be highly structured events designed to have a real impact on the policy process. Don’t do this for show. The biggest plus with these kinds of events is that people may participate on their own time from homes, schools, libraries and workplaces and greater diversity of opinions, perspectives, and geography can increase the richness of the policy process. Make clear the government staff response permissions to allow quick responses to informational queries. Have a set process to deal with more controversial topics in a very timely (24-48 hours) fashion with direct responses from decision-makers and top agency staff. Do this right and your agency will want to do this at least quarterly every year,, do it wrong the first time and it will take quarter of a century to build the internal support for another try. Check on the work in Canada, The Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom in particular and you’ll discover government that are up to some exciting work.

    8. Develop e-democracy legislation. Tweak laws and seek the budgetary investments required to support governance in information age. Not everything can be left voluntary – some government entities need a push. What is so important that government must be required to comply? There is a limit to what can be squeezed out of existing budgets. Even with the infrastructure in place the investment in the online writers, communicators, designers, programmers, and facilitators must be increased to make Internet-enhanced democracy something of real value to most citizens and governments alike.

    9. Educate elected officials on the use of the Internet in their representative work. Get them set-up technologically and encourage national and international peer-to-peer policy exchanges among representatives and staff. Be careful to prevent use this technology infrastructure for incumbency protection. Have well designed laws or rules to prevent use of technology and information assets in unknown ways. Don’t be overly restrictive, but e-mail gathered by an elected official’s office shouldn’t suddenly be added to a campaign e-mail list. Be sure the tell them to read the “Top Ten Tips for Wired Elected Officials” online at <>.

    10. Create open source democracy online applications. Don’t waste tax dollars on unique tools required for common governmental IT and democracy needs. Share your best in-house technology with other governments around the world. Leverage your service infrastructure, be it proprietary or open source, for democratic purposes. With vast resources being spent on making administrative government more efficient, a bit of these resources should be used “inefficiently.” Democracy is the inefficiency in decision-making and the exercise of power required for the best public choices and outcomes. Even intentional democratic inefficiency can be made more effective with IT. In the end, have fun and experiment. Seek out those in other governments who have had practical experience and trade tips along the way. Join the Democracies Online Newswire <> to meet others inside and outside of government who are interested in improving democracy and government through the use of information and communication technologies. Together we can build an e-government fundamentally connected and responsive to the citizens of each of our democracies.

    Sind Sie schon drin? Zehn Tipps für vernetzte Politiker (Wired Elected Officials Article in German) – By Steven Clift – 2000

    “Sind Sie schon drin?” Zehn Tipps für vernetzte Politiker

    Auf seinen Streifzügen durch die digitale und analoge Welt der Politik hat der amerikanische Netz-Experte Steven Clift eine neue Spezies von Politikern von entdeckt: Die “WEOs” – Wired Elected Officials.

    Clift bezeichnet mit diesem Begriff jene Politikerinnen und Politiker, die nicht nur im Internet sind, sondern den Sprung in das Internet-Zeitalter geschafft haben. politik-digital dokumentiert nachfolgend seine zehn Empfehlungen und Hinweise auf dem Weg zum netzfesten Multimediapolitiker. Der englische Originaltext wird in unregelmäßiger Folge aktualisiert.

    “WEOs” (dt. in etwa: “Vernetzte Mandatsträger”) benutzen das Internet als ihr wichtigtes strategisches Kommunikationinstrument. Sie benutzen es zur Unterstützung und Stärkung des hocheffektiven und bewährten persönlichen Kontakts und Gesprächs. Während ein Politiker alter Schule durch Kontrolle und selektive Veröffentlichung von Information seinen Einfluss zu erhalten sucht, ist ein WEO durch die Lenkung und das Teilen von Information eher in der Lage Einfluss und Respekt zu gewinnen. Ein WEO begreift, dass andere Politiker und die Öffentlichkeit Treibholz im Meer der grenzenlosen Information sind – sie benötigen Hilfe, sie benötigen Anleitung. Gebraucht werden internetfeste Politiker, die die Menschen durch dieses Meer leiten, zu dem, was wirklich wichtig ist.

    Das Bestimmen der Tagesordnung und das Fällen von Entscheidungen, also Regieren im Informationszeitalter, erfordern neue Fähigkeiten für Mandatsträger. Unabhängig von der Frage, ob sie seit zwanzig Jahren oder seit zwanzig Wochen im Amt sind. Lesen Sie nun die besten zehn Tipps um ein WEO zu werden, und das Informationszeitalter nicht nur zu überleben, sondern es auch zu Ihrem Gewinn zu nutzen.

    1. Nutzen Sie das Internet zur Kommunikation

    Ob für die private Kommunikation “unter vier Augen” oder zur öffentlichen Verständigung in der Gruppe: Interaktion hat ein hohes Potenzial und ist jetzt schon die mächtigste politische Anwendung, die das Internet bietet. Meinungsäußerung im Internet ist bedeutungslos, wenn sie nicht mit freier elektronischer Vereinigung einhergeht.

    2. Nutzen Sie das Internet zur Verbreitung von Information

    Sei es als Teil ihrer offiziellen Pflichten oder zu Zwecken der Partei-/Kampagnenarbeit, ermutigen Sie Ihre Wähler und Anhänger Ihre Newsletter zu abonnieren. Aus der Sicht der Veranstalter ist das Internet passiv, da die Nutzer dieselbe Seite selten zweimal besuchen. Sie, als “WEO”, wollen Menschen, die ihre eMail-Listen abonnieren: so können Sie Ihre Botschaft zu geringen oder keinen Kosten weit verbreiten.

    3. Entwickeln Sie mehrere eMail-Identitäten im Internet

    Legen Sie sich eine eMail-Adresse für öffentliche und offizielle Kommunikation mit ihren Wählern an, dazu eine interne Adresse für die Regierungsarbeit und mindestens eine persönliche für die Verständigung in Partei- und Kampagneangelegenheiten und für anderweitige private Kommunikation.

    4. Fördern Sie “eDemokratie” innerhalb ihrer schon bestehenden representätiven Strukturen, um die Partizipation der Bevölkerung durch dieses Medium zu ermöglichen

    Nutzen Sie bestehende Prozesse wie Anhörungen, öffentliche Aussagen, Wählerkommunikation und passen Sie diese an das Informationszeitalter an. Die aktive Integration von Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologie in die repräsentative Demokratie ist unverzichtbar, um Legitimitätsdefizite zu vermeiden und die Demokratie zu verbessern. Verabschieden Sie Vorbildgesetze im Hinblick auf eDemokratie, die sowohl repräsentative wie auch beratende Leistungen von Regierung und Verwaltung uneingeschränkt im Internet zur Verfügung stellen. Beginnen Sie mit der Verpflichtung, alle Protokolle öffentlicher Treffen und Tagesordnungen durch ein einheitliches System online zu verschicken.

    5. Nutzen Sie das Internet zur Verbindung mit Gleichgesinnten in der Welt

    Das Internet ist ein grandioser Weg, um bewusst und wertschöpfend Möglichkeiten zum Informationsaustausch zwischen Menschen mit ähnlichen Interessen und Zielen aufzubauen. Greifen Sie jedes politische Thema von Interesse auf, um Netzwerke zu schaffen. Für Sie selbst und ihre Mitarbeiter. Warten Sie nicht darauf, dass andere globale Netzwerke für den Austausch und die Diskussion politischer Ideen und Konzepte aufbauen. Werden Sie selbst ein weltweit bekannter Experte in einem Themengebiet. Ergeifen Sie die Initiative. Jetzt!

    6. Nutzen Sie das Internet zur Informationsbeschaffung

    Es ist ein Informations-Labyrinth da draußen. Seien Sie geduldig und Sie werden oft finden, wonach Sie suchen. Nutzen Sie Ihr Netzwerk von Gleichgesinnten und unterstützen Sie sich gegenseitig bei Rechercheanfragen und Bedürfnissen. Eine Anfrage an die Gruppe wird häufig zu Hinweisen auf nützliche Informationen führen. Umgekehrt wird es für die Gruppe von Nutzen sein, wenn Sie die Ergebnisse Ihrer Internet-Recherche proaktiv teilen. Stellen Sie sich diesen Prozess als “just-in-time-democracy” vor; durch Nutzung ihrer und anderer Experten-Netzwerke.

    7. Nutzen Sie das Internet zur cleveren Informationsbeschaffung

    Verwenden Sie eine Suchmaschine wie Google <> und Internetverzeichnisse wie Open Directory <> oder Yahoo <>. Lernen Sie, sie zu benutzen. Finden Sie ähnliche Seiten durch eine umgekehrte Suche: Der Begriff “link:” findet zum Beispiel alle Seiten durch Google oder Alta Vista <>, die auf diese Seite verweisen. Nutzen Sie diese Methode, um herauszufinden, wer auf Ihre Seite verweist.

    8. Nutzen Sie das Internet, um automatisch mit Information versorgt zu werden

    Abonnieren Sie ausgewählte Newsletter und Veröffentlichungslisten der Webseiten, die Sie regelmäßig besuchen. Lassen Sie sich von dort mitteilen, ob es Neuigkeiten für Sie gibt. Verwenden Sie Nachrichtenfilter (fragen Sie Ihr technisches Personal), um neue eMail in verschiedenen Ordnern zu organisieren. Auf diese Weise können Newsletter getrennt von persönlichen Nachrichten gespeichert werden, und Sie behalten den Überblick.

    9. Nutzen Sie das Internet zur Überwachung

    Ob es eine Seite ist, die Sie nützlich finden oder die Internetpräsentation eines politischen Gegners: Verwenden Sie die Möglichkeiten des Internet, um deren öffentliche Aktivitäten und Dokumente im Auge zu behalten. Mit Diensten wie Spy On It <> können Sie automatische Beobachter einsetzen, die Sie informieren sobald etwas Neues auf der Seite auftaucht. Einige der besten Informationen zu Politik werden einfach auf einer Seite platziert, ohne weiter beworben zu werden. Überlassen Sie solch einem Dienst die Arbeit, Sie über Änderungen oder Ergänzungen auf dem laufenden zu halten.

    10. Fördern Sie integrierte Dienste innerhalb ihrer Organisation

    Einheitliche Systeme, Netzwerke und die technische Ausstattung sollten von der übergeordneten repräsentativen Institution getragen werden und nicht von den einzelnen Mitgliedern selbst (zumindest gilt dies für die technische Basisausstattung). Das ist eine Frage des Gleichgewichts der Kräfte. Wenn die Regierungsverwaltung Milliarden in ihre Informationsinfrastruktur investiert, dann muß die repräsentative Seite auch investieren, um sich einen entsprechenden Einfluß in einer zunehmend verkabelten Welt zu sichern. Gleiches gilt für Parteorganisationen im Wahlkampf: Fordern und fördern Sie eine Informationsinfrastruktur, die allen Parteikandidaten integrierte und angesammelte Wahlkampfinformationen in einer sicheren und strategischen Weise zur Verfügung stellt.

    Der Autor

    sclift.gif (6060 Byte)Seine ersten Erfahrungen mit elektronischer Demokratie sammelte Steven Clift mit dem Projekt Minnesota E-Democracy, das bereits 1994 als digitale Bürgerplattform entstanden ist. Inzwischen arbeitet er als “Online-Strategist” an unterschiedlichen Projekten aus dem Feld der eDemokratie. Unter anderem gibt er einen einschlägigen Newsletter heraus (Democracies Online Newswire) und arbeitet als Koordinator im Rahmen des Webwhiteblue-Netzwerks, das für die Durchführung der ersten Online-Debatte zwischen den US-Präsidentschaftskandidaten verantwortlich ist.

    Die Ratschläge für vernetzte Politiker sind zuerst erschienen in “E-Guide for Parliamentarians: How to be an Online Representative” (UK Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government).

    Top Ten Tips for “Weos” – Wired Elected Officials – By Steven Clift – 2000

    Top Ten Tips for “Weos” – Wired Elected Officials

    by Steven Clift – German Version Available

    Originally published in the “E-Guide for Parliamentarians: How to be an Online Representative” produced by the UK Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government with support from British Telecom.

    As I have traveled the world online and in-person, I have discovered an emerging new breed of politician. They are not just on the Internet, they are now of the Internet age.

    These “Weos” or Wired Elected Officials are using the Internet as their primary strategic communications tool. They use to strengthen and support good old fashioned and highly effective in-person politics. A Weos is more likely to build power and respect through information guiding and sharing than an old style politician who holds on to power through control and selective release of information. A Weos understands that other politicians and the public are adrift in a sea of information – they need help, they need direction. What we need are wired politicians at the rudder guiding people through the information sea to what is most important.

    Agenda-setting and decision-making, that is governance in the information age, require new skills for elected officials whether they have been in office for twenty years or twenty weeks. Read on for the top ten tips on how to become a “Weos” to survive and thrive in the information age.

    Top Ten Tips for Weos

    1. Use the Internet to communicate.

    Whether it is private one-to-one or public group communication, interaction is the most transformative and powerful political application on the Internet. Speech on the Internet is meaningless unless there is free electronic association.

    2. Use the Internet to disseminate information.

    Whether as part of your official duties or party/campaign work, encourage your constituents or political supporters to join your one-way e-mail list(s). The web is passive from an organizers perspective because people rarely visit the same site twice. You want people to join or “opt-in” to your e-mail lists so you can share your message widely little or no cost.

    3. Develop multiple e-mail address identities on the Internet.

    Have one e-mail address for public official constituent communication, one internal address for official government work, and at least one personal e-mail address for unofficial campaign/party political communication and other personal communication.

    4. Promote “E-Democracy” within your existing representative structures to enable “wired” public participation.

    Take your existing processes such as committee hearings, public testimony, constituent communication and adapt them to the information age. Active integration of information and communication technology into legally representative democracy is essential to maintain legitimacy and improve democracy. Pass model “E-Democracy laws” that require representative and consultative features of the administrative side of government and other government bodies to be fully accessible online. Start by requiring that all public meeting notices and agendas be posted online through a uniform system.

    5. Use the Internet to connect with peers around the world.

    The Internet is a terrific way to establish intentional and value-added opportunities for peer-to-peer information sharing among people with similar interests or goals. Take any public policy topic of interest and create networks for you and your staff. Don’t wait for others to build global policy network of elected officials. Become a known global expert in a topic area by taking the initiative now.

    6. Use the Internet to access information.

    It is an information maze out there. Be patient and you will often find what you need. Use your peer connections and assist each other with research requests and needs. Sending a query to the group will often result in references to useful information just as proactively sharing the results of your online research will provide value to others. Think of this as “just-in-time-democracy” through the use of your expert and other’s online “best practitioner” networks.

    7. Use the Internet to access information smartly.

    Settle on a search engine like Google <> and subject trees like the Open Directory <> and Yahoo <>. Learn how they work. Find similar sites by reverse searching – for example “link:” will find all pages indexed at Google or Alta Vista <> linking to that page. Try the reverse search to find our who links to your site.

    8. Use the Internet to be fed information automatically.

    Subscribe to select e-mail newsletters and announcements list on the web sites you find most useful. Let them tell you when they have something new. Use e-mail filtering (ask your technical staff for help) to sort your incoming e-mail into different folders to keep e-mail list messages separate from e-mail sent personally to you.

    9. Use the Internet for intelligence.

    Whether it is a site you find useful or the site of your political opponents, use the Internet to monitor their public activities and documents. You can use tools like Spy On It <> to set automatic page watchers that will notify you when something new is posted on a web site. Some of the best public policy information is not promoted beyond placement on a web page. Let a web reminder tell you something has been changed or added.

    10. Promote integrated services for all elected officials across the organization.

    Uniform systems, networks, and equipment should be overhead covered by the representative institution itself and not a cost to members directly (at least for the essential technology base). This is a balance of power issue. If the administrative side of government invests billions in their information infrastructure, the representative side must invest as well to remain a relevant voice for an increasingly wired society. The same goes for those in political party based elections – promote an integrated and aggregated campaign information infrastructure that may be used securely and strategically by all party candidates.

    Calling all current and future Weos

    So are you a “Weos?” Would you like to become one? If you are an elected official you can take the first step by requesting joining a private online peer forum designed specifically for “Weos.” For more information on the Weos forum or to comment on the ten tips, send an e-mail to <>.

    Steven Clift is the editor of Democracies Online Newswire <> and Co-Manager of the Parliaments Online Forum, a peer-to-peer forum for those who work on parliamentary online efforts in over 30 countries. For further reading visit Publicus.Net <>.V2.0

    The Public Internet Concept Draft 1.0 – By Steven Clift – 2000

    The Public Internet

    Concept Draft 1.0

    by Steven Clift,

    This is an edited except from my Information is Power? Envisioning the Minnesota Public Internet – Public service and community information and interaction in the public interest speech. You see a mix of global concepts mixed together with Minnesota comments.  Eventually I will pull together a completely generic concept piece.

    I accept the notion that most of what is being done online will be done by existing institutions based on existing missions.  This includes private sector, government, educational, and non-profit/NGO institutions.  The question of “public interest” activity must not be limited to our current notion of public needs from the offline world.  Yes, it makes sense for those solving public problems to come “on” the Internet and use its tools in pursuit of their objectives.  However, it is absolutely essential that we define public interest goals, needs and solutions that are “of” the Internet.

    The illustration below presents my estimation of who is doing what online in the areas of Infrastructure, Commerce, General Content, Community (Local) Content, Interaction, and Community Interaction (Geographic).  The yellow bits are the missing areas of activity from my personal perspective.

    When it comes to infrastructure, commerce, and general content the private sector and public/non-profit sectors “as is” are generally successful, but when it comes to community content, interaction, and community interaction there are tremendous gaps.  We need to keep the rationale and models from public broadcasting and public access cable from clouding our options.  Defining the “Public Internet” is not about creating an alternative channel (they continue to have value based on existing or narrowly defined missions) but it is instead about partnerships among all players to fill in the gaps through the creation of shared mediating institutions and initiatives.

    Two examples of efforts I am involved with that attack the gap in the interaction area are Open Groups for online community directory information and my efforts to promote the creation of local interactive online public commons spaces.  The second part of my original speech explores the interactive public policy civic gap with specific proposals for Minnesota which can be extended elsewhere.

    At a minimum we need to develop the concept of the “Public Internet” and explore the concept much more deeply.  We should perhaps look to create a trusted, participatory all sector partnership-based organization called the Public Internet Consortium.  It could focus on promoting the use of open standards to solve public problems and be the host for a mix of Internet-based public interest applications/open standards which require a shared home to be legitimate or become established.  Just as you have hundreds of industry consortiums dealing with unique parts of e-commerce, we need similar efforts that are expressly public interest oriented.

    Again, what can we do together that would not happen otherwise, but we want to exist?  Ultimately the more online access, content, and interaction support by the competitive private market place or integrated into existing government and non-profit missions the better.   Filling in the many-to-many interactive gap with dynamic and sustainable solutions is how our first digital generation will be judged. It will be my life work.

    Public Portals – Directories for the Public Internet

    Back in 1994 and 1995 I designed North Star, the Minnesota State Government’s home page or directory site (see also the North Star Development Center, and History and Future as viewed in 1997.) I secretly felt that I was designing the future interface through which most citizens would someday interact with their government.  When people would hear the word state government they would have an image of the state capitol building, the current Governor, and the main home page in their minds.  I strived to keep it non-political and worked to create a citizen-oriented foundation.  I figured that someone online should wake up each morning and ask the question – “what can I do for the citizens as a whole today” versus “what can I do to present my agency in a better light to its customers.”  I assumed that agencies would continue their silo service, but that we could add a user-friendly directory.  And over time standardized access to frequently requested information and a high volume service transaction layer.  We would move from a thin directory, hard silo system toward a “Yahoo” like directory as illustrated here.

    Moving toward an integrated service delivery and multi-interface approach, I felt the growing directory should be based on a database and be led by those with a communications and library-oriented skill set and not just technologists.  In the winter of 1997 the Minnesota State Legislature passed legislation creating the best legal framework for integrated online government online in the country and put almost $1 million dollars toward the effort.

    The vision should have moved us toward a subject index of state government information and services (which does not exist – only a big garbage in garbage out search tool), a dynamic framework for integration of all major state directory information products including the state telephone directory, state agency guidebook, directory information on all local governments and eventually all public services including those sponsored by non-profits.  (This reminds us that ideas are dangerous – because all existing organizations and missions will not survive, keeping ideas off the public agenda is the safest way to preserve organizational turf.)

    I left state government to pursue my Democracies Online effort and independent consulting in late 1997.  Efforts with the “public portal” in Minnesota have slowed tremendously.  While agencies continue to develop better and better online efforts, a few collaborative agency efforts provide niche directories – the sum is less than the whole of the parts.

    Developing a effective citizen interface to things “public” is ultimately it is about vision, power, and leadership.  I think we need this to come directly from the Governor’s Office with real targets to which we can hold the administration accountable. In the end it might make sense to privatize North Star into a state-supported non-profit that would take a holistic “public” information and interactive services perspective.  This could become the foundation for what I call the “Minnesota Public Internet.”

    Through the use of open standards and systems the best public content should be aggregated for broad dissemination through multiple technologies.  While the web will be the most cost effective self-serve system, telephone based text to speech systems must provide access to the blind and those without two-way Internet access.  Any government or non-profit employee could use the same Minnesota Public Internet directory to send citizens in the right direction cutting through the bureaucracy.

    Enhanced Digital Television – Broadcast the Public Internet

    The real revolution with content aggregation and dissemination will be Digital Television.  Using yet to be defined enhanced service standards the “best of the Internet” will be broadcast.  Your remote will give you access to text, images, audio, and video that will be stored on your set-top box or in your television for a few hours or longer depending upon your settings.  The fundamental question with the “one-way Internet” (my name for digitial TV) is what public content is so important that everyone should have universal access to it?   Some examples that come to mind; weather alerts, traffic information, crime alerts, school lunch menus, missing children alerts, snow emergency information and other public safety notices.  Imagine this – you key your zip code into the set-top box and suddenly you have access to accurate, up-to-date local information from the city, your neighborhood organization, local museums, civic groups and the list goes on.  (This concept could be explored now at the local level if local governments dedicate all of the increased revenue from cable modem services to “public access” community new media content and service development.)

    See my orignial Community Digital Broadcasting article for more information.

    The lynch pin of this model is the development of a trusted content aggregator(s) and standards-based syndication systems.  While commercial stations could be encouraged to carry this digital side content, I think public television broadcasters are in the strongest leadership position.  Perhaps they just become the carriers as part of some broad government/non-profit partnership or they build this by default. I am not sure.

    Let’s not count commercial carriers out completely.  It may be that the Minnesota Public Internet concept is actually made up of many partnerships organizing different chunks of content and services for “syndication” across not only Digital TV but through the larger commercial web sites with “eyeballs” or users.  You see this happening already with multiple commercial sites using and repackaging traffic information.  So in the future perhaps more people will interact online with their government and non-profit services through the StarTribune or PioneerPlanet and AOL’s My Government then through government and non-profit web sites directly?  Perhaps. I am not sure if I am fighting or promoting that concept, but in the end I just want more citizens to actually get access to the good stuff on their terms based on their own needs.

    More resources:
    Digital TV and public service in the Nordic countries – Article
    Sam’s DTV Report
    DigitalTelevision.comMonday Memo, Glossary
    Federal Communications Commission – DTV
    FCC Notice of Inquiry on DTV Public Interest Obligations
    FCC’s Kennard on Interactive Personal TV

    Comments on this draft?