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White House Champion of Change – Open Communities and New Voices: Let’s Be Neighbors – Includes Top Ten Lessons List

Open Communities and New Voices: Let’s Be Neighbors

Steven Clift is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in making government more transparent and accountable through technology.

Steven Clift

Imagine. I am standing on my front porch in Minneapolis, trying to speak out to my neighbors:

“Yes, I love the idea of starting a community garden. Let’s meet.”

“Councilmember, what more can we do to get the FAA to respond to our complaints about dramatic airport noise increases in our neighborhood?”

“My neighbor, an Iraq vet, heard five shots and ran to the victim in the street as he lay dying. I never want to see a sobbing, collapsing mother need to come to a crime scene again.”

“Let’s have a “Community Eat-up” and support that new Salvadoran restaurant in our neighborhood. Who will join us?”

“Great. So glad you found seven neighbors to quickly bake those lasagnas for your friend’s memorial service today.”

“I found a lost puppy …”

If it was before 2008, these real examples would have remained unheard across my neighborhood.

Imagine being connected to over 1,000 of your neighbors via an online public space for community exchange (that’s 25% of households in my neighborhood).  You are able to connect with local elected officials who represent you, small business owners and workers, and local civil servants and community groups. Everyone who cares about your local community is welcome.

This is my own Standish-Ericsson neighborhood today – connected, vibrant, inclusive, and building community every day.

Today, E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org effort connects well over 15,000 people mostly in the Twin Cities across a network of dozens of online Neighbors Forums. Our lessons and assistance are available for networks everywhere.

Led by volunteers in each neighborhood and powered by open source technology, we are working to build bridges across race, income, generations, immigrant and native-born, and more. Thanks to the Knight and Bush foundations and other donors, our dedicated outreach team, including recent refugees and immigrants, even go door to door in St. Paul.

Our view – Every neighborhood should be connected using whatever technology works for them.

The opportunity of a generation is to reach and connect all kinds of people, far more than those who traditionally show up.

Join the evolution.

Helping puppies one day and debating the intricacies of FAA flight rules the next in the same online space is built on two decade of direct experience.

We have lessons to share along with a passion to learn about your ideas and innovations. I helped launch the world’s first election information website in 1994 with Minnesota E-Democracy. I led early e-government efforts in Minnesota. I’ve presented in 30 countries concerning open government and civic technology.

Some top lessons include:

1.       Activate Groups – “The most democratizing aspect of the Internet is the ability for people to organize and communicate in groups.” From my 1998 “Democracy is Online” article.

2.       Give Notice – Timely notification of new government information and meetings is empowering.

3.       Go Local – Local is the public life building block where people naturally connect across many differences in the common interest.

4.       Build Power – Real people with real names generate agenda-setting power and influence elected officials – particularly if it is clear that you are among their voters.

5.       Be Public – Public civic engagement is key, not just personal Facebook relationships where local politicians and community insiders connect privately based on existing trust and hierarchy.

6.       Defend the Commons – Loudest harsh voices and partisan vitriol threaten our efforts to build viable civic online public spaces built on civility and tolerance.

7.       New Challenges – Local online groups remove the communications barrier and empower problem-solving “ad-hocracy” inspired by new ideas and newly active citizens.

8.       Inclusion Matters – The PewInternet.org “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” reported that the same kinds of people dominating off-line politics are dominating online. To make a difference, we must successfully reach new voices and make participation far more representative and inclusive.

9.       All Blocks – Gather the digital contact information – email, mobile, etc. – of your 20 nearest neighbors and share it back. You can do it. It starts with you. Private spaces make sense among nearest neighbors, but for larger areas avoid gated communities.

10.   Got Neighbors? – A national directory and educational campaign could bring millions more into community life and local democracy online. If you happen to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, going door to door to your 20 nearest neighbors might be a bit of a challenge. So, I have a slightly different idea for you. Give me a jingle.

Steven Clift is the Co-Founder of E-Democracy

White House Champion of Change – Open Communities, New Voices: Let’s Be Neighbors

This is a copy of the blog post I made to the White House Champions of Change site.

  • Live White House Webcast – 9 a.m. Central, July 23
  • Press Release – E-Democracy leader Steven Clift honored as White House Champion of Change
  • Press Release – Official White House Champion of Change Announcement – Open Government and Civic Technology

Also, here is where you can go in-depth and learn more our our activities and build our lessons into your own work. Of note is a webinar on Neighbors Online and another on Digital Civic Engagement and New Voices generally tentatively scheduled for September 18.

To stay in-touch, join our email newsletter and follow E-Democracy.org on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 Open Communities, New Voices: Let’s Be Neighbors

Imagine. I am standing on my front porch in Minneapolis, trying to speak out to my neighbors:

“Yes, I love the idea of starting a community garden. Let’s meet.”

“Councilmember, what more can we do to get the FAA to respond to our complaints about dramatic airport noise increases in our neighborhood?”

“My neighbor, an Iraq vet, heard five shots and ran to the victim in the street as he lay dying. I never want to see a sobbing, collapsing mother need to come to a crime scene again.”

“Let’s have a “Community Eat-up” and support that new Salvadoran restaurant in our neighborhood. Who will join us?”

“Great. So glad you found seven neighbors to quickly bake those lasagnas for your friend’s memorial service today.”

“I found a lost puppy …”

If it was before 2008, these real examples would have remained unheard across my neighborhood.

Imagine being connected to over 1,000 of your neighbors via an online public space for community exchange (that’s 25% of households in my neighborhood).  You are able to connect with local elected officials who represent you, small business owners and workers, and local civil servants and community groups. Everyone who cares about your local community is welcome.

This is my own Standish-Ericsson neighborhood today – connected, vibrant, inclusive, and building community every day.

Today, E-Democracy’s BeNeighbors.org effort connects well over 15,000 people mostly in the Twin Cities across a network of dozens of online Neighbors Forums. Our lessons and assistance are available for networks everywhere.

Led by volunteers in each neighborhood and powered by open source technology, we are working to build bridges across race, income, generations, immigrant and native-born, and more. Thanks to the Knight and Bush foundations and other donors, our dedicated outreach team, including recent refugees and immigrants, even go door to door in St. Paul.

Our view – Every neighborhood should be connected using whatever technology works for them.

The opportunity of a generation is to reach and connect all kinds of people, far more than those who traditionally show up.

Join the evolution.

Helping puppies one day and debating the intricacies of FAA flight rules the next in the same online space is built on two decade of direct experience.

We have lessons to share along with a passion to learn about your ideas and innovations. I helped launch the world’s first election information website in 1994 with Minnesota E-Democracy. I led early e-government efforts in Minnesota. I’ve presented in 30 countries concerning open government and civic technology.

Some top lessons include:

1.  Activate Groups – “The most democratizing aspect of the Internet is the ability for people to organize and communicate in groups.” From my 1998 “Democracy is Online” article.

2. Give Notice – Timely notification of new government information and meetings is empowering.

3. Go Local – Local is the public life building block where people naturally connect across many differences in the common interest.

4. Build Power – Real people with real names generate agenda-setting power and influence elected officials – particularly if it is clear that you are among their voters.

5. Be Public – Public civic engagement is key, not just personal Facebook relationships where local politicians and community insiders connect privately based on existing trust and hierarchy.

6. Defend the Commons – Loudest harsh voices and partisan vitriol threaten our efforts to build viable civic online public spaces built on civility and tolerance.

7. New Challenges – Local online groups remove the communications barrier and empower problem-solving “ad-hocracy” inspired by new ideas and newly active citizens.

8. Inclusion Matters – The PewInternet.org “Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” reported that the same kinds of people dominating off-line politics are dominating online. To make a difference, we must successfully reach new voices and make participation far more representative and inclusive.

9. All Blocks – Gather the digital contact information – email, mobile, etc. – of your 20 nearest neighbors and share it back. You can do it. It starts with you. Private spaces make sense among nearest neighbors, but for larger areas avoid gated communities.

10. Got Neighbors? – A national directory and educational campaign could bring millions more into community life and local democracy online. If you happen to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, going door to door to your 20 nearest neighbors might be a bit of a challenge. So, I have a slightly different idea for you. Give me a jingle.

Inclusive Community Engagement Online, Neighbors Online

E-Democracy.org secured a major three year grant from the Knight Foundation. The Inclusive Community Engagement Online project will run at least through the end of 2014.

I am remain available for paid public speaking directly.

Further E-Democracy.org also provides consulting services and is developing its network of online communities of practices likely of interest to visitors on this site.

If you to view more recent presentations, see my slides from speaking trips to Libya and Kenya as well as these Neighbors Online slides. Go in-depth with the Neighbors Online screencast.

Also note my Episodes of Experience slides for my “lessons” by year from the graduate course I taught at the Humphrey School.

My e-transparency promise – If I were running for local office – By Steven Clift – 2009

I recently posted this short list to the Running on Open Government discussion on the Open-Gov online group. Compare with ideas I shared online in 1999.

If I were running for local office, I’d promise an new city ordinance  that required:

1. All public meeting notices, agendas, and meeting documents must be  placed online at the same time they are distributed to elected officials.

2. All public meetings must be digitally recorded (audio is fine) and placed online within 24 hours of the meeting. Council meetings must also be webcast live.

3. An official e-petitioning system that can force the council to discuss certain issues at a certain threshold and take public comment.

4. All ethnics and campaign finaces disclosures must be posted online.

5. Any e-mail/public document sent to a quorum of elected officials by city staff must automatically must be posted online automatically.

6. Every council member will be supported with a combined e-mail news/blog tool for use in governance (that may not be used for election purposes and is transfer to the next council member (assuming districts).

7. Detailed government spending information posted online on a monthly basis (not just proposed budget or government staff salaries (which
the media tends to gather a post)).

8. Require every e-mail received by the city to be confirmed with a copy of what was received, given a tracking number, and be responded
to within two weeks.

9. Create a system for the public to comment on public meeting agenda items (stay tuned!).

10. Add a city presence on popular social networking sites.

11. Set up e-mail alerts about new content online and personalized keyword and geographic relevancy trackers so people can get timely notification of information that matters to them.

12. Real-time police blotter and e-alerts.

What would you add?

The best way to see your local government to do any of these things is get candidates to promise them before the votes are cast!

Steven Clift
http://stevenclift.com

Government 2.0 Meets Everyday Citizens and Democracy – Speech to Council of Europe – By Steven Clift – 2008

This article is based on a speech given by Steven Clift with E-Democracy.Org to the Council of Europe’s Forum for the Future of Democracy

Listen to the speech in MP3 


 

FFD 2008 , Speech by Steven Clift, Concluding plenary session

Government 2.0 Meets Everyday Citizens and Democracy

I started “e-democracy.org”, a citizen project whilst working in government, so my perspective was government ‘by day’ and citizen ‘by night’. This dual approach is also taken by this conference with the participation of grass-root citizen activities through the NGOs and with the participation of government representatives promoting democracy in public life.

I have had a lot of dreams about how e-tools can be used not only to give people a voice, but also to really solve problems in communities and to make democracies vastly more engaging. But then my wife and I had a second child and I now experience what most people experience: a humongous time crunch.

E-tools offer the possibility for people to participate from anywhere, at anytime, in a personalised manner. Most traditional political participation at local level is based in buildings and in meetings which take place at specific times. Our modern lives mean that people do not have the time, or maybe the transport, or even the interest, to be as engaged as was required in years past. E-democracy does not aim to replace the town hall meeting or opportunities to be involved in person; nothing beats the power of looking someone in the eye or shaking hands. But ultimately, if democracy is not available to people on their own terms, it will not exist in the long term.

After almost 15 years involvement in e-democracy I would conclude that representative democracy is not adapting. We have early adapters here and experimenters there, but this is a 5% crowd. The focus of our reflections should be on how to involve and include the other 95%.

One of the problems is that Facebook, MySpace and other social networks primarly serve to publicise private life. There is a big difference between publicising private life and having representative democracy online or creating public life amongst people who live near one another.

There are online newspapers and blogs and other information sites which are a form of political engagement. However, these sometimes bring out the worst in us and e-democracy is needed to counter the negative things that are happening on the Internet in the political sphere. E-campaigning, for example, is often about organising people to gain power, money and influence and it can be in conflict with other elements in society.

In the United States there are a few things that we are good at on the Internet and in politics; we are good at making noise through online advocacy, raising money and e-campaigning. However, we have a lot to learn from Europe in terms of e-consultation and e-participation because we tend not to focus on this in between elections.

Ultimately, it is a negative approach to politics if citizens remain limited to the use of electronic tools to politically arm themselves and to fight for influence and power, or if they simply remain hidden behind a disempowering anonymous cloak with online news and blog comments.

Those of us who want to build democratic engagement need to create alternatives to this “default mode.” It is not good enough to say that the Internet is going to be a democratizing medium. We have to make things happen online in order to create a better democratic space. The challenge, as I suggested in my article “Sidewalks for Democracy Online”, is to build real public life online.

I would like to start from the premise that e-government to date is impoverishing democracy. When citizens go to a town hall, there is often a space at the entrance where people can gather or can talk to neighbours while waiting in line. There is perhaps a rack of newspapers, maybe a bulletin board and public meeting rooms. In contrast, when you are on an e-government website it is a singular experience: you cannot talk to the people next to you and say “this line is taking too long”, “we need a new mayor” or “I agree, let’s work together to improve our community”.

In many cases, the number one interface for citizens with the government is now the Internet and I estimate that each day there are more citizens on the city’s website than actually physically go to the town hall. So where are the public spaces? Where are the online consultations? Where are the e-petitions? Where are these aspects of the interactive web in the public authority context?

When I was responsible for the State government portal in Minnesota I realised that e-government is being framed in terms of efficiency, security and transactions. All this is the opposite of democracy which requires openness, transparency and risk-taking.

We need to communicate better with the people who build e-government. Our governments need to ensure that those people who are responsible for the democracy-building side of governance have access to the necessary online tools. E-democracy as a subset of e-government is having a very difficult time and we cannot wait for the e-government team to add those tools because their training and mindset is based on a very different framework.

In most cases, the blogosphere is merely democratising punditry. Previously there were 300 regular guests on 24-hour television news talk shows; today there are a further 3000 bloggers who are essentially trying to get onto television news talk shows. When you bring that model to the local level, it is actually more divisive than the town hall meeting room and the face-to-face type of activity that it may be replacing. I think it is important to understand that what may be good at national level may not be the model we would like to promote in our local communities.

We need to make the Internet a democracy network “by nature.” This is difficult to address because democracy is fundamentally based on geography unlike the Internet. We content on the Internet to be more geographically-based or “tagged.” Technically speaking there are a lot of so-called content management systems, i.e. people producing web pages, but there is no standard way to describe the place that such content is associated with.

In reality, governments, as well as many media sites and place-specific blogs, are generating geographically specific information. However, it is not easy to aggregate that “what’s new” information and this is a crucial. If you are a local official and you have heard about these blogs, are you going to pay any attention to the public-sphere online if you have no idea whether they are your constituents or not? No. However, if content on the Internet becomes more geographically navigable, public officials will pay more attention to their citizens out there across the Web 2.0 environment.

It is important to think more about how governments and others invest in the online world and find ways to make geography a stronger factor. This will make our democracy-building that much easier further down the line. We need to make democratic building blocks an integral part of the Internet rather than something we add on later at a much greater cost. Ultimately, place matters.

Most people when they go online think about going out to the world. But those of us who are building e-democracy need to think in terms of coming home online. The time people spend going out to public meetings is decreasing and if most people’s experience online only relates to going into the world or to private life activities, and not to public life activities, there will inevitably be a decline in democratic public life.

We also need to think about infrastructure, for example why are there are no white pages on the Internet. If my bicycle was stolen I would have previously had to go door to door to my neighbors to collect email addresses to be able to send out a simple note saying “did anyone see anything?” Obviously, you do not want your email address out there for everyone to access, but a site where the twenty-five closest neighbors could see each other’s email addresses would be good. There is the issue of identity and security, but perhaps there is a way to enable people who live with one another to opt into such communication. The fact that there are no white pages means that people have not been thinking about local community when it comes to Internet infrastructure.

It is important to make democracy more efficient for both decision-makers and citizens. But we must not forget that e-democracy is not really about numbers or speed, but about making better decisions and building trust in different types of outcomes. Numbers and speed do not justify investing resources in e-democracy, there must also be more effective outcomes.

We need to look closer at the inconsistencies between public authorities who are trying to attract people to their web sites for interaction, consultations and so on and what citizens are doing in the public sphere. It is important to take this a step further and think about how governments, particularly civil servants, could see reaching out to citizens as an integral part of their job. For example, on a health issue being discussed in a community, the health workers should be able to engage with people where they are online and correct erroneous online information about a flu bug spreading through the town, or provide a web-link to a health clinic. Waiting for people to come to a government website is outdated Government 1.0.

Moving on to regulatory issues and the rule of law, if we look back five years from now and ask for outcomes from this conference, I am going to be looking for Digital Democracy Acts. A number of national parliamentarians and local authorities suggest that if they had the resources they would be able to act on this issue. Indeed, it might be that national authorities are keen to mandate local governments to do things they do not wish to do themselves. But as our representatives, members of parliament have a duty to think about the most important aspects of e-democracy and their universality.

As an example, many public authorities have open meeting regulations which require meetings to be announced in the press, or perhaps on a physical bulletin board outside the building. Regulations should be modified to require such meetings to also be posted on the Internet. This could increase the number of local authorities and national ministries announcing meetings on their websites from half of them to all of them.

Electronic access to information is sometimes seen as an old issue, but the reality today is that citizens want rapid access to information through news alerts and web feeds (e.g. RSS). It is empowering if citizens can find out about a meeting or a news report or a new plan while there is still time to do something about it and react. Rapid information feeds are still very rare in government. If I would look for a quick fix or a quick investment that is technologically driven and does not require legislative change, I would suggest the creation of personalized e-mail notification tools combined with web feeds. (Feed only options will only be useful to less than 10% of Internet users, so don’t limit yourself to feeds.)

MySociety.Org, the UK-based e-democracy effort, does what I call “scrape and innovate”. What I mean by scrape is that they go to the Parliament’s website and take the data off, put it into a useful database format (e.g. XML) and then do really interesting things with it: they create a highly interactive interface to the Parliament. The Parliament itself does not do this, and maybe never will or even never should. But, because the data is available, third parties can innovate with it.

Indeed, one can go beyond “scrape”. In the USA there is a project led by the Sunlight Foundation called the “Open House Project”. It encourages governments to put more decision-making information online in raw format so that other web sites can take that information, organise it and add further interactive services. Such projects can make it easier for national and local media sites to be an access point into public meetings, public documents and decision-making processes. E-democracy should be everywhere, not just on government sites.

To judge the success of this conference, in five years let’s measure how many public authorities have at least one staff person, or even a staff team, whose job it is be to help led e-democracy in government and help the public interact with governance. Such online democracy representatives already exist in, for example, Estonia and Queensland, Australia. Lead civil servants and program funding to help ministries and others move into the e-democracy process and involve civil society is required. How do you foster groups like “MySociety.Org”? How do you find the resources? How do you involve groups like “Catch 21”, a non-partisan, impartial youth video project here at the conference?

As with television and radio 50 years ago, governments need to ask what Internet can offer that the market itself will not provide. We need to know what to invest in. This will not always be on governments’ terms because civil society activities, which may be more impartial than advocacy efforts, already have an incentive to use electronic tools but may also need support.

Regarding accountability and environmental monitoring, there is a growing trend by governments to put real-time data online, for example about pollution. The District of Columbia has real-time feeds of data which they are making available online. The information might include the number of parking tickets issued that day, police issues and service-related information. It can offer a pulse on how well the locality is delivering services to its citizens and that means accountability: accountability for companies and accountability for public authorities.

It is very important for public authorities to address e-inclusion and reach out to the socially excluded. My non-profit “E-Democracy.Org” undertakes a lot of volunteer activities – but there is a limit to that capacity. We have found that real resources are necessary to launch an online community neighborhood forum in a relatively deprived area. The challenge goes well beyond the capacities of volunteers. Hope doesn’t pay the bills.

Finally, I would like to ask how we can restore community bonds. This is a much broader concept than making government more democratic; it is about creating a democratic and inclusive society. It is about making sure that people have real access to each other in public life online. It also relates to the implementation of government programs not just input into policy making. Convening stakeholders online to help government implement their policy and mission – output – is a significant area of opportunity. Such interactivity could be used to help lower costs and engage stakeholders who are often already delivering public services in a different way.

I have addressed the role of civil society mentioning the example of “E-Democracy.Org” and what can happen if we really embrace the Web 2.0 environment. The focus needs to be on enabling public authorities and their decision-making information to enter the data stream and enter this network of networks. When this happens we have to let go a little and understand that people will misrepresent the information from time to time. But 95 % of the time they will not and the fact that the information is reaching so many more people makes e-governance worthwhile.

Citizens do not have a choice for every decision. I can’t pay taxes to another state for services because they have a better website. However, citizens are choosing everyday about how they use their online time. We are losing an access to people if they only go to the media and opinion sites because they think that there is nothing for them on a government or civil society website.

E-democracy in governance is not a choice, it is about the survival of the very democratic society we hold dear.

I would like to conclude with an invitation to continue this dialogue via a blog/e-newsletter I have been running since 1998 called “Democracies Online Newswire – DoWire.Org”. It connects 2,500 members around the world interested in e-democracy, including an special online community of practice for Europe and other regions. For those in civil society who are interested in “local up” approach I also invite you to connect with lessons from E-Democracy.Org’s growing neighbourhood Issues Forum network.

Community Infrastructure Builders – The Online Bridge to Somewhere – By Steven Clift – 2009

I come from the “citizen” side of citizen media and work a lot with community building online. Everyday, I an privileged to live in a neighborhood with a vibrant online community far from the wretched shores media hosted mostly anonymous and frequently disturbing online reader comments.

So, from my non-profit perspective, when I look at all the money the U.S. government might be throwing into cement, I figure we digital folks need to come up with similar job-creating ideas that provide real value to community infrastructure.

So below is my proposal. (Also in PDF format.)

Community Infrastructure Builders – The Online Bridge to Somewhere

An innovative “shovel ready” option for the U.S. economic stimulus – Discussion draft by Steven Clift

A bridge is infrastructure designed to connect people to each other for social and economic growth. Digital bridges can do the same for a fraction of the cost.

Across the United States, a quiet revolution is connecting some local people to one another online. Let’s make it most people. Americans are using technology to:

• Create electronic block clubs to deter crime and keep their children safer.

• Establish online neighborhood and community forums, blogs, and social networks that promote community problem-solving, support for local small business and are beginning to be used for mutual benefit and support during these difficult economic times.

• Promote reuse of goods and materials through open exchange primarily at a regional level.

• Promote awareness of volunteer opportunities in local community and non-profit groups.

• Connect the public to local government services through e-mail newsletters, customized alert services, and other online systems.

This highly distributed local activity, particularly at the highly empowering block and neighborhood level, is only reaching a fraction of the population that would benefit from and be interested in such opportunities. It is not just a matter of awareness, it is the lack of thorough on-the-ground outreach required to connect millions of Americans “locally” on the global Internet. It is about the civic use of information technology to complement the many efforts focused on access.

The Community Infrastructure Builders effort is a “digital shovel ready” proposal that can be rolled out rapidly to:

1. 30,000 Jobs – Promote the necessarily distributed array of existing online opportunities in local communities directly to local residents by creating approximately 30,000 outreach “for results” jobs – approximately one for each standard Zip Code based on place in the United States.

2. Effective In-Person Outreach – “Bridge” people locally online built on essential in-person outreach. Based on E-Democracy.Org’s direct experience with online recruitment in low income areas, rural communities, etc., the primary and missing activity is in-person outreach. Online advertising, etc. only allows you to effectively reach those who are essentially looking for what you are providing. That is not how you build new community bonds. This effort will include outreach at community events, door-to-door, building to building, and more using a mix of paper and technology-based forms for opt-in engagement.

Online white pages do not exist that allow you to look-up and easily invite your neighbors to join an e-block club electronically nor for local government to build opt-in participation in cost-effective online public services. With training and the support of local host organizations (libraries, community technology centers, local governments, non-profits, colleges, etc.) where available, the results will be measured by the percentage of residents/households that opt-in to various local online options and crucially, the creation of new online groups/e-news services fostered or organized by our Community Infrastructure Builders.

3. Collaborative Approach, Multiple Providers – Work with community organizations and local governments to build digitally connective opportunities through collaborative online technology development, effective training, and model transfer as well as exposure to competing providers and services. Hundreds if not thousands of existing, often local, online services will be promoted instead of one single monolithic online service.

4. Promote Lasting Connections – Promote lasting economic stimulus by promoting greater efficiency in local government and community group communication with the public. Make every block potentially safer through neighbor to neighbor connections despite the crisis in resources for policing. Encourage every neighborhood and community to have an online public space that promotes effective “anytime, anywhere” participation in public life to combat the scarcity of time available.

5. Jobs in the Community – Depending upon the stimulus budget, a significant number of these positions would be designed for as summer work for students as well as part-time contract work for retirees needing to re-enter the workforce for economic reasons. The best candidates will be those with both a deep interest in their local community and an ability to work where a significant portion of their compensation is based on their recruitment results.

Real People, Real Results

The following goals would result in at least 100 million Americans signed up in at least one of these areas within two years with an average of 100 group messages/e-alerts received per year per person or 10 billion “bridging” public communication opportunities each year into the future.

• 1.5 million electronic block clubs – ~50 in each standard Zip Code reaching at an average 25 residents each or 37.5 million Americans (these will be secure resident-only online spaces)

• 150,000 new or assisted online neighborhood/community forums – ~5 in each Zipcode (rural areas would likely have just one) reaching an average 300 registered participants reaching 45 million Americans (mostly public, open spaces)

• A least 75 million Americans “opted-in” to online services and alerts provided by local government including crime alerts, city e-mail newsletters, schools e-alerts and more. This will build the existing base already established by adding a “tell me more” check box option about additional e-services from local government and community groups to our outreach paper forms and websites

Stimulus Budget

The local in-person approach is the most effective way to reach harder to reach populations. It can be complemented by Internet-wide outreach efforts through national partners where upon entering geographic information, the public would be offered an array of civic and government online groups, e-mail newsletters, and local links. The key outcome is a “Yes, tell me what’s new” or “I want to engage my neighbors, sign me up” and not a simple transitory web visit where no sustained relationship was established.

To create 30,000 jobs, with most deployed starting in the summer of 2009, this will take real resources. These positions are “bridging” in nature through the deepest part of our recession and will lead in many cases to future work opportunities after the bulk of outreach work is completed. As a crucial one-time investment, community organization and local governments will save millions in communication and service costs over the long-run.

Estimated cost – based on an estimated $30,000 per position including the supporting management, training, and technology costs to create 30,000 field positions the total budget required is: $900 million

Similar results are obtainable under various models and timelines, but the social equity aspect does require in-person outreach to be most effective. With the right national online partners and pro-bono contribution by major web sites, millions of American could be driven to a national online starting point offering local options for a lower cost and allow a greater in-person outreach focus in the most economically depressed areas. As a draft for discussion, if anyone with any insider power or influence in the new administration wants to adopt this idea at 10%, even 1% of the proposed budget, let’s get connected.

Discuss

To discuss this proposal or share your own for the Obama transition team and Congress, join the non-partisan U.S. Democracy Online Exchange.

About the Author

Steven Clift is the founder of E-Democracy.Org which created the world’s first election information website in 1994. Today E-Democracy.Org hosts 25 community and neighborhood “Issues Forums” across 15 communities. He has spoken on democracy, community, and government on the Internet across 27 countries and is recognized as an Ashoka Fellow for his socially entrepreneurial efforts. He experiences what every neighborhood should have on the online neighborhood forum that he hosts and is involved in efforts to open similar forums in higher immigrant areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. More from: stevenclift.com or e-mail clift@e-democracy.org

Sidewalks for Democracy Online – Chapter from Rebooting America – By Steven Clift – 2008

This chapter from the Rebooting America book along with my recent “top ten” article provides an excellent overview of current e-democracy issues and so-called Government 2.0 opportunities. This chapter was commissioned by the Personal Democracy Forum and was the basis of my keynote address at their 2008 conference.

Sidewalks for Democracy Online

Steven L. Clift

“The typical e-government experience is like walking into a barren room with a small glass window, a singular experience to the exclusion of other community members.”

Government websites don’t have sidewalks, newspaper racks, public hearing rooms, hallways or grand assemblies. There are no public forums or meeting places in the heart of representative democracy online.

The question that this essay will ask and answer is not what can we do to redesign democracy for the Internet Age, but, rather, why have we decided to delete democracy from the most visited interface citizens have with “their” government? And what are we going to do about it?

After almost two decades of “e-democracy,” we seem content with simply accelerating online what’s already wrong with politics. We raise money online to support more political television ads, we “democratize” national partisan punditry through blogs aimed at influencing mass media agendas, and whip up outrage through e-advocacy campaigns that fall into the electronic trash cans of Congress. Online news, campaigns, forums, blogs and other online social networks may appear public, but are ultimately privately controlled spaces where only the owner has real freedom.

Representative democracy is based on geography, on people connecting with one another locally to react to and influence government. And yet, rarely does anything truly interactive happen online that enables citizens to jointly solve problems or to get directly involved in efforts to make their communities better. Democratic participation online is having the effect of disconnecting us from our physical place in the world, to our collective demise.

The typical e-government experience is like walking into a barren room with a small glass window, a singular experience to the exclusion of other community members. There is no human face, just a one-way process of paying your taxes, registering for services, browsing the information that the government chooses to share, or leaving a private complaint that is never publicly aired. You have no ability to speak with a person next to you much less address your fellow citizen browsers as a group. As I’ve said for years, it is ironic that the best government web-sites are those that collect your taxes, while those that give you a say on how your taxes are spent are the worst or simply do not exist.

That said, around the world and in my hometown, I’ve seen transformative episodes where the online medium is used to build stronger communities. I’ve given “e-democracy” speeches to governments (and others) interested in using the Internet to improve democracy and citizen participation across 27 countries. In 1994, I helped create the world’s first election information website, E-Democracy.Org. Through these experiences, I’ve been inspired by a small collection of “democracy builders” who are toiling on the edge of e-politics or dodging the grip of “services first, democracy later” e-government projects. The generational challenge we face in designing democracy to survive (perhaps even thrive) online is to identify the incremental contributions the Internet can make when democratic intent is applied to it and then to make those tools, features, practices, and rights universally accessible to all people in all cities, states, and countries.

Big Ideas for the Next Decade

We know the Internet can connect people with ideas like no medium in history. It can raise voices, share experiences, distribute knowledge, and engage people. The challenge is building a local “anywhere, any time” representative democracy, perhaps paradoxically, through globally shared models and tools.

Government needs the capacity to listen to and engage people online to settle conflicts among the loudest and most powerful voices in society as well as to engage everyday people. We desperately need tools and techniques that provide a counterbalance to the politics of divisiveness and vitriol. We need places for civility and decorum online as all of our public life, particularly politics, substantially moves online.

I am an optimist at heart and every day I try to do something positive for democracy online. So, if I had a million dollars, make that, one hundred million dollars, to invest in the future of democracy online over the next decade, here is what I would do:

1. Make The Internet a Democracy Network by Nature

Because representative democracy is based on geography, content created by citizens must be identified by place instead of simply organized by issue. Content, from a news story to an online comment to a picture or video, needs to automatically be assigned (or “tagged”) with a geographic place. In addition, content bounded by a state or region or identified as global will be essential.

New content must be easily searched and aggregated for community-level display. As neighbors gravitate to talk about local issues online, so will our elected representatives tap our public pulse online. To catalyze this idea, I’d work with large open source, user-generated content producing systems such as Drupal, Plone, Joomla, MediaWiki and WordPress. Within months, a new dynamic universe of content and interactivity for us to navigate and connect to by place would exist.

2. Connecting Locally Based on Common Public Interests

In the past fifty years, as shopping malls have privatized the historic public space of Main Street, we’ve lost something. Today’s commercial online social networks do little more than “publicize” private life. Real “public life,” be it local, national, or global, needs accessible and useful public places online(be they legally “public” or functionally public with restrictions on censorship or arbitrary control by the legal owner).

Local online news sites connect communities with shared local news experiences. However, almost all online social networking experiences that people have with their friends and family online are about private life. We need to invest significantly in efforts that encourage people to connect locally based on common interests and issues, not just globally based on highly specialized interests. We don’t need to build any more echo chambers.

3. Restore and Deepen Access to Representative Democracy and Governance Through New Laws and Online Public Hearings

Let’s embrace the ideal of government “of, by and for” the people. Let’s seize this Internet moment to build trust in our government through public interactions tied to decision-making as well as through transparency and the active dissemination of information.

We can build “sidewalks,” or at least “limited public forums” in legalese, on government websites by authorizing external links to related resources so government websites are not dead-ends. Open meeting and other laws must be changed to require the proactive use of the Internet for information dissemination and notification. I’d fund the creation of open source tools to support “online public hearings.” Imagine starting with a standardized online “democratic pulse” (used by all governments) of all public meetings with schedules, agendas, minutes, handouts, and digital recordings. Then add the ability to share your own e-testimony for 48 hours after the in-person meeting. People could then rate or comment on the testimony of others (with civility and decorum requirements) to help us focus our scarce attention time on the most useful submissions.

Taking this a step further, if we really believe in a government that is owned by the people, how can any public information remain offline? While the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) continues to have its place, I predict a fundamental shift: By default, all taxpayer-funded government information from a memo by a township clerk to the town board to ethics filing by Members of Congress, will be available online. Period. That’s it. Only legally narrowly defined private or secret information, such as military and national security information, will be offline. Sound fanciful? Estonia already has such a document register in operation. Perhaps a distrust of government power built over 50 years of communism has allowed them to leapfrog our democracy.

4. Restoring the Bonds of Community

When I was a child and my father had cancer, I remember neighbors coming to our assistance in our time of need. Today, with modern life keeping neighbors as strangers, we must use these new tools to break down barriers to community. You deserve the right to easily e-mail your immediate neighbors the morning after you’ve been burglarized without having to go door-to-door to collect e-mail addresses. We can balance safety and privacy with selective public disclosure of such personal contact information with an intelligent “unlisted to most” directory option that is not the all or nothing of today.

This is big “C” community and small “d” democracy. A collection of better-connected blocks, tied to broader neighborhood and community-wide online efforts will serve as the vibrant foundation we need for accountable and effective representative democracy right up to the Congress and president. You cannot force everyone to be neighborly, but the bonds of community can be restored and nurtured despite dual income families and the assault on time for community involvement.

I am helping build an online neighborhood forum that will soon connect 10% of the households daily (in an area with 10,000 residents) where I live in Minneapolis. Every neighborhood should have an online space (see links to E-Democracy.Org’s Issues Forums and projects like Vermont’s Front Porch Forum, and the academic i-Neighbors project from E-Democracy.Org/nf). We also need tools that allow people who live within a block of one another to connect many-to-many in secure, semi-public ways. This builds on the simple directory idea above and extends it to support all sorts of exchanges, from babysitting referrals to communicating as a group with city hall about potholes.

Small Actions We Can All Take Today

I have shared some big ideas that will help us make progress over the long term. But what can each one of us do now, today, to restore our democracy?
A. Join or create place-based forums or blogs for your neighborhood or community.
Recruit 100 people, require the use of real names, and open up your own local forum. Learn more at E-Democracy.Org/if. Be sure to give people a choice to participate by e-mail or online.
B. Work with your elected officials to introduce legislation requiring all public meetings to be announced on the Internet. Updating open meeting laws to first require announcements, then agendas, handouts, digital recording, is a good starting point. Learn more at DoWire.Org.
C. Tag the content you produce with geographic terms or “geo tag” if you are technically inclined.

Add geographic tags to the content you share at every opportunity, whether you simply tag your blog post “Minnesota” so it shows up on WordPress.com or tag a video uploaded to YouTube. Learn more from our E-Democracy.Org/voices experiment.

We Have The Power And Obligation To Redesign Democracy

The democratic potential of this new medium has hit the grinder of partisan politics around the world. Too often in politics, the primary engine of innovation is the quest for media attention and power rather than real openness or a desire for democratic deliberation and engagement. No matter who wins in this 2008 “e-election,” the new president will likely and immediately turn off the interactivity that helped to get them elected. Hopefully I am wrong and we will see White House 2.0 alongside Community 2.0.

About the Author
Steven L. Clift is a Founder and Board Chair of E-Democracy.Org and an Ashoka Fellow. He is also editor of DoWire.Org—the Democracies Online Newswire.

Ten Practical Online Steps for Government Support of Democracy – By Steven Clift – 2007

Ten practical online steps for government support of democracy

By Steven Clift Chair, E-Democracy.Org and Ashoka Fellow

This article appeared in the Intergovernmental Solutions newsletter of the U.S. federal General Services Administration. A long version with specific examples is available as is a short PDF.

Does e-government have anything to do with democracy and citizen participation? Let’s get straight to the point – not yet.

Should it?

Yes. Government should be leading a charge into the increasingly and fundamentally interactive web.

Information access, considered the safe starting point for government accountability online now mostly presents the public a daunting needle in a huge haystack. This system is so complicated that the valuable and substantive information that government produces is often ignored in the increasingly interactive public lives of active citizens. . The lack of real and effective online access to governance will substantially increase cynicism about and distrust in government among a public that demands a more participatory representative democracy.

A bit of context: I coordinated e-government for the State of Minnesota in its early days. As a citizen, I independently started E-Democracy.Org which created the world’s first election information and discussion website in 1994. When “services first, democracy later” enveloped most e-government projects, I went independent in late 1997. Since then, I’ve spoken and consulted across 26 countries on “e-democracy.”

Here are the 10 things I would do in government at every level to help rescue our democracy in the information age.

1. Timely, personalized access to information that matters.

Government decision-making information is not really public or relevant if people cannot act on it when it still matters. Give people tools like personalized e-mail alerts based on keywords, location, etc. and eliminate the “nobody told me” backlash government often receives due to poor public outreach. Every government needs a “what’s new” democracy portal or a thematic section covering all democratic processes as part of their main website.

2. Help elected officials receive and sort, then better understand and respond to e-mail.

E-mail overload is the number one complaint I hear from elected officials around the world. Most want to respond effectively, but simply aren’t being provided the tools they need. If there ever was an opportunity for open source collaboration among governments, this is it. In general, our representatives and representative institutions must start to invest in the online infrastructure they need to connect directly with the public they represent.

3. Dedicate at least 10% of new e-government developments to democracy.

Let’s define democracy starting with public input. In an e-service initiative, the 10% should start with citizen focus groups to guide the design of the service, usability testing and studies to generate user input and accountability, and post-transaction user surveys. If the investment is a new content management system for information access, then use the 10% to add personalization and survey input features or democratized navigation (those nifty menus that show you the top ten articles viewed that day or week).

4. Announce all government public meetings on the Internet in a uniform manner.

All public meeting notices, agendas, handouts, and digital recordings must be online. The system should be standards-based and tie state-by-state systems into a national network covering federal, state, and local government public meetings. This is the only way for people to ask to be pro-actively notified of any government public meetings within a certain geographic area addressing specific topics that interest them.

5. Allow citizens to look-up all of their elected officials from the very local to national in one search.

Along with the ability to look-up all public meetings, Americans should have the right to easily determine who all the elected and appointed officials are who represent them currently. Just before elected and appointed officials assume office, every government unit should be required to submit contact information for those officials into a national database.

6. Host online public hearings and dialogues (or “e-consultations” as they are known outside the U.S.)

As in-person public meetings begin to incorporate live online features, envision more deliberate online exchanges to improve the outcomes of the decision-making process. If your government agency hosts three public hearings across the country or your state, host the fourth hearing online over a week or two and improve the format in the process. In 10 years, the legislatures, commissions and city councils not holding hearings online will be in the minority.

7. Embrace the rule of law by mandating the most democratically empowering online services and rights across the whole of government.

Technology itself is not forcing real institutional democratic change. I estimate that 90% of the democratic innovations online that really share power are based on a political tradition or law that existed before the Internet arrived. If we want all citizens to benefit universally from a more wired democracy, then now is time to update our legal requirements and fund core online democracy services.

8. Promote dissemination through access to raw data from decision-making information systems.

Let’s explode decision-making data, like Congressional information and rulemaking related content into bits via XML and open standards and make it easy to re-use public government data from many sources to create views and searches that provide insight, understanding, and accountability. Think “Web 2.0” interactivity built on top of government data by those outside of government.

9. Fund Open Source sharing internationally across e-government.

Sharing and supporting open source software takes resources – a consortium of national governments need to step up with collaborative funding. The new and less cluttered area of e-participation tools are an ideal starting point within e-government to reduce technology costs and build systems for use by multiple governments.. Efforts to place modules and customizations out for community use will be key. Government and its vendors must contribute code back for the wheels of reciprocal value to start turning.

10. Local up – a strategic approach to building local democracy online.

To build e-participation momentum, citizens need to experience results they can see and touch. By investing in transferable local models and tools, more people will use the Internet as a tool to strength their communities, protect and enrich their families and neighborhoods, and be heard in a meaningful way. Every community needs an “online town hall,” E-Democracy.Org calls them Issues Forums, for agenda-setting discussion of public issues. Comparative evaluation of access and participation related online service and content indicators will introduce efforts for an online “Democracy Tune-up.” This same tune-up concept should be applied at the state and federal level as well.

Conclusion

In the early days, folks thought the Internet was inherently democratic. Parts of it are, but that mistaken sense of technological determinisms has not carried over to make constitutional and legally-ground representative processes more open and responsive. Today, “politics as usual” online may actually make things worse. Civically conceived e-participation efforts need to counter such negative trends rather than being viewed as an extra option. Ultimately, each generation needs to rebuild democracy with the special tools of their time. Our tools are online and our democracy needs us.

Steven Clift leads the Online Consultation and E-Participation online community of practice at DoWire.Org and shares numerous articles on e-democracy from Publicus.Net. His primary concentration today is as the leader of E-Democracy.Org, review their strategic plan to get a sense of his work on the “demand side” for democracy online.

Extended Version – Ten Practical Online Steps for Government Support of Democracy – By Steven Clift – 2007

Join the Evolution – Ten Practical Online Steps for Government Support of Democracy

Extended Version

Draft as prepared for a U.S. government e-government newsletter. This was a long draft, before
being shortened down to a 1000 word version for publication. This version contains examples
and more room for some sass.

Version 1.1 – July 17, 2007

By Steven Clift
Board Chair, E-Democracy.Org and Ashoka Fellow

Does e-government have anything to do with democracy and citizen participation?
Let’s get straight to the point – not yet.

Should it? Yes.

If you believe in government of, for, and by the people, then government – both representative
and administrative should be leading a charge into the increasingly and fundamentally interactive
web.
Information access, considered the safe starting point for government accountability online now
mostly presents the public a daunting needle in a huge haystack. So not only are governments
excluding themselves from the increasingly interactive public lives of citizens, the fundamental
information access system is so complicated that the valuable and substantive information that
government produces is often ignored in our increasingly online lives. Government and the
democratic processes designed to promote sustained peace and stability among competing and
often conflicting narrow interests in society cannot remain offline or the consequences will be
devastating to our communities and nation.
A bit of context; I coordinated e-government for the State of Minnesota in its early days. I
designed our first portal which launched in 1995. As a “citizen” I independently started EDemocracy.
Org which created the world’s first election information and discussion website in
1994. I was a “democracy guy” opening up government from the inside – as I say, “government
by day, citizen by night.”

When “services first, democracy later” enveloped most e-government projects, I skedaddled in
late 1997. Since then, I’ve spoken and consulted across 26 countries on “e-democracy,”
interacting primarily with leading governments interested in engaging citizens online.

Don’t get me wrong; with democracy in the broadest sense, America is number one with “epolitics”
online. We excel at raising money online with e-campaigning and making noise through
e-advocacy. For democratic representative governance, that actually compounds the problem. In
no country, do people expect the web to be as interactive as it can be than in the U.S., yet our
governments from the local level on up have a limited “e-listening” infrastructure and no

infrastructure for two-way public interactivity that brings people into legitimate democratic
processes. Current options for online input provide one-way passive information access with
comment submissions that go into the digital equivalent of an inaccessible black box.

A country that cannot listen to and interact with its citizens “anywhere, any time” in their
preferred medium will not be able to accommodate the will of the people. As red-blue partisan
conflicts online among the political class intensify, new forms of democratic participation,
including online spaces and extensions of off-line consultative and deliberative processes, that
are part of authoritative representative democracy, must be built. If not, our governments will no
longer reflect the general consensus of today’s society. Further, the lack of real and effective
online access to governance between elections will substantially increase cynicism about and
distrust in government.

To illustrate this widening democratic divide, note the 2008 campaign where over a dozen
presidential candidates are innovating online. They are shaking hands at the “digital parades” of
Facebook and YouTube. They are going to the people where they are online, not expecting folks
to just come their campaign websites.

What will our citizens expect when this highly interactive election season is over? One-way
governance? I doubt it. We need to prepare ourselves now for a public that demands a more
participatory representative democracy.

Let me add that campaigns are not using the digital divide as an excuse to delay putting a
participatory infrastructure in place and neither should government. The digital divide is an
important issue, but not a reason to exclude people with often difficult to access time and place
bound forms of participation by denying them online convenience. However that said, most
traditional offline participation methods must be complemented and not replaced with Internetonly
options.

Let’s get practical.

Here are the ten things I would do in government to help rescue our democracy in the
information age. These are things that government organizations at every level can do. (Similar
lists for citizens, the media, and political interest groups should also be generated. Government
needs to do its part within the context of these major democratic actors.)

1. Timely, personalized access to information that matters.

Government decision-making information is not functionally public or relevant if people cannot
act on it when it still matters. Give people tools like personalized e-mail alerts based on
keywords, location, etc. and eliminate the “nobody told me” backlash government often receives
due to poor public outreach.

Examples:
· St. Paul, Minnesota allows you to choose from over 400 “what’s new” e-mail updates on
documents that change periodically.
· The Province of Alberta, Canada provides a comprehensive and uniform system for web
feeds (RSS) on news releases across their government.
For web links to examples, see the online version of this article from: http://dowire.org/evolution

2. Help elected officials receive and sort, the better understand and respond to email.
The number one complaint I hear from elected officials around the world is about e-mail. Most
want to respond effectively, but simply aren’t being provided the tools they need. If there ever
was an opportunity for open source collaboration among governments, this is it.
In general, our representatives and representative institutions must start to invest in the online
infrastructure they need to connect directly with the public they represent. This includes
“governance” versions of online innovations deployed to gain power in e-campaigning to
competing online for democratic relevancy with the relative technology-rich executive branch and
major media online

Example:
· Menlo Park, California’s Direct Connect service demonstrates how to help citizens direct
their mostly service-related queries. If those queries are processed effectively, the policy
related queries can be noticed and receive more direct attention.

3. Dedicate at least 10 percent of new e-government developments budgets to
democracy.

You might be thinking, “What? Ten percent. But we are about providing service efficiency. Let’s
be honest engaging the public is inefficient.”

Effective democracy is about introducing the optimal level of inefficiency required to make the
best public choices. What good is it if government simply automates what it does wrong or
expends their limited resources to streamline a service no longer in high demand?

By democracy, let’s take us a wide definition starting with public input. In a e-service initiative,
say online licensing, the 10 percent should start with citizen focus groups to guide the design of
the service, usability testing and studies to generate user input and accountability, and like many
e-commerce sites do, gather feedback via post transaction user surveys. All this mildly two-way
data should be used as a service quality dashboard for managers and front-line employees alike.
If the e-government investment is a new content management system mostly for information
access, then use the 10 percent to add personalization, survey input features and democratized
navigation (those nifty menus that show you the top ten viewed articles that day or week).

4. Announce all government public meetings on the Internet in a uniform manner.
All public meeting notices, agendas, handouts, and digital recordings (live webcasts, podcasts,
etc.) must be online. The system should be standards based and tie state-by-state systems into a
national network covering federal, state, and local government public meetings. This is the only
way for people to ask to be pro-actively notified of all government public meetings, from a local
land use commission to a state forestry department to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, within a
certain geographic area addressing specific topics or keywords that interest them.

Example:
· The Minnesota Legislature provides a dizzying array of all public information components
tied to legislative hearings. From schedules and audio podcast files to amendments as
they are proposed on the floor, the Internet is a tool for deep participation. Leading state
legislative bodies are a model to extend to other government organizations.

5. Allow citizens to look-up all of their elected officials from the very local to national
in one search across many sites.

Along with the ability to look-up all public meetings, Americans should have the right to easily
determine who all the elected and appointed officials are who represent them currently and how
to contact them effectively. Before elected and appointed officials assume office, every
government unit should be required to submit contact information for those officials into a
“National Representative Democracy Database”. State and local government involvement in the
creation of standards and fields for such a public domain database will be essential. Intergovernmental
associations may resist this idea because many produce detailed directories sold to
lobbyists and others. It will be up to them to innovate with their directories by adding more value
to maintain their market.

Example:
· The Minnesota House also provides a member directory and online toolkit that
demonstrates the power of a uniform set of sophisticated tools for all elected officials in
an assembly. City council members across the country must demand the tools to best
represent their constituents and not be relegated to just a picture and short biography.

6. Host online public hearings and dialogues (or “e-consultations” as they are known
outside the U.S.)

As in-person public meetings begin to incorporate live online features – from instant handout
access to testifying via Skype with a webcam – more deliberate one day to one month online
exchanges seeking to improve the outcomes of the decision-making process need to be
envisioned. If your government agency hosts five public hearings across the country or your
state, host the sixth hearing online and improve the format in the process. Another model to
consider is an extension of public testimony at Congressional and other committee hearings
where for 24 hours after the live event, the public – including experts – are invited to testify via
text, video and audio with viewer/reader rating system in place to recommend the most valuable
or noteworthy testimony received. In twenty years, governments not holding hearings online will
be considered the unresponsive minority.

Further, government funding for University or civil society-hosted online dialogues and
deliberations would be highly strategic. Creating value-added interactive experiences that get
beyond online political flame fests are essential and can be done. While detailed legal advice on
how to promote decorum online within the bounds of the first amendment for governments
would help open up two-way spaces, more controversial issues often benefit from a partner
serving as a neutral host who can strongly promote real names and civility.

Government officials often complain to me about misinformation online as a reason they avoid
engaging online. If only someone would correct the record they suggest. Let me hold up a
mirror. Policies that empower civil servants to “inform” the public professionally across other
interactive sites from a MySpace conversation to a local community forum or blog are essential.
Government must correct the record in every medium, particularly as the Internet reaches more
and more people.

Examples:

· Get Involved, the democracy portal of the State of Queensland, offers an innovative
Consult Queensland survey and consultation platform. As the public and targeted
constituent groups read specific sections of a report they are asked to answer various
survey questions. As they answer, they are given the choice to share their opened ended
comments immediately via the site. This along with instant public access to the numeric
percentage results compiled in real-time thus far on multiple choice questions creates a
structured conversation. Structure in, value out. This counters the “black box” effect of
public comments that are legally public but functionally private. We need citizens to
better appreciate the views of other interests in society. This often builds respect for the
complexity of choices before government as it deals with competing priorities.

· E-consultation guidance is being generated across the Commonwealth. The concept and
term “e-consultation” doesn’t really exist in the United States. A version of the term
should – hence my use of the term online public hearings or dialogues. For extensive
advice consult the following resources:

o Canada – See “Resources and Publications” from the Online Consultation Centre
of Expertise, Public Works and Government Services Canada

o UK – Review numerous guides on “eConsultations and eSurveys” from the
International Centre for Excellence in Local E-Democracy (formerly known as the
UK Local E-Democracy National Project). Also consult the Hansard Society’s
Digital Dialogues reports on central government experience with e-consultation.

o Bristol, UK – Along with their AskBristol.Org “e-panel” experience, numerous edemocracy
features are profiled in the 2007 report titled, “eDemocracy in
Bristol.”

o Australia – Local Council e-Consultation Guide written by representatives of
Darebin City Council and Deakin University.

7. Embrace the rule of law by mandating the most democratically empowering online
services and rights across the whole of government.

From my extensive travels and research, I estimate that 90 percent of the democratic innovations
online hosted by governments that really share power are based on a political tradition or law
that existed before the Internet arrived.

Technology itself is not forcing real institutional democratic change. Governments remain reactive
to external changes and are therefore missing an opportunity to build societal expectations while
the online medium remains fluid. We need more people to expect that “of course I can
participate in my government and make a difference in my local community online.”

If we want all citizens to benefit universally from a more wired democracy, then now is the time
to update our legal requirements and fund core online democracy services. I am working up an
outline for a “Minnesota Digital Democracy Act” that might be replicated in other states and
nationally. At a minimum I’ll propose that we:

· Update open meeting laws to require that in addition to newspaper publication, all
meetings must be announced on the Internet. By 2010 all public meetings at every level
must be digitally recorded (audio and/or video) with online access provided. Open
meeting laws would also clearly state that fully public online gatherings that include a
quorum of voting officials are legal while private or inaccessible two-way group
communication among a majority of voting members about pending business is not.

· Require that all elected and appointed officials are provided e-mail accounts to use for
any and all public business (smart governments will toss in universal inbox systems with
voicemail and e-mail response tools as well). Use of private e-mail accounts (or instant or
text messaging) to avoid public information disclosure laws should be a crime. Laws
should further ensure that any legally public reports, memorandum, e-mail sent by civil
servants to a majority of voting officials regarding a pending vote be publicly disclosed
automatically online by default at the same time they are sent to committee/task force
members. In the past, many government bodies kept binders of such civil servant print
memos – moving taxpayer supported councils, task forces, etc. online must not be
allowed to make the process functionally less accessible and therefore less legitimate.

· Like the new federal law that established FederalSpending.Gov, establish real-time and
deep access to government program and spending information (not just proposed
budgets) at the state and local level. Poland requires standardized online spending
reports from local government in their Freedom of Information Act, why can’t we.
Transparency will promote greater government efficiency and accountability.

· Mandate that all public ethics filings and campaign finance data be disclosed
electronically on the Internet and not stuck in some filing cabinet or offline computer. If
we collected it to promote government accountability, we must disclose it automatically
online. Legally public ethics information that is not online must should soon be viewed as
prehistoric.

· And more. Send me your ideas: clift@publicus.net

Ultimately, I’ve come to expect that if online access is viewed as an inconvenience or a threat to
those in power, they won’t adopt it unilaterally. Citizens must express a real demand for
representative “e-democracy” in the political process or they will not experience effective
democracy in the information age. As this happens, candidates will begin to make reform
promises during elections and overtime deliver political results in office.

8. Dissemination – Access to Raw Data from Decision-Making Information Systems
Let’s explode decision-making data, like Congressional information and rulemaking related
content, into bits via XML and open standards. This will allow third-party services to move from
“online scraping” toward advanced and useful presentation of discombobulated parts. What?
In other words, let’s make it easy to re-use public government data from many sources and
create views and searches that provide insight, understanding, and accountability. Think “Web
2.0” interactivity built on top of government data by those outside of government.
Unless budgeted for directly or mandated by law, government agencies rarely add online features
beyond those they feel they need for their core purposes. Unless a system, say for public analysis
of state agency spending (I want an e-alert for furniture purchases the last month of each fiscal
year) is funded, agencies will not reallocate resources from another program to provide such
accountability tools.

Examples:

· In the UK, mySociety.Org’s TheyWorkforYou.com scrapes data from the UK Parliament
and presents one of the most dynamic and useful windows into the legislative process
available. It allows you to set personalized e-mail alerts so you can be notified when
certain phrases are said or be updated on formally noted actions – from speeches to
votes – by your Member of Parliament.

· OpenCongress.Org and GovTrack.US are two similar projects in the United States. The
new Sunlight Foundation is funding a number of activities in this area including The Open
House Project. They have engaged a number of “citizens” with extensive Web 2.0
experience who are developing a policy and technical roadmap for Congress, and likely
parts of government to follow in this area.

· At the local level, ChicagoCrime.Org demonstrates how the official crime blotter can be
combined using the ”API” (application programming interface) for Google Maps.
Developers of this site are now working on Everyblock.com with funding from the Knight
Foundation to aggregate “an unprecedented depth of local news and information in
select cities [much of it government data].”

9. Fund Open Source Sharing Internationally Across E-Government

Sharing and supporting open source software takes resources. E-democracy tools are an ideal
starting point within the e-government family. Unlike service transactions, where cost savings are
often used to justify funding, with e-democracy such claims do not align with goal of increasing
citizen engagement and improved government decision-making. Therefore, open source
initiatives which reduce technology costs and build systems for use by multiple governments
make the most sense with the democracy services niche.

Getting the ball rolling is the difficult part. No one government can justify subsidizing the
technology infrastructure of another peer government. Like the UK and Italian governments,
national funding can support local government pilots and tool sharing. We need to take their
leadership a step further and imagine what ten national governments could accomplish by jointly
investing one million dollars a year for ten years in an open source specification development and
code sharing e-government initiative perhaps in partnership with major Universities in each
country. If Google can have their Summer of Code competition, why not tap a similar vein to
produce code that meets public challenges head on.

Strategically, I recommend building government and democracy applications using open source
content management systems with demonstrated momentum and large development
communities (like Plone, Drupal, etc.) rather than starting from scratch with government-specific
tools unlikely to foster contributions from other developers. Key will be efforts to place modules
and customizations out for community use. Government and its vendors must contribute code
back for the wheels of reciprocal value to start turning.

Here are a few tools/modules I’d like to see developed starting with a highly open specification
development stage followed by competition among various open source communities to deliver.
Ideally the feature set would spread across multiple platforms. In addition to the e-mail response
system collaboration mentioned earlier, additional ideas include:

· Public Meeting – A personalized public meeting notifier system based on keywords and
geographic relevancy with agendas, handouts, etc. The system could overtime evolve
into a mini-legislative information system for the thousands of city councils and county
boards with little more than a file server for decision-making documents.

· Democaster – A low cost webcasting system starting with audio, webcam images or
video, integrated podcasts (recorded audio), meeting agenda and document links, and
the ability to ask a text question remotely. I coordinated development of a working
prototype for the British Government in 2005-6 using a number of open source tools that
simply required an Internet connection, a laptop, and a microphone to reach the world,
but more importantly people in a local community live and on-demand. Moving such a
tool into full production along with adding the ability to webcast via a simple office
speaker phone through IP telephony on the audio input side is proposed. This would
make basic webcasting so inexpensive that public meetings in even the smallest villages
not audio webcast will be the exception.

· Engagement – A platform for different types of online hearings, surveys, consultations,
dialogues, and deliberations. Such systems may also be used to enable stakeholder
participation in the implementation of public policy. E-Democracy.Org, the non-profit I
lead, uses the open source GroupServer tool from New Zealand in this space.

· Voter Guide – Early e-voting hype obscured the real value of the Internet in election –
promoting informed voting. Developing an open source voter guide module for the most
popular content management systems used by government, the media, and non-partisan
voter education non-profits would enable more and better voter guides around the world.

10. Local Up – Building local democracy online.

To build e-participation momentum, citizens need to experience results they can see and touch.
National politics is difficult to influence in any medium. By investing in transferable local models
and tools, more people will use the Internet as a tool to strength their communities, protect and
enrich their families and neighborhoods, and be heard in a meaningful way. Starting with
community by community measurement of information access and participation related online
service and content indicators, we can create momentum for a “Democracy Tune-up.” This same
tune-up concept should applied at the state and federal level as well.

Example:

· E-Democracy.Org works locally with Issues Forums – a 24×7 online town hall meeting
with real names and facilitation and rules for civility. These and other two-way online
spaces leverage online government information, online news, and the emerging
“speaker’s corner” we see with local blogs. Like the City of Roseville, Minnesota,
governments (and others) should kick-start local non-partisan e-democracy efforts with
small amounts of funding. While many individual owned and run community blogs are
extremely positive, I fear many communities will be stuck with a bitter local online NIMBY
climate where typically anonymous reader comments never get beyond the modern
version of protesters at the gates with pitchforks and torches. In England, Issues Forums
pilots as well as dozens of other local e-democracy projects were funded by the then UK
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in recent years.

Conclusion

Ultimately, an investment in e-democracy/e-participation by government needs to solve identified
problems and meet indicators of success.

In the early days, folks thought the Internet was inherently democratic. Parts of it are, but that
mistaken sense of technological determinisms has not carried over to make constitutional and
legally-ground representative processes more open and responsive. Today, “politics as usual”
now armed online may actually be making things worse. Civically conceived e-participation efforts
must counter such negative trends rather than be viewed as an extra option. Preservation of
democratic rights and processes is an important outcome.

I’ve experienced better and stronger democracy online. Everyone should. Beyond, holding
democratic ground, positive outcomes include better policy decisions, generation of new and
cost-effective ideas, generating input beyond the usual suspects, a more informed citizenry, indepth
engagement with specific constituencies, incremental restoration of trust, and my ultimate
goal citizens empowered to meet the public challenges closest to them directly in everyday life.

Join the Evolution

To network directly with other e-participation leaders I invite you to join the evolution with your
peers from around the world as a member of the Online Consultation and E-Participation
online community of practice as part of the Democracies Online – DoWire.Org blog, wiki, and
online groups initiative that I lead: http://groups.dowire.org/groups/consult

Many of the examples mentioned are also highlighted in the Global E-Democracy Trends
presentations available from: http://publicus.net/speaker.html

Elections and the Internet – Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration: Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet – By Steven Clift – 2007

The official version is available in PDF format from IFES. Recommended for readability.

 

Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration:

Election Management Bodies and Use of the Internet*

Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration

Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration:

Election Management Bodies and Use of the Internet*

Steven Clift

*Chapter published in Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration (IFES, 2007), p. 21-33.

I. Introduction
The goal of this paper is to establish new proposals for international electoral standards1
for the use of the Internet during election campaigns (outside of voting).
Election administrators and governments need to decide how they will use the Internet
to improve election processes and better inform voters in the near term regardless of
the complexity and controversy surrounding Internet voting. As has been seen in
elections around the world, the influence of the Internet is growing.

The recommendations2 proposed in this paper attempt to answer the following
questions:

1. How should the Internet be used to support better election processes and
informed voting?

2. What content and services must be online to ensure free and fair elections?

The emerging role of the Internet surrounding elections deserves close attention. It may
be that changes in campaigning and citizen action online, rather than e-voting, present
the real opportunities for—or challenges to—democratic transformation.
Once documented and shared, best practices can bring existing democratic freedoms
and electoral standards to life where applied. However, while most election-related
benefits from online activities will be gained through best practices, a standards established
model for “must-have” and “should-have” online elements is proposed. As
more citizens come online, electoral management bodies (EMBs) will see their online
responsibilities increase. Clearly, these responsibilities will arrive sooner in “wired”
countries with active online populations, but they will eventually arrive everywhere.
Creating a shared body of best practices now can benefit all democracies over time.
1 Key documents establishing “electoral standards” include International IDEA’s “International Electoral
Standards: Guidelines for reviewing the legal framework of elections”
(http://www.idea.int/publications/electoral_guidelines.pdf) and the OSCE’s “Existing Commitments for
Democratic Elections in OSCE Participating States” (
http://www.osce.org/odihr/?page=publications&div=topics&topic=elections). These documents extensively
reference the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/index.htm), International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and related treaties (http://www.unhchr.ch/html/intlinst.htm), and the
Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/wssd/agreements).
2 As intended, the recommendations in this paper are pr oposed exclusively by the author, Steven Clift. This
paper contains updates from January 2007.
Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet
Steve Clift
22
II. Two Proposed Internet-Era Electoral Standards
Two key proposals for information-age electoral standards deserve special attention and
debate. They inform all of the recommendations below:
1. All information produced, compiled, disseminated, or disclosed to hold a
democratic election as established by national laws and international electoral
standards must be publicly accessible on the Internet in a standard,
authoritative format.
2. Voter privacy must be established to cover all voter actions online (seeking
information about political candidates and issues; communicating with family,
friends, and members of private associations about elections or governance; and
voting).
The need for the first standard is intuitive. In order to build trust in the electoral
process, promote voter participation, encourage informed voting, and ensure legal
compliance, EMBs must make public all information about election standards, laws,
regulations, and voter education programs. In addition, existing electoral standards
require broad and timely access to this information. It is almost impossible to conceive
of any democratic purpose served by keeping such information offline.
The second proposed standard opens an area of great debate. The Internet era provides
many ways to track individual behavior; however, to ensure continued participation in
the electoral system, voters must feel they can freely explore the raw materials of
political thought without fearing public exposure by those with state, media, or economic
power.
III. Analysis and Recommendations
Based on a review of the Web sites of EMBs and other sites with election and campaign
information, the following section outlines policy recommendations in regard to::
• Providing information online
• Establishing an online legal environment
• Monitoring the Internet media
• Ensuring technological access
1. Providing Information Online
A typical EMB Web site should provide extensive access to official government electionrelated
content. The “any time, anywhere” Internet makes election information more
accessible now than at any time in history, and is therefore a force for democratization.
a. Make content available online
Ideally, all public election material—text, images, audio/video, voting information, and
educational content—produced by EMBs should be available online.3 However, given
3 Items not available online should be described there and directions given for how to access them offline.
Challenging the Norms and Standards
of Election Administration
23
the variation in EMBs’ resources and in online populations across countries, a
progression of Internet use for EMBs should be defined and benchmarked.
Must-have elements
For all countries, the items below represent basic items that create democratic
legitimacy, regardless of the number of citizens who use the Internet.
• Content demonstrating electoral standards are in action
Any public information mentioned in existing electoral standards must be made
available (and easy to locate) online in a timely manner.
• Accurate and authoritative content
Even in the most wired countries, governments often place disclaimers on their
Web sites suggesting that they are not responsible for the accuracy of the
information there. Such disclaimers undermine legitimacy and trust in the electoral
process. EMBs must guarantee that their Web sites provide legally accurate and
authoritative information.
• Multilingual content
As required by local law, all content on an EMB’s Web site must be available in all
official languages. Other relevant languages should be used when possible.
Should-have elements
If “must-have” content establishes legitimacy, trust, and free and fair elections,
“should-have” content and services promote voter participation, service transaction
convenience for regulated political groups and voters, and other benefits. As more
people in a given country go online, the benefit as well as the justification for
investment increases. Countries with fewer than 20 percent of the population online
may decide to invest gradually in this second tier of online services. On the other
hand, in countries where more than 50 percent of the population is online, it is
proposed that “should-have” items become “must-have” items.
• Candidate and party lists/links
EMBs should provide voters with complete and up-to-date access to “who is on my
ballot” and “where do I vote?” online look-up tools. Providing such data at low or
no cost for use by others, including major media Web sites, will make this high
demand information accessible when voters seek it. Further, EMBs should maintain
an official registry of candidate and party Web sites and e-mail addresses. Such a
registry allows citizens to locate official (not spoofed) political Web sites and to
reliably gather information from multiple sources online. Laws or regulations that
require candidates or parties to link their Web sites (and their campaign finance or
ethics filings) to the official registry should be considered.
• Voter registration
If EMBs can meet the challenge of electronically verifying identities, they can allow
voter registration online, or at least registration address changes. If they do not
have the capability to verify identities, they could allow online transactions by
verifying e-mail addresses following a transaction and providing clear warnings of
the penalties for fraud. As is done in New Zealand, governments should allow
voters to verify online their information as it appears in the electoral rolls.
Alternatively, first-time electronic registration or name changes could be conducted
by organizations that meet certain standards. In the future, regulated political
Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet
Steve Clift
24
entities and civil society groups may use Tablet PCs or handheld devices that have
the ability to collect electronic written signatures. This process would require
security procedures, privacy guarantees, and penalties that ensure the signatures
collected are not used for other purposes.
• Campaign finance reporting and disclosure system
EMBs should provide full online access to all legally public campaign finance data
collected online. This public data should be searchable and downloadable for
analysis with third-party tools. The data fields to be released electronically, like
postal addresses of campaign donors, may be limited by privacy laws. EMBs could
further expand into real-time reporting and disclosure of certain
expenditures/donations over a certain amount. They could also create an online
register of political campaign advertising in both the mass and online media
(including paid “advertorials” on blogs, forums, etc., which should but often do not
have required “paid and prepared for” statements). The full potential of the
disclosure approach to regulating or limiting undesirable election behavior through
public awareness will only be realized through online access.4
• Voter outreach and education programs5
Judging by the information available, EMBs’ online content appears to be used
primarily by election officials, candidates/parties, the media, and regulated political
entities. As EMBs make more information available, they should reach out to
targeted groups to increase voter use of their materials. South Korea provides the
most extensive example of such activity to date. An international exchange could
help EMBs, media organizations (particularly public broadcasters), and nonpartisan
organizations that educate voters to document the outreach practices that best
achieve the most democratic results.
Given its highly interactive nature, the Internet also provides a rich opportunity to
increase the political participation of young people. However, a CIRCLE survey6 in
the United States suggests that the Internet should complement rather than
replace offline efforts. The web is a “pull” medium, where users decide what
content to view. While you can entice people to visit a page through online
advertising or “tell a friend” viral online marketing, disengaged youth are less likely
to choose to view online political content. Active research that fully documents best
practices, and EMB, NGO and media projects that build on those best practices
would greatly benefit strategic investments in targeted voter outreach and
education online.
EMBs should develop an index of online information products used for voter
education, particularly those covered by existing electoral standards. EMBs can
also prioritize content development by using specific case studies. In addition, they
should map out and analyze the associated costs and benefits with checklists to
guide development. However, providing online access does not absolve an EMB of
the responsibility to disseminate information via traditional methods.
4 For a related discussion, see the final section of this report for Dr. Marcin Walecki’s discussion of Political
Finance, p.75 -93.
5 The ACE Project Web site, an information resource on election administration, details voter education options
and provides sample content at http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/ve. I will not repeat its important work
and detailed advice.
6 See CIRCLE, “National Youth Survey 2004” (January 15, 2004). Information about the survey is available at
http://www.civicyouth.org/research/products/national_youth_survey2004.htm.
Challenging the Norms and Standards
of Election Administration
25
• Services and searches
Citizens prefer voting information that is tailored to their geographical location or
political interests, and EMBs can easily provide services based on geography, such
as locating candidates or elected officials by area. (Media and NGO voter education
sites will more likely take the lead with political issues.)
• Campaign regulation information and notifications
EMBs have a special opportunity to provide tailored services to regulated political
organizations, including full and reliable disclosure of all election laws, regulations,
and policies. Online education and personalized notification services (such as email
alerts on deadlines or regulation tracking) will contribute to improved
compliance and convenience.
b. Make content accessible online
Accessibility is a cornerstone issue and opportunity for EMBs. Specifically, access
should be guaranteed for:
• People with disabilities
EMBs have a democratic obligation to become a model of compliance with egovernment
accessibility policies. They must make rigorous use of standard HTML
and other technologies that ensure greater access for sight-impaired people. In
addition, they should use closed captioning of audio/video content for those who
are hearing impaired.
• Speakers of minority languages
EMBs should consider providing essential voter information in all local languages. A
great advantage of the Web is its ability to provide access to alternative language
content in areas of a country where an EMB may not target print distribution.
• Users of different Internet interfaces
In order to reach the greatest number of citizens, EMBs should organize their
content for users of different Internet interfaces. The use of database-driven
content management systems and standard content formatting (such as HTML,
XML, CSS, RSS, etc.) make this task significantly easier, as does the ability to
produce low- and high-bandwidth versions of pages. An emerging area is mobile
access (often called WAP), which allows users to view the Web via their mobile
phones.
• Users without computer access
EMBs may actually achieve better voter outreach by using offline as well as online
resources. This is particularly true in countries with limited home Internet access or
displaced people. As more and more institutions (from NGOs to political parties to
schools) become connected, the Internet can be used as a remote document
storage system. This will be particularly useful for achieving the timely distribution
of information flyers and small format posters in places where postal service is
unreliable. The Internet could also be used to distribute radio programs in MP3
format for use by local radio stations. (See the section on Ensuring
Technological Access below for further discussion of increasing access to voter
information in the most remote places.)
Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet
Steve Clift
26
2. Establishing an Online Legal Environment
The regulation of online campaign activity is one of the most complicated areas of online
election administration.7 Moving from analysis and proposals to the approval of new laws
or rules on this issue has proved exceedingly difficult. However, this may be a good
thing. EMBs need experience with the Internet to determine which aspects of campaign
regulations are either threatened or enhanced by its use.
However, some individuals and informal groups may use the Internet to exercise
influence on par with regulated political groups. The reaction to this event will range
from government attempts to regulate individual behavior to calls by regulated groups
for Internet campaigning exemptions. A proposed amendment to legislation on Internet
taxes in the U.S. House of Representatives that would have exempted Internet
campaigning from election regulations failed. Parliaments around the world will need to
carefully consider future regulation of online campaigning.
a. Identify applicable laws
In light of today’s Internet-driven realities, EMBs must review existing campaign
regulatory laws and issue clear guidance. When possible, they should apply to Internet
content those laws that currently regulate offline media. However in many areas, EMBs
should fundamentally re-evaluate laws and regulations and develop proposals that
allow the Internet to contribute positively to democracy. Achieving the original goals of
electoral regulations may require that those regulations be repealed in the face of the
opportunity afforded by the Internet. There will be instances in which the application of
existing “offline” laws may lead to civil or criminal charges for what is considered
“normal” online campaign or political activity. Further, when it comes to the activities
of individual citizens, these may require exemptions for specific activities online and
offline in order to make enforcement practical.
b. Establish privacy policies, review proposal for “voter privacy” standard
The proposed “voter privacy” election standard extends the concept of voter privacy
while voting to include political privacy while gathering information to make a
considered vote. This proposal requires extensive review in all countries. Initial
recommendations include the requirement that all regulated political entities should be
required to develop, display, and adhere to privacy policies. EMBs should develop a
standard template for display on election-related Web sites, providing a checklist of
what may and what will not be done with the information generated by an individual’s
use of the site. The establishment of such a policy will be highly controversial as
political organizations’ use of data on supporters is typically not made public. Any
registered political entity that violates its own privacy policy should be subject to
severe legal penalties, and all changes in organizations’ privacy policies should be
registered with the EMB. In addition, all individuals currently in that organization’s
database should be notified of the changes and given the opportunity to opt out.
Alternatively, or in addition, a country’s law could specify allowable privacy and datasharing
practices.
7 The U.K.’s Electoral Commission has produced both discussion papers and recommendations on the topic of
election campaigning and the Internet, which are available from this page (scroll down to find relevant section)
http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/elections/policyreviews.cfm. The U.S. Federal Election Commission has
also explored this issue, creating several regulations related to use of the Internet in 2006 (see
http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/internetcomm.shtml. California’s Fair Political Practices Commission has
also addressed the issue (see http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.html?id=362).
Challenging the Norms and Standards
of Election Administration
27
c. Provide defamation and libel guidelines
As laws related to online libel and defamation differ from country to country, EMBs
should compile all relevant local laws and provide citizens, candidates, and parties with
guidance on how to avoid associated legal penalties. The 1999 United Nations Report
of the Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of
Opinion and Expression8 illustrates how easily citizens could be charged with criminal
libel in democratic countries that view informal online remarks to friends on par with
statements on television or in the newspaper.
d. Protect the right to freedom of expression, assembly online, and the use of
information
Through the Internet, the power of national and international freedom of expression
guarantees are gaining their full effect. In short, all human and democratic rights
apply online as they do in person or in traditional media. It is essential that those
promoting free and fair elections advocate for the ability of citizens to exercise their
established rights online, including the right to online public/private communication,
association, and assembly in the election process. The legal private communication
among people must not be monitored for the sake of “free and fair” elections. Finally,
as governments, political parties, and candidates make information about elections
available online, voters should have a clearly articulated right to use, share, and
comment on such information.
e. Guarantee the right of reply online
In some countries, newspapers and broadcast media are obliged to provide equal time
for all candidates; more specifically, they must do so for a candidate who has been the
focus of criticism. Similar policies could also be implemented on the Internet, where
Web site owners might be required to carry a response from someone who is the
subject of comments on the site. Such policies have been discussed little in the United
States; however, the Council of Europe has explored the application of the right of
reply in online media.9
Whether voluntary or mandatory, guaranteeing the right of reply might provide a less
litigious mechanism to correct the record. Most Web forums allow people to reply to
other comments, and some news sites allow people to annotate a story by attaching
their comments to it. However, the abuse of government-sanctioned reporting
mechanisms must be monitored, because the legal and personal costs related to
frivolous complaints might have a chilling effect on the exercise of free expression
during elections.
3. Monitoring Internet Media
Because the Internet is an increasingly agenda-setting medium, it will become important
to independently monitor media and other significant Web sites during elections in order
to ensure fair and balanced coverage.10 While the Internet does not yet reach as many
8 Available from http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/7/b/mfro.htm.
9 See http://www.humanrights.coe.int/media/events/2003/Hearing.htm.
10 The National Democratic Institute mentions the Internet briefly in its media monitoring guide: NDI, “Media
Monitoring to Promote Democratic Elections,” (NDI, 2002). Available at
http://www.accessdemocracy.org/library/1420_elect_media_02.pdf.
Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet
Steve Clift
28
citizens as television, its reach will only grow. Therefore, select parts of the Internet,
particularly major media sites, should be integrated into any media monitoring effort.
a. Build from academic online content analysis techniques
While the democratic purposes of online monitoring emanate from traditional media
monitoring, current online analysis expertise comes from the world of academic
Internet research. According to Dr. Kirsten Foot at the University of Washington, she
advises the following:
• Build from online content analysis;
• Define clearly what is being monitored (a Web site, site section, article, a page,
forum, e-mail newsletter, etc.);
• Use a tool like “Teleport Pro” to harvest information from sites (perhaps selecting
specific times of each hour or each day to check selected pages);
• Create a standard questionnaire for use by monitors; and
• Use a web-based reporting tool with a database backend (like Webarchivist
Coder), because it may work better than an Excel spreadsheet for coding.11
As reporting systems on election-related media monitoring are often designed with
weekly reporting in mind, fair and balanced reporting should be promoted by
streamlining analysis and measuring essential content.
b. Monitor the top 100 Web sites
Independently monitor and report on the “surface” pages of the top 100 Web sites
carrying news or political content in a given country. Such monitoring will involve a
mix of traffic comparison, objective metrics, and commons sense evaluation. This
reporting should also cover major portals even if they have limited political content.
It is recommended that an independent designee or research institution monitor the
stories or content linked from a site’s home page, the top sections (e.g. news,
business, etc.), and any special election or political sections. The key is to focus on the
parts of the top 100 sites that could influence a general reader (e.g., CNN’s home page
or MSN Messenger’s welcome page). While some automatic content analysis tools
might be used to complement staff or volunteer analysis, online media monitoring will
remain labor intensive.
c. Research political Web trends
Monitoring and analysis of opinion leader sites, forums, and e-mail lists are also
recommended. Such monitoring will help establish how information travels online or
how online rumors are picked up by the mass media. Based on its experience in this
area, an EMB or other nonpartisan organizations could offer regular reports on its
media monitoring as well as resources to correct the factual record online. The goal
would be to highlight the diverse sources of information available online and to
demonstrate alternative, non-regulatory mechanisms for creating accountability.
Presenting a slightly different model, the U.S.-based FactCheck.Org corrects
11 For details on “web research methods” see:
http://www.com.washington.edu/Program/Faculty/Faculty/foot.html Information on Teleport Pro is available
from: http://www.tenmax.com.
Challenging the Norms and Standards
of Election Administration
29
politicians’ statements in a model that could grow into a project that could post
corrections to forums or weblogs on agenda-setting political sites.
d. Monitor government Web sites
EMBs should monitor all top-level government Web sites, such as the government’s
home page, the parliament’s home page, and authorized sites of officials running for
re-election.12 In addition, EMBs should look for inappropriate redirection or links to
campaign Web sites, which would likely violate election laws. EMBs (or perhaps
national libraries) are the government agencies that should link to political party and
candidate Web sites, and they must do so in a balanced, uniform way. During
elections, all e-government Web sites should link the EMB site in order to alert citizens
online that elections are coming.
e. Encourage watchdog groups to aid policy development
While the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (www.gilc.org) and Internews
(www.internews.org) both promote global freedom of expression via the Internet, it is
important that EMBs encourage the establishment of national groups that can report
on the situations in their own countries. Watchdog groups like Reporters without
Borders cover issues of Internet freedom13 from the perspective of the media, but few
groups examine the situation from the perspective of clean campaigning. EMBs and
parliaments need information about the obstacles and successes people encounter on
the Internet in order to develop good Internet policy.
4. Ensuring Technological Access
Because most developing democracies are also developing countries with limited
telecommunications infrastructure, it is easy to dismiss the role of the Internet in such
countries. However, it is in these countries that the strategic use of the Internet may
actually provide the greatest efficiencies and benefits. A key to lower costs is the ability
to avoid expensive satellite Internet connections. It is essential to find ways to share
costs and connections when satellite or expensive direct connections are the only
options available.
Many EMBs around the world are nearing the final stages of integrating technologically
advanced Web sites and online services into election administration. The more
interactive an electoral administration is within its own offices, the better prepared it will
be to deal with the public and online policy issues. In the poorest countries, funding
support for an EMB’s strategic online infrastructure is recommended.
a. E-mail
All employees of an EMB should have an e-mail account and e-mail access via a Web
browser. They should be able to access their accounts outside their office and in
remote locations. In many developing countries, staff share computer workstations. It
is also important to note in many instances, e-mail is easier to access in remote
regions than telephones or postal services. Using the Internet to send short text
12 Such government-funded sites should be required to link to EMB-produced voting information and should be
encouraged to link to other nonpartisan election resources.
13 See, for example, their section on governments’ use of the Internet and treatment of journalists who write
online: http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=273.
Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet
Steve Clift
30
messages (SMS) is a bridging technology where mobile phones are often more
accessible than landlines.
b. Wireless Internet options
The following technologies should be reviewed for their potential to provide email/
Internet access to election officials and other democratic actors (such as
candidates, political parties, NGOs, community radio stations, etc.):
• E-mail via radio
There are places around the world that send and receive e-mail via HF
Radio/Shortwave E-mail, which allows them to communicate at a lower cost than
when using a satellite. While there are initial equipment costs and the data transfer
rate is very slow, such connections provide e-mail access in some of the remotest
areas of Africa and other developing countries.14
• Low-earth satellites, satellite connections
These low-earth satellites rotate around the earth providing an opportunity for
daily e-mail exchange. Additional research is required to determine where this
technology is being used. While expensive, the fixed and mobile satellite
connection options increase and costs decrease each year.15
• Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) and other line-of-sight wireless technologies like
WiMax
These wireless technologies are being used in creative ways around the world. A
satellite link to a community access “telecenter” might be shared in a village via
Wi-Fi. In Cambodia, Wi-Fi is placed on motorcycles, which enables the delivery and
uploading of e-mail from schools, clinics, and other locations as they drive past.
Upon returning to their base office, which has a satellite Internet connection, the
devices on the motorcycles pass outgoing messages on to the Internet.
c. Localized content access
Prior to an election, essential voting information, election law guides, and voter
participation posters should be compiled and distributed to EMB staff, the media,
political parties/candidates, election observers, NGOs, and others electronically. This
content can be made available via CD-ROM or one-way satellite radio with data
interfaces16 to NGOs (and other organizations serving displaced persons), who can
mirror the content on local computers for local access and printing on demand.
d. Pilot open source tools for election administration and voter guides
If EMBs and the democratic development community focus sufficient political will and
resources, the Internet can be used aggressively in even the least wired countries to
promote free and fair elections. Two or three countries should be selected for in-depth
pilot efforts using sharable open source software. The creation of tools, like a platform
14 For a good video on radio e-mail, see the site of Radio E-Mail Connections Unlimited at
http://www.radiomail1.net. Another example is found at http://www.bushmail.net.
15 For details on satellite Internet options in developing countries see HumaniNet’s site on satellite
communications, available at http://www.humaninet.org/wis/satcom/index.shtm.
16 One-way satellite content distribution is an option that has been used to deliver community radio content in
Asia and Africa. See First Voice International’s site for more information:
http://www.firstvoiceint.org/How/Satellite.html.
Challenging the Norms and Standards
of Election Administration
31
for generating non-partisan voter guides by EMBs, civil society, or media (depending
upon local roles) could be used in scores of jurisdictions and languages quickly.
Overall, leveraging existing open source tools with election administration-related
“code” or modules will generate the most cost-effective value. This requires support
for the idea that shared tools should serve the needs of more than one EMB and
acceptance that they may replace or complement existing administrative technology
systems.
V. Conclusion
The legitimacy of modern governance is based on free and fair elections. The new
capacities of information and communication technologies, including the Internet,
require election laws, rules and practices be updated to ensure that democratic electoral
goals are met in the information age. This will be a difficult process due to the speed at
which innovations—both good and bad—emerge in the networked world. Let all of us
seize this challenge with democratic intent now, so that in a decade, we will not regret a
missed opportunity to shape the information age for democratic good.
By gaining practical Internet experience, EMBs can take advantage of the democratic
potential of the information age. By focusing on electoral standards and democratic
principles, EMBs can leverage the strengths of the information age, counter its negative
aspects, and protect and strengthen democracy for generations to come.
Election Management Bodies and the Use of the Internet
Steve Clift
32
Further Readings and Select Bibliography
In addition to the electoral standards documents referenced in my report, the following
articles were reviewed (links active as of January 2007):
Bailur, Savita. “Modernizing Participative Democracy through ICTs in the
Commonwealth: A report for the inception phase.” London: Commonwealth Policy
Studies Unit, 2003. Available at
http://www.cpsu.org.uk/downloads/MPD%20Final%20Report.pdf.
Barratt, Jim. “ASA and CAP Response to EU – Online Campaigns.” 28 October 2002.
Available at http://www.asa.org.uk/publicaffairs/pdfs/response_4.pdf.
California Voter Foundation. “How to Make an Online Voter Guide.” August 2002.
Available at.http://www.calvoter.org/issues/votered/pub/quicktips.html.
California Voter Foundation. “Voter Privacy in the Digital Age.” May 2004. Available
at.http://www.calvoter.org/issues/votprivacy/.
Cornfield, Michael, Lee Rainie, and John Horrigan. “Untuned Keyboards: Online
Campaigners, Citizens, and Portals in the 2002 Elections.e,ee Available at
http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_IPDI_Politics_Report.pdf.
Elections Canada. “On-line Voter Registration Feasibility Study: Executive Summary.”
March 20, 2003. Available
at.http://www.elections.ca/content.asp?section=loi&document=index&dir=fea.
Electoral Commission (U.K.). “Electoral Registers: Access, Supply and Sale: Response of
the Electoral Commission.” Last updated November 2002. Available
at.http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/templates/search/document.cfm/6645.
Electoral Commission (U.K.). “The implications of online campaigns.” Last updated
October 2002. Available
at.http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/templates/search/document.cfm/6208.
Electoral Commission (U.K.). “Online campaigns discussion paper.” Last updated
November 2002. Available
at.http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/templates/search/document.cfm/6551.
Electoral Commission (U.K.). “Online election campaigns: Report and
recommendations.” Last updated April 2003. Available
at.http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/templates/search/document.cfm/7286.
Federal Election Commission. “Internet and Federal Elections; Candidate-Related
Materials on Web Sites of Individuals, Corporations and Labor Organizations.” 66 FR
50358 (2001). Available at
http://www.fec.gov/pdf/nprm/use_of_internet/FR66n192p50358.pdf.
Hunter, Christopher D. “Political Privacy and Online Politics: How E-Campaigning
Threatens Voter Privacy.” First Monday 7:2 (February 2002). Available
at.http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_2/hunter/index.html.
Challenging the Norms and Standards
of Election Administration
33
Hussein, Abid. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the
right to freedom of opinion and expression.” UNHCHR E/CN.4/1999/64 (29 January
1999). Available at
http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.1999.64.En.
Im, Joa Soon. “Political Participation in Republic of Korea.” Paper delivered at the 7th
Meeting of Electoral Management Bodies in New Delhi, India (5-7 March 2003).
Available at.http://www.idea.int/elections/upload/soon_paper.pdf.
International IDEA, “Guidelines for Procurement of Technology for Elections.” Accessed 9
June 2004, but no longer online.
Laanela, Therese. “Election and Technology.” Presented at the Regional Workshop on
Capacity Building in Electoral Administration in Africa. Tangier, Morocco: CAFRAD,
2001. Available at
http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/cafrad/unpan005406.pdf.
Mulligan, Deirdre and James X. Dempsey. “Square Pegs & Round Holes: Applying
Campaign Finance Law to the Internet—risks to free expression and democratic
values.” Proceedings of the tenth conference on computers, freedom and privacy:
challenging the assumptions. Toronto, Ontario: 2000. Available
at.http://www.cdt.org/speech/political/Campaignfinance.pdf.
Potter, Trevor. “The Internet and Federal Election Law.” Hoover Institution’s Campaign
Finance Site, 2005. Available at
http://www.campaignfinancesite.org/structure/opinions4.html.
Potter, Trevor and Kirk L. Jowers. “Election Law and the Internet.” Washington, D.C.:
Brookings Institution, November 2001. Available
at.http://www.brookings.edu/gs/cf/sourcebk01/InternetChap9.pdf.
“Report of the Bipartisan California Commission on Internet Political Practices.”
December 2003. Available at http://www.fppc.ca.gov/InternetCom/FinalRept01-
04.pdf.
Schneider, Steven M. and Kirsten A. Foot. “Online Structure for Political Action:
Exploring Presidential Campaign Web Sites From the 2000 American Election.” 2002.
Available at.http://www.sunyit.edu/~steve/schneider-foot-online-structurejavnost.
pdf
United Nations. “Consultation on the use of the Internet for the purpose of incitement to
racial hatred, racial propaganda and xenophobia.” A/CONF.189/PC.1/5 (April 2000).
Available
at.http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/A.CONF.189.PC.1.5.En.
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