Enhancing E-Democracy in Our Communities – By Steven Clift – 2001

Enhancing E-Democracy in Our Communities

Prepared for the Cities of Tomorrow Conference, March 2001

By Steven Clift

Follow this e-democracy recipe and your community will strengthen its local democracy. It can become a world leader in the future of not just e-democracy, but also a figure in the future history of democracy.

1. Take a community-wide approach. E-Democracy is neither just an e-government activity nor something to get to after you figure out online service delivery. Determine if the political will or imperative to open up citizen participation and improve the effectiveness of community and governmental agenda-setting and decision-making exists. E-Democracy is not just another word for good public relations after decisions are taken.

2. Bring community actors together. Develop a shared e-democracy vision. Understand who needs to do what and how linkages can be developed among the efforts of different community organizations to achieve common goals. Some of the community actors that immediately come to mind include governments, elected officials, political parties, media, citizen groups, universities and schools, major commercial and non-commercial local Internet sites. While online advocacy often involves the use of the Internet by citizen groups to protest government decisions, e-democracy is about working together to establish an early warning system that allows broader participation in public agenda setting.

3. Determine e-government participation. Government must take its portion of the broader “e-democracy” seriously. Government can be a leader by Internet-enabling existing representative processes. They must also create new citizen involvement opportunities, such as well-structured online government-run consultations, now uniquely possible because of the Internet. Read the Top Ten E-Democracy To Do List for Government (print out this Top Ten article with this article – they go together).

4. Start an Online Commons. Create or encourage the creation of an interactive online public commons in your community. Based on my decade of e-democracy experience, a facilitated online commons adds the most sustained democratic value to a local community. I highly recommend well defined use of an e-mail list with a charter, rules, and guidelines to keep discussions focused on local topics and that limit the number of posts submitted per person to no more than two a day. You need e-mail to keep the group together, but need to keep the daily message volume down to maintain the size of the participatory audience. This forum should be “of” the broader community and not controlled by anyone agenda or a single existing institution. Try creating a new community coalition designed to host the forum and the right person(s) to serve as an online facilitator. If you read my Start an Online Public Commons article you will find that community recruitment is the essential activity required to give a forum life. Build it and they will never come unless you tell them that it is there.

5. Develop community navigation online. Don’t just promote local connectivity and bandwidth development so your citizens spend all their time going to the world while losing touch with their community. Develop community-wide “public portal” web sites. These well organized, frequently updated, Yahoo-like sites make it easy to navigate your community online. Whether is finding a government service, joining a local citizen group, or interacting in the online public commons, if a citizen can’t find it, it doesn’t really exist. Build these in partnership with other organizations and launch a community linking campaign. Let people come home via the Internet.

Related Articles by Steven Clift

Top Ten E-Democracy “To Do List” for Governments Around the World – http://publicus.net/articles/egovten.html
Start an Online Commonshttp://www.e-democracy.org/do/commons.html
A Wired Agorahttp://www.publicus.net/articles/agora.html
Top Ten Tips for Wired Elected Officialshttp://publicus.net/articles/weos.html
E-Democracy E-Bookhttp://www.publicus.net/ebook/

Also see the article by Steve Kranz, E-Democracy Thrives in Winona
http://onlinedemocracy.winona.org/startup.html