With the help of an unprecedented three-year, $625,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, E-Democracy will try to enroll 10,000 St. Paul residents in its neighborhood forums. Steve Clift, who founded the on-line E-Democracy forums in 1994, is excited about the opportunity to more than triple current St. Paul forum membership. Clift said that 10,000 members would represent 10 percent of St. Paul households.
“We discovered that real outreach, real inclusion takes resources,” Clift said in a phone interview. “We are very volunteer-heavy by design, but you can only expect volunteers to do so much.” The plan for the BeNeighbors project calls for engaging “diverse communities with special efforts focused on lower income areas, communities of color, and St. Paul’s many immigrant communities.” For that, Clift said, they need to bring in people from those communities to do outreach. He looks forward to hiring “up to eight part-time people with strong connections to diverse communities” by summer to work on outreach.
E-Democracy now has 16 St. Paul forums — the overall St. Paul Issues Forum, and 15 neighborhood forums. There is also a Minneapolis Issues Forum and at least 17 Minneapolis neighborhood forums, with a total of 7,000 members. In addition to building forum membership, the BeNeighbors project calls for exploring “electronic block clubs” with pilot projects along the Central Corridor line in St. Paul, “combining open source technology with intensive outreach and hybrid face-to-face/online models.” The project will also include outreach to other Knight Foundation communities around the country and technology innovation.
I’ve been an E-Democracy forum member for years, scanning the posts in forums daily. Membership and posting are on a real-name basis, and conversations on the forums range from arguments over what it takes to get real grass on community soccer fields to invitations to political meetings, wild turkey sightings, restaurant recommendations, and lost keys.
TC Daily Planet readers also share a variety of articles and blog posts, especially in the Free Speech Zone and Neighborhood Notes. There’s a lot of crossover between Daily Planet readers and the E-Democracy forum membership, and we try to let E-Democracy members know about articles of interest on the Daily Planet.
Posts on E-Democracy forums are public (always have been), and now the policy is that all are re-publishable under a Creative Commons license, unless the author specifies otherwise. We’ve occasionally republished E-Democracy posts in the past, after the sometimes-lengthy process of emailing individual authors to get permission. With the new policy, we’ll share more E-Democracy posts in the Free Speech Zone.