Local volunteers facilitate and co-ordinate the forums based on rules that encourage substantive discussion and ensure that political doesn’t descend into personal. Volunteer facilitators consult with citizens and officials, but are independent.
The forums aim to empower citizens by giving them a public platform to share their experiences, points of view and questions, as well as helping local authorities provide better leadership and services by connecting with a broader base of diverse citizens.
Fraser Henderson, National Project for local E- democracy Project Officer at NorthLincsNet, commented: “Without debate there is no community; these Issues Forums provide an important set of online deliberative tools that connect communities.”
In the U.S., online Issues Forums have proven a rich source of stories and perspectives for political and media organisations, and journalist reporting helps to inform a wider cross-section of community members.
Local committees are working with the non-partisan community organisation, E-Democracy.Org, to establish a global model for local online citizen participation in the UK and beyond. Minnesota-based E-Democracy.Org has built a cost-effective volunteer-based effort that has engaged citizens for over a decade.
Gavin Sealy, Newham Issues Forum Manager, says, “The forum has the potential to build community cohesion with a socially diverse local population, because there is another way for people to get involved. We believe that convenient ‘any time, anywhere’ participation is key to the future of local democracy.”
Steven Clift, Board Chair of E-Democracy.Org noted, “We must build e-democracy with the citizens’ needs up front. That provides real value to local authorities, the local media, and the local community as a whole.”
E-Democracy.Org is using new and innovative open source technology from New Zealand to host the UK forums. GroupServer allows citizens to participate via e- mail or the web by utilizing a number of emerging social networking techniques that effectively bring groups of people together online.
A pilot forum in the town of Melksham, Wiltshire plans to run through to 15 March 2005. Post-pilot efforts in Blackburn with Darwin as well as other communities are possible based on local citizen interest and formal or informal support from local authorities, community groups, and/or new media initiatives.
About the local e-Democracy UK National Project:
- Democratic engagement is at the heart of the political process and a healthy democracy can only be sustained if we make it as easy and as accessible as possible for citizens to get involved. A key way of doing this is to open up e-channels.
- The Local e-Democracy National Project will deliver to local authorities: an e-democracy toolkit – a range of new and enhanced tools and techniques to implement e-democracy encourage participation including:
- better ways ensure the inclusion of particular groups
- a strategy guide – e-democracy with information on funding, tactics
and strategies for implementing e-democracy in different types of
- a self assessment toolkit – enabling councils to measure their
progress against a national baseline public opinion research
- a knowledge pool – to enable easy access to all products, learn from
case studies and the offer the opportunity to join an online community of
- The key benefits of the project are: better decision-making;
increased participation and stronger bonds between the citizen, their
council and their representative.
- Local e-Democracy projects include:
- Online surgeries for young people with councillors/MPs
- National councillors database
- E-enabled citizens’ panels
- Websites for 50+
- SMS broadcasting about local government activities
- Mobile phone e-democracy games for young people
- E-Democracy icons to make e-democracy websites more accessible for
those with disabilities
- The local e-Democracy National Project is one of 22 local e-Government National Projects. Initiated by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the National Projects are a key part of its national strategy for local e-government. They offer councils cost-effective, proven,
standards-based products, services and implementation roadmaps with which to build effective e-services tailored to their citizens and each council’s own unique needs.
- The 22 Projects have been created to help local authorities deliver local e-government by December 2005 – meeting their Priority Outcome requirements and helping them to respond to the recommendations of the Gershon efficiency review. http://www.localegovnp.org
E-Democracy.Org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, citizen-based project, whose mission is to improve participation in democracy through the use of information networks. It began in 1994 as the Internet’s first election-oriented website which included civic dialogue designed to help citizens increase their civic participation. E- Democracy hosts active local forums with 1000 to 200 ongoing participants in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Winona, Minnesota as well as a start-up forum in Chicago, Illinois.