Online Civic Networks

At Public Agenda we are currently brainstorming the idea to create online social networks with a focus on civic life for communities, hosted by a sponsoring coalition of local entities (city agencies, non-governmental institutions, ...), that keep engaged citizens in the loop, allow them to network and enable the sponsors to easily host civic engagement activities.



Please let us know your thoughts and get in touch with us, challer [at] publicagenda [dot] org­

Public Agenda's Community Conversation Process

Great roundup of the Community Conversation process in the Achieving the Dream initiative. 

An Introduction to Facebook Activism

facebook_guide_cover300pxDigiactive, a site devoted to digital activism, has released a guide called A DigiActive Introduction to Facebook Activism. It's a quick read with insights and case studies of how Facebook can be used for campaigns. Many of the tips are helpful for anyone looking to use Facebook to support their eParticipation efforts.

[via Beth Kanter's Blog

The POST Method: A systematic approach to social strategy

One of the biggest takeaways from the fabulous book Groundswell - winning in a world transformed by social technologies, which I just finished reading, was the POST Method as a simple framework of how to approach social software:

Is your company [organization] doing its social strategy backwards?

If you started by saying "we should do a blog" or "we should create a page on a social network" or "we should create a community" the answer is probably yes.

post_method_2I've been there and am confronted with this approach pretty often in our work. Following the POST Method seems obvious, but it's important to re­mind ourselves frequently to go through the steps one after the other. Whether you're a customer care agent selling cheap airfare or an urban planner trying to capture citizen feedback online, the POST method gives you a simple tool to ­participate successfully on the social web:

P is People. Don't start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you're targeting college students, use social networks. If you're reaching out business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great  data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don't start without thinking about it.

O is objectives. Pick one. Are you starting an application to listen to your customers, or to talk with them? To support them, or to energize your best customers to evangelize others? Or are you trying to collaborate with them? Decide on your objective before you decide on a technology. Then figure out how you will measure it.

S is Strategy. Strategy here means figuring out what will be different after you're done. Do you want a closer, two-way relationship with your best customers? Do you want to get people talking about your products? Do you want a permanent focus group for testing product ideas and generating new ones? Imagine you succeed. How will things be different afterwards? Imagine the endpoint and you'll know where to begin.

T is Technology. A community. A wiki. A blog or a hundred blogs. Once you know your people, objectives, and strategy, then you can decide with confidence.

This may sound simple to the sophisticated readers of this blog. But it works. Try it. Think your strategy through. Even if you're just clarifying your own strategy, this should help you explain it to your boss.

You can find more information about the book and its authors on their blog >>

Yahoo Local adds community suggestion board feature

Yahoo just added a community suggestion board feature on its Local site for two California cities where citizens can post and deliberate about local issues.  People rate the suggestions, comment on them, subscribe to posts about particular issues and spread the word by printing flyers, adding events and forwarding posts to neighbors.


From "...for instance, on the Sacramento "Neighbors" site, people have suggested that the city needs more downtown gas stations, more urban farms, and a dog park. It turns out the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen is seeking volunteers and a group is volunteering to help with painting projects.

The pilot test is also running for San Carlos, south of San Francisco. Following a three- to six-month trial, the feature will roll out nationally, Yahoo said.

"We're providing a forum for the community to air considerations," which ideally will lead to action, Frazier Miller, general manager of Yahoo Local, said on Wednesday. "We think people are very passionate about their local community. This is a Web 2.0 site for people to talk about local community issues."

It's interesting to see big players jump on the hyperlocal bandwagon. Also, I'm fascinated by the overlap with's Issues Forums. The interesting question will be: Is simply offering the right features enough to build community and to be heard by decision makers?

Front Porch Forum wins Innovator in Place Award

During the CommunityMatters conference in Burlington Vermont end of October, the Orton Family Foundation named Michael Wood-Lewis winner of the 2007 Innovator in Place Award. Michael hosts and facilitates Front Porch Forum, a free online neighborhood forum based in Burlington, VT. 
From the official press release:

    "Some argue that the Internet isolates people, further tearing the social fabric," said Orton Family Foundation President and CEO Bill Roper, "but Michael proves the opposite can be true. His innovation, civic spirit and commitment enable the kind of friendship, trust and interdependence among neighbors that the Foundation believes are key to vibrant, sustainable community. His tool is enhancing Burlington's heart and soul." 

    Michael Wood-Lewis, with his wife Valerie, founded Front Porch Forum in 2006.  In its first year, the Forum's trend setting use of the Internet at the neighborhood level brought 25 percent of the citizens of Burlington, Vermont (pop. 38,889), into community discussions. The free on-line service hosts 130 adjacent neighborhood forums covering every part of Chittenden County. About 7,000 households have subscribed, and hundreds more join every month.

    "We hear from people all the time who lament not knowing their neighbors," said Wood-Lewis.  "When Front Porch Forum kicks into gear, those connections begin to form.  It's a wonderful thing to watch take root, grow and blossom."

    Citizens put Front Porch Forum to good use, connecting with neighbors and building community by posting all sorts of messages: borrow a ladder, refer a plumber, look out for a lost kitten, organize a block party, discuss traffic calming, report a break-in, announce a school play, debate zoning, and on and on.  In addition to direct results ("Kitten Found!"), it's the growth of community offline that is the true measure of Front Porch Forum's impact. Each message comes from a clearly identified nearby neighbor, so over time participants get to know each other better. This familiarity spills over from the virtual to the actual front porch.

    The webs spun by Front Porch Forum that connect people are strengthened by 250 Forum Neighborhood Volunteers who champion the forums in their own areas, and 140 local elected and public officials who participate across their jurisdictions.  Police and other government officials use the site to better respond to problems in their area.  A remarkable Burlington innovation actively cultivating the development of rich, vibrant community, Front Porch Forum is exploring replication options and has a waiting list with more than 150 communities. Michael Wood-Lewis's groundbreaking social innovation is a blueprint for community development of the future. 


The underlying technology appears to be standard bulletin board software that allows both submission via email and through a web form, to reach different audiences. Which shows that this is another remarkable example how not the latest social software applications, but an on-the-ground approach builds true online, an in this case real neighborhood, community.
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