Knight News Challenge: Online Deliberation For Informed Community Problem-Solving


Talking Solutions

Back in 2013, we threw out an idea during the inspiration phase of the Knight News Challenge on Open Government. It wasn’t really core to what we’re doing here at Intellitics, so we didn’t pursue it further. To our knowledge, the “public participation calendar” still hasn’t been implemented two years later, so we recently brought it up again vis-a-vis the White House.

The two challenges that followed (in late 2013 on harnessing data and information for the health of communities, and again in early 2014 on strengthening the internet for free expression and innovation) were both very interesting but too remote for us as well.

Now their latest challenge invites everyone to reimagine the role of the library now and in the future and asks how we can “leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities”. We see a lot of overlap with conversations that have been going on for years within the library community and in the broader areas of participatory democracy, open government and even the future of journalism and local news media.

Here’s the proposal we submitted over the weekend:

Talking Solutions: Online deliberation tools and methods, built on best practices in public engagement, tailored to support libraries in their new roles as facilitators of informed community problem-solving.

In the conversations with regard to reinventing public libraries in the United States as civic hubs, one central theme has been their potential role as trusted conveners and facilitators of informed community problem solving processes. Some libraries are already developing the capacity to fulfill these new roles.

Talking Solutions will work with such libraries to develop and test a widely adaptable, turn-key model for successfully extending their deliberation services online.

We will run a series of rapid prototyping projects in several parts of the country to explore how best practices in online tools, dialogue methods and knowledge management can be readily incorporated as vital elements in the new roles libraries are now taking on.

See it in full and share your feedback in the comments.

And while you’re at it, check out these other excellent proposals that are related to ours (complete as of last night the end of the submissions phase we’ll update the list as more proposals stream in today and tomorrow):

We’ve been getting great inititial feedback from librarians in the Bay Area and beyond and are actively looking for partners. If you’re involved with a library that’s already offering community engagement services or is planning to do so in the future, or if you’re a technology provider with tools that support online deliberation, or if you’re a researcher who’d like to do research on this project, or a civic engagement organization interested in lending additional support to this effort, please get in touch and let us discuss how we might collaborate. Thanks!


Workshop on Digital Engagement in Participatory Budgeting

Digital Engagement, Events, Participatory Budgeting

I will be leading a workshop at the Participatory Budgeting Conference in Oakland next Friday:

1.4 How to Integrate Technology to Strengthen Your PB Process (Workshop)

This workshop is aimed at PB organizers tasked with or interested in developing a digital engagement strategy that optimally supports their overall program. After this session, attendees will be better able to identify digital engagement opportunities across the entire PB project cycle and evaluate them based on their specific goals, needs and other circumstances.

My goal with this session is to provide people with a mental model that enables them to better navigate the challenges of integrating technology into their work in creative, yet pragmatic and always outcome oriented ways.

If you have any questions you’d like to see addressed, please leave a comment below. Look forward to seeing you!


Upcoming Research Trip: Participatory Democracy in South Korea


I will be traveling to Seoul, South Korea next month and hope to be spending some time learning about the local participatory democracy scene there.

A few interesting tidbits that have caught my attention so far:

Participatory budgeting appears to have been explored and applied for over ten years now, according to this research paper by Jeongeun Hwang and Daehan Song for the International Strategy Center: Participatory Budgeting in Korea (PDF)

2) Current state of participatory budgeting in Korea
As of May 15, 2011, 120 local governments (out of the total 246) had established ordinances for participatory budgeting (310 out of 16 metropolitan cities, and 117 out of 230 basic municipalities). By August 21, 2012, the number of local governments (si, gun, gu) that adopted participatory budgeting ordinances increased by over 100 percent to 242.11 All but four local governments had the legal foundations for participatory budgeting. Such rapid expansion did not come without criticism. Critics point out that local governments adopted a one-size fits all ordinance rather than one customized to best involve local communities.

The Seoul Innovation Bureau, a “cross-departmental innovation unit” aimed at “using social innovation to improve citizens’ lives” and reporting directly to the Mayor. Among other things, here’s what they do:

Offline, the Seoul Innovation Bureau works with departments across City Hall to host listening workshops with citizens and policy makers to discuss particular topics. More than 6,000 of these have been held — allowing the government to hear from more than 600,000 citizens.

Yobosayo, a giant ear in front of City Hall to symbolize the city’s willingness to listen to its citizens: yobosayo – participatory public artwork for seoul citizens hall (click for more details and pictures… so cool!)

to commemorate the opening of seoul citizens hall in south korea, a competition was organized around the theme of ‘paying attention’ to people’s voices. responding to the organizers requirement for an artwork that would be nicknamed the ‘big ear’, south korean firm lifethings won with their participatory installation piece, ‘yobosayo’. the title of the artwork is a korean word used when calling to get someone’s attention or starting a conversation, similar to ‘hello’. located on seoul plaza directly outside the citizens hall, the interactive sculpture records voice messages of ideas, proposals and messages from the citizens and shares them with others. visitors leave messages in the ‘big ear’ by talking into it, while inside the main building the occupants encounter whispers of messages left by those outside.

The Politics in Korea portal (tagline: “Get Korean legislative information, all in one place”), which also includes opportunities for idea sharing.

Good stuff!

I am particularly interested in the following areas:

  1. Public participation: involving citizens in decision making (in particular: participatory budgeting, open policy making & crowdlaw)
  2. Use of information and communications technology to support public participation (also known as e-participation or digital engagement)

On Monday, October 6, I will be speaking on digital engagement trends and best practices at Yeungnam University in Daegu, South Korea.

I’m lining up meetings for the rest of that week in Seoul. If you’d like to meet up or know someone I should contact, please leave a comment or send an email. Thanks! 감사합니다!


The Civity Initiative: Improving Community Problem Solving


A new civic effort out of the San Francisco Bay Area was just announced this morning. The Civity Initiative (tag line: “offering the story of civity to counter civic gridlock”) was founded by Palma Strand and Malka Kopell and aims to improve community problem solving.

From the email:

As many of you know, [we] have been working for the past couple of years on a project to improve problem-solving in communities. We think that by strengthening people’s social networks and building relationships of respect, empathy and trust across social, political, and organizational divides, we can enable people to work together better to address tough civic issues. When that happens, we call it “civity.”

I’d like to announce that The Civity Initiative has officially launched.

Thanks to seed funding from The Whitman Institute, we are kicking off a project in Silicon Valley to pilot “civity conversations” to bring people together on both sides of the tech/non-tech divide, and are in the process of developing a larger dialogue project to address the tensions in San Francisco. In addition, we have created a website at to tell the civity story across the country. I encourage you to check out the site and tell me what you think.

Their website has more details about the first two projects.


White House Seeking Input on Open Government Portal Relaunch

Open Government, Public Participation

Earlier this week, the White House via the recently launched U.S. Open Government Google group, asked for input regarding an upcoming “refresh” of their Open Government website at

Here’s the comment I just left:

Hi Cori,

I’d like to re-introduce the idea of a public participation calendar:

The idea is to provide one central and complete list of all ongoing and upcoming (formal) public participation opportunities at the federal level, e.g. agency rulemaking and policy consultations.

Not only would this make it a lot easier for the public to find out about, and participate in, these government decision making processes, longer term it would provide the basis for a much-needed quality assurance process, a more consistent and in-depth assessment of public participation efforts at the federal level (see also the administration’s commitment in the 2nd U.S. National Action Plan regarding “best practices and metrics for public participation”).


Member of the Board, IAP2 USA (
Founder and CEO, Intellitics, Inc. (

The idea is now more than five years old. Let’s see if now is the time it finally gets implemented.

1 comment

Getting the IAP2 Spectrum Wrong

Public Participation

Update (2014/09/08): A recording of Friday’s call is now available online.

IAP2 Spectrum

I had a chance to attend a conference call on “Deepening Digital Engagement” yesterday hosted by Community Matters, a program by the Orton Family Foundation that “equips cities and towns to strengthen their places and inspire change… through transparent, collaborative conversations”.

There was a lot of ground to cover in just one hour, and participants had more questions on their minds than time allowed to answer.

As usual on these calls, the IAP2 Spectrum (PDF) was referenced in passing. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, some of its key concepts got mangled in the process.

Here’s the comment I just added to the call notes:

For those curious about the IAP2 Spectrum, I’d like to correct a few misconceptions that came up during the call (as reflected in the notes):

  1. In at least two key ways, the IAP2 Spectrum is fundamentally different from Arnstein’s “ladder”. All levels of the Spectrum have legitimate purpose depending on the situation. And consultation, properly aligned with IAP2′s Core Values and Code of Ethics, certainly isn’t tokenism.
  2. The “Inform” level of the IAP2 Spectrum is indeed about informing the public, not about informing the decision makers.
  3. The “Empower” level of the IAP2 Spectrum has nothing to do with co-delivery or provision of services by citizens or the public.
  4. Moving to the right of the IAP2 Spectrum involves a lot more than simply “getting more information to policy makers”.
  5. The IAP2 Spectrum doesn’t address the “level of facilitation” required for any engagement activities at any given level of the Spectrum.
  6. Issue reporting isn’t a decision making process in the IAP2 sense, hence tools in this area (e.g. SeeClickFix) do not map to the IAP2 Spectrum.
  7. The IAP2 Spectrum simply illustrates participants’ various levels of impact on a decision. It’s irrelevant whether the engagement processes are delivered online or offline. In that sense, there is no separate “spectrum in online engagement”. Several people have tried to map various tools and technologies to specific levels on the Spectrum. However, the relation isn’t always obvious. Many tools can be, and have been, applied across the entire Spectrum.

It should go without saying that the Spectrum is a one-page condensation of a conceptual framework that some people spend an entire week to grok in great depth.

Say what you want about the IAP2 view of the world, but for the purpose it was developed the Spectrum remains a powerful, necessary and – to this day – unsurpassed tool in the public participation practitioner’s toolbox. It deserves to be represented and shared accurately.


Bertelsmann Stiftung Releases New Study on Public Participation in Germany

Europe, Public Participation, ROI

Gütersloh, Germany-based Bertelsmann Stiftung today released a new study on public participation in Germany, which shows increasing citizen demand for various types of participatory processes and which confirms a number of ways public participation yields positive impact (pages 4-5, in German): Vielfältige Demokratie: Kernergebnisse der Studie „Partizipation im Wandel – Unsere Demokratie zwischen Wählen, Mitmachen und Entscheiden“ (PDF)

Here’s the summary (translation via Google Translate, modified):

In Focus: Ten key findings of the study “Participation in Transition – Our Democracy between Voting, Participation and Decision Making”

1. Germany is moving from a representative to a diverse democracy

In our democracy, the purely representative methods have lost their monopoly. Citizens want to have a say on important issues and (co‑)decide directly. Voting alone is no longer sufficient.

2. While the political elites are still reluctant citizens have already arrived at the diverse democracy

While citizens prefer participatory forms of governance over purely representative ones today already, elected politicians still depend more on the representative system. There are also differences in the interpretation of the representative mandate: politicians interpret their representative mandate much more openly and less dependent on the specific will of the people.

3. The largest untapped potential from the perspective of citizens in direct democracy

Citizens want to decide important questions themselves via direct democracy. They want much more direct democracy than has been practiced in Germany in the past.

4. Various forms of political participation are mutually supportive

The assumption according to which the various forms of political participation compete with each other has not been confirmed. The three pillars of diverse democracy stabilize each other. More public participation strengthens representative democracy!

5. Public participation promotes the common good

For the most part, citizens and decision makers see public welfare-promoting effects through more participation. Active public participation generates better information, new ideas and enhances the articulation and consideration of different interests as a basis for political decisions.

6. Successful public participation increases the satisfaction with the way democracy works and strengthens confidence in democratic institutions

Well-done public participation increases the satisfaction with the functioning of democracy and strengthens confidence in the representative institutions. However, poorly-done public participation has the opposite effect: It destroys trust and creates dissatisfaction.

7. Public participation strengthens the political interest and the democratic skills of their citizens

More participation by way of a more diverse democracy strengthens the political culture of a country. Democratic interest and expertise are conducive to engagement and participation, but the relationship also works the other way around:

8. Public participation increases the acceptance of policy decisions

The vast majority of citizens and decision makers see greater acceptance of political decisions through direct democracy and deliberative participation processes, even if citizens are not satisfied with the concrete results of decisions.

9. Public participation prevents bad planning and bad investments

More and earlier public participation can avoid time-consuming and expensive faulty planning and poor investments and helps to improve the results of policy decisions.

10. More public participation is not a democratic luxury

Whether rich or poor — the investment activities of municipalities are not dependent on their level of wealth. The cash position is not a decisive factor in the decision for or against public participation.

The research for this empirical study took place in late 2013 in 27 municipalities across Germany and included personal interviews with the mayor, online/phone interviews with city council members as well as interviews with three members each of the administrative leadership. In each of the 27 municipalities, 100 citizens were interviewed via phone.

Preferred mode of participation

The study also included a question about “online participation”, which received surprisingly low levels of approval. However, the way it was framed leads me to believe that the results aren’t quite as meaningful:

Question: “In what follows, I’ll give you various forms of public participation. For each form, please tell me how you rate it on a scale from 1 (= very good) to 5 (= very poorly)?”

Some of the specific forms of public participation and civic engagement listed include participation in local elections, collecting signatures, participation in opinion surveys, active participation in political parties and letters to the editor. The item “online participation”, on the other hand, is very general and would include everything from sending an email to your local representative, to online consultations, to e-petitions to internet voting. Without a more concrete definition of what exactly participants are responding to, it’s difficult to assess their true attitudes towards online engagement or what specific concerns may be responsible for their answers.

Future studies should aim to provide a more differentiated view of the public’s hopes and needs with regard to digital engagement.


Top Posts August 2014


Happy September, everyone! Here’s last month’s most popular posts (for the period June through August 2014):

And our three top performing posts overall:

As always, thanks for following along!


IAP2 NorCal 09/03 Event on Integrating Virtual and In-Person Digital Engagement

Digital Engagement, Events

In case you happen to be in San Francisco tonight, check out this event organized by IAP2 NorCal, the local chapter of IAP2 USA, which I co-chair:

High Tech, High Touch: Using Technology for Effective Engagement Online and Offline

With all the technology available on the market it’s hard to know what to use to support community engagement and what to expect when you do. This month IAP2 NorCal is thrilled to host Amelia Loye, who is visiting from Australia, and Darin Dinsmore from Crowdbrite to share their lessons learned and discuss how engagement technology can be used to make engagement effective, not just online but while engaging face-to-face with community.

Some of the areas we will cover include:

  • New techniques and strategies for public engagement in economic development, incl. case studies and lessons learned from the California prosperity plan, 16 regional economic forms including the Silicon Valley economic forum and the first ever California economic summit.
  • Unique opportunities to apply new tools and techniques to environmental planning, sustainability and proactive approaches to dealing with climate change and resiliency, incl. examples from California and the New York capital region sustainability plan.
  • Affordable housing in San Francisco is becoming critically important and we will review and discuss new approaches to public involvement around real estate projects and the provision of affordable housing.
  • Lastly we will discuss the business side of technology-supported public participation and explore cost-saving efforts and improving the return on investment for engagement activities.

For more details and to RSVP: High Tech, High Touch: Using Technology for Effective Engagement Online and Offline

Looks like we’ll have a great group of people (scroll to the bottom to see the RSVP list). It’s not too late to register. Promotional code “IAP2NorCal” will get you 20% off the regular price.

See you there!


Dates Announced for 2015 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy


This just in via email:

Dear Friends of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy,

Thank you for your patience over these past two years as we have searched for a date and place for the next forum. And now comes the good news: we will be gathering in the capital of Tunisia in May next year.

You can put it down on the calendar right now: Tunis, May 14-17, 2015.

Why Tunisia? Why Tunis? Why May 2015? Because at this moment, there is simply no better choice. Tunisia and its people have emerged in the global spotlight as they struggle to democratize after decades of dictatorship. And what better time and location to consider the Arab Spring than in the country where it began — and in the middle of spring?

Tunis is the perfect venue for discussion and exchange over how democracy develops – and how people power can grow stronger roots around the world. Last weekend the Tunisian Election Commission closed the books for the registration of electors and candidates ahead of the forthcoming parliamentarian (Oct 26) and presidential elections (Nov 23) this autumn. By next spring, a new generation of politically active Tunisians will be in charge and society will get a new start to handle the many problems and challenges of democratization.


Looking forward to seeing you in Tunis next May – at the 5th World Conference on Active Citizenship and Participative Democracy!

The 2010 Global Forum in San Francisco, CA touched upon the need for “thorough deliberation” to make direct democracy efforts work more effectively.

Updated the calendar entry accordingly.