Upcoming IAP2 NorCal Event: “Broadening Participation with Digital Engagement”

Digital Engagement, Events

After a long period of inactivity with only occasional events, IAP2 NorCal, the Northern California chapter of IAP2 USA, is currently seeing a bit of a revival.

The team (I serve as co-chair) has grown to five volunteers since December, and we’re now offering monthly programming and events, both in person and online. Our two main focus areas this year are digital engagement and project case studies that provide hands-on insights for practitioners.

Our first in-person event of the year will take place next week. If you’re in the area, please make sure to stop by:

IAP2 NorCal: Broadening Participation with Digital Engagement
Thursday, April 24, 2014
from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM (PDT)
Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)
Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter (across the street from the Lake Merritt BART Station)
101 Eighth Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Details and RSVP

We have 25 people signed up to date. A light dinner will be served. Should be quite fun.

Follow IAP2 NorCal on social media to find out about future events.

See you there!


What Is a Civic Startup?


Over on Github, Luke Fretwell asks: How do you define ‘civic startup?’

That finally gave me an excuse to share my working definition:

A civic startup is one whose primary aim is to address issues of public concern.

It’s a fairly broad view of the world, admittedly, but appropriate. Civic means a big tent.

To give credit where credit is due, the above is inspired and informed by Michael X. Delli Carpini’s succinct definition of the term civic engagement.

At Intellitics, we consider ourselves very much a civic startup.


Friday Findings


So much to read, so little time. Here are a few interesting bits that caught our attention this week:

  • Bitcoin Could Revolutionize Voting
    Christopher Malmo in VICE Canada about the potential for using cryptocurrency technology for e-voting. Quote: “One of the most promising applications of new crypto tech lies in creating transparent, efficient systems for making political decisions.
  • BitCongress – Decentralized Voting Network & CryptoCurrency
    From the about page: “BitCongress is a decentralized, peer to peer, open source voting system built onto the Blockchain in a multitude of ways including Ethereum, MetaCoins, ColoredCoins & a mined crypto currency called Votecoin.” A white paper is announced to be “coming soon”.
  • Introducing ‘Participation Now: meet the practitioners’
    UK-based Participation Now (see our recent coverage here) kicked off a series of interviews this week with practitioners working in the areas of public participation and, more broadly, civic engagement. Quote: “For all those now working to creatively anticipate futures that are both more public and more participative, we hope you will find these interviews as interesting as we do.”
  • Can the Crowd Run a Company?
    Nina Misuraca Ignaczak in Shareable has a post on London, UK-based Agora, a beverage startup that “utilizes gaming and crowdsourcing technology to run a truly democratized enterprise in which key business decisions are generated by and voted on in an online community.”
  • Submission to the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy
    Andy Williamson lays out “the broader issues of digital engagement, the public’s relationship with Parliament and its inter-connectivity (or lack of) with the law-making process.” Good!

Have a nice weekend!


Top Posts March 2014


Another busy month! Here are the three most popular recent posts (from the three-month period January through March 2014):

And our most popular legacy posts, same as last month:

Thank you for your continued attention. We appreciate it!


Internet Party Launches in New Zealand


Screenshot homepage Internet Party New Zealand

Yesterday, the world saw the launch of a new political party in New Zealand: Internet Party

According to Wikipedia, the Internet Party is

[...] an unregistered political party in New Zealand. The party was established by internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in 2014. The party advocates for less surveillance, copyright reform and cheap internet.

From their website:

The Internet Party was founded on the spirit of the Internet, to get an open, free, fair, connected and innovative society.

A party that will give you faster, cheaper Internet, create high-tech jobs, protect your privacy, and safeguard our independence.

New political parties, particularly those that have participatory elements in their DNA, can be fun to watch as they tend to bring fresh ideas to the table and generally seem to have more room available to explore alternatives to the status quo. In short, there’s always the opportunity they might reinvent and fundamentally improve the way we do politics, which to this day is still in large part driven by, and dependent upon, political parties, at least in what we call the Western World.

Their constitution and rules may be an early indicator that they are aiming for a more participatory approach regarding members and the general public:

On open government:

3.1.7. To promote the New Zealand government adopting digital means of communicating and to advocate for the establishment of open and e-government solutions for all New Zealanders; [...]

On youth participation:

3.1.9. To actively encourage the participation of young people in New Zealand’s democratic process.

On general membership, including non-citizens, non-residents and youths:

4.5.1.General membership of the Internet Party shall be open to any natural person, whether resident in New Zealand or not, who: Is 15 years old or over; [...]

On remote member participation in party meetings:

5.1 Every Member is entitled to attend, vote and actively participate in all meetings of the Internet Party, including Annual General Meetings, either in person or digitally.

On policy development and proxy voting:

5.4 Every Member is entitled to actively contribute to the policy and manifesto development of the Internet Party in so far as such contribution aligns with the objectives of the Internet Party, these rules, and the process determined by the Executive Committee.

5.6 Members may exercise the proxy votes of other members, either in person or digitally, provided they comply with any process for exercising proxy votes decided by the Party Secretary and notified to Members from time to time.

On member consultation as part of the candidate nomination process using ranked voting:

12.4.6. Members will rank the candidates on the “Indicative Party List”, in accordance with their own preferences, and will return the ranked “Indicative Party List” to the Party Secretary within a time period set by the Executive Committee;

12.4.7. Having regard to the ranked lists provided by members, the Executive Committee will produce a “Final Party List” at its sole discretion that will constitute the final Party List.

Given their strong internet and technology background and list of initial focus areas, it will be very interesting to watch if and to what extent digital engagement will play a role in their effort to gain political influence.


Code for America: Public Participation A Pattern For Effective Local Government

Digital Engagement, Public Participation, Radar

Over on the Code for America blog, Interim Executive Director Bob Sofman just shared a set of values outlining the organization’s “current thinking” on what makes effective government and residents.

From the blog post (emphasis mine): Here Are Our Values

After working with nearly a hundred local governments and their communities, we’re seeing patterns in those that can effectively serve their community and rise to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

We believe effective governments:

  1. Design for (and with) people: Create easy, convenient, and effective access to public services and information tailored to resident’s needs, comprehension, and literacy.
  2. Listen to the community: Actively seek participation from all residents in decisions that affect them (regardless of language spoken, technical ability, or geographic location) and explain how that input informed decision-making.
  3. Collaborate with others: Draw on the knowledge, skills, and experiences of residents, community groups, and other governing bodies to enhance existing capabilities of government.
  4. Default to open: Drive transparency, accountability, and community engagement by making public data open and easily accessible.
  5. Use good data for better decisions: Leverage data to drive insight and improvements into the way government processes and services work.
  6. Strive for progress: Challenge and reform policies and practices that are outdated, inefficient, and compromise opportunities for innovation and empower public employees to try new approaches to improve service delivery and quality of life for residents.

The second item aligns nicely with the IAP2 Core Values, which state that public participation a) seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision and b) communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.

While Code for America has focused mostly on areas related to open data, a number of recent projects have ventured into the public participation space:

  • Cityvoice: Location based call-in system for collecting, sharing and understanding community feedback
  • Streetmix: Interactive street section builder that helps community members mockup the streets they’d like to live on and offer these mockups as future plans for city officials and planners
  • Textizen: Civic dialogue platform that allows residents to connect with a powerful mix of offline outreach and online engagement

As part of their inaugural 2012 accelerator program, Code for America also supported MindMixer, an ideation and community feedback application.

The challenge, of course, is that successful public participation (and digital engagement, for that matter) relies to a large degree on good process. It’s not something that can easily be automated, nor can the tools themselves, without the right human guidance, make it work.

A series of follow-up posts is set to explore each of the values in more detail.


World Bank Consultation: “Developing a Strategy for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement”


The World Bank Group is currently asking for input to help develop “a Strategy to Mainstream Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group-Supported Operations.” From the website:

Developing a Strategy for Mainstreaming Citizen Engagement in World Bank Group Operations

How can citizens contribute to better development outcomes? The World Bank Group is developing a coherent approach to mainstreaming citizen engagement in Bank Group-supported operations with the goal of improving their results. The approach will build on experience from ongoing citizen engagement efforts, within and outside the World Bank Group, and highlight additional opportunities for engaging citizens in World Bank Group-supported activities. The World Bank Group is seeking online feedback and holding a series of meetings between February and April, 2014, to learn what works, when, why and how.

The accompanying concept note (PDF) explains how they define citizen engagement (page 5):

15. In the context of the strategy, citizen engagement is defined as the two-way interaction between citizens and governments or the private sector within the scope of WBG interventions (policy dialogue, programs, knowledge work) which give citizens a stake in decision-making with the objective to improve intermediate and final development outcomes of the intervention. The spectrum of citizen engagement includes consultation; collaboration/participation; and empowerment (see Figure 2). Access to information is a necessary enabling condition; it is not a substitute for successful citizen engagement in WBG development interventions, as it typically implies a one-way interaction. Information and awareness raising activities therefore do not meet the definition of citizen engagement. Closing the feedback loop, i.e., a two-way interaction providing a tangible response to citizen feedback is required to meet citizens’ expectations for change created by their engagement, use their input to facilitate improved development outcomes and justify the cost of citizen engagement.

The online survey will be open through April 12, 2014 and aims to surface “what works, when, why and how.”


Evaluation Criteria for Assessing Crowdsourcing Efforts in the Legislative Process

Crowdsourcing, Open Policymaking

I’m working on a blog post recapping and analyzing the recent crowdsourcing experiment by California Assemblyman Mike Gatto to let the public write legislation (see our coverage here and media mentions here and here).

I hope to lay out a number of potential assessment criteria, which could then be applied to help evaluate and compare similar efforts.

Here’s a first list:

  1. Project title and description
  2. Convener name, role and decision-making powers (could be an organization or an individual)
  3. Intended outcome (e.g. draft legislation)
  4. Definition of crowdsourcing applied (this seem to be key, since the term is used quite loosely and the actual processes my end up hybrids to some extents of crowdsourcing and stakeholder engagement)
  5. Public participation promise to the public (e.g. “I vow to introduce the final product in the legislature no matter what.”)
  6. Geographic area and/or administrative level (e.g. local, state, federal)
  7. Project start and end dates
  8. Engagement process (e.g. multiple distinct phases)
  9. Level of convener involvement (e.g. outreach, facilitation)
  10. Digital engagement tools and technologies used
  11. Participation metrics (number of participants, number of comments/edits etc.)
  12. Result or end product (e.g. draft legislation partially completed)
  13. Impact analysis (e.g. draft language used as is, bill submitted but died in committee)
  14. Reception or media coverage

It would be nice to further show where in the lawmaking process the crowdsourcing occurred. Just the drafting of language? Or topic selection and scoping? What about other supporting functions?

Good? Good enough? What else should be included? Leave a comment below to share your suggestions.


Marketplace Morning Report: “Hey, Let’s Crowdsource This California Law!”

Crowdsourcing, Open Policymaking, Press

Quick follow-up on the earlier post, here’s Marketplace with a slightly shorter version of the piece: Hey, let’s crowdsource this California law!


Capitol Public Radio: “Lawmaker Turns to Crowdsourcing to Create Legislation”

About, Crowdsourcing, Open Policymaking, Press

I was interviewed last week by Katie Orr, State Government Reporter at Capitol Public Radio in Sacramento, CA to talk about California Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s recent open policymaking experiment (see our coverage here).

You can read and listen to the entire segment online: Lawmaker Turns to Crowdsourcing to Create Legislation.

Here are the two quotes that made it on the air:

But while the concept may have promise, the wiki-page shows only about 12 people made contributions to the bill.

Tim Bonnemann is the founder and CEO of Intellitics, a company that helps organizations connect and interact with people through social media. He’s been observing Gatto’s wiki-bill process and says there are a few flaws that need to be worked out. For instance, he says there should have been more outreach and guidance.

“They also started at the most difficult part, which is writing legislative copy,” Bonnemann says. “When maybe they should have invited people more to share stories and indentify [sic!] challenges and develop solutions together.”

But as for keeping special interests out of the mix, Bonnemann says wiki-bills might actually help.

“In general, the more public, the more transparent the process is overall, the more difficult it becomes for people to slip things in unnoticed,” Bonnemann says.

Naturally, I had a few more things to say. Here are my answers in full (transcribed from audio):

What do you think of Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s recent experiment to crowdsource legislation via the web?

Well, first of all I think Mr. Gatto deserves big kudos for trying this in the first place. Public participation, in my view, is generally a good thing, and there should be more experiments trying to figure out how we can use technology effectively and meaningfully. In this case, there may have been a few challenges. From what I’ve seen, there was a bit of a lack of outreach. The team was very hands-off in terms of guiding participants through the process. And they also started at the most difficult part, which is writing legislative copy when maybe they should have invited people more to share stories and identify challenges and develop solutions together and only then start with the writing, and only with the help of someone who is really good at writing law.

Have there been other experiments in this area?

Yes, there have been similar experiments in this field where people are trying to use technology to support policymaking or lawmaking. The interesting thing here with crowdsourcing is that you’re relying on an unidentified group of people, unlike stakeholder engagement where you’re reaching out to a known group of people with an existing or known relationship to the issue you’re trying to address.

Could lobbyists gain control over the process?

Yes, I guess no process is completely safe from anyone trying to influence it, but there are safeguards you can build into your design, and I think in general the more public, the more transparent the process is overall, the more difficult it becomes for people to slip things in unnoticed.

Do you believe crowdsourcing legislation online is the way of the future?

Well, I’m certainly excited about the opportunities that we have around using technology to make all kinds of processes more participatory, more accessible, and to involve more people in, for example, the policymaking process. It’s still early days for crowdsourcing so we have to see what happens there. What matters, though, is that crowdsourcing is just one tool or one method among many and which one you end up using depends on your situation, which audience you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to accomplish. I just hope that Mr. Gatto will try this again sometime, and hopefully he can build on what he learned this time around.

The report mentions that Gatto is “already looking toward his next wiki-bill effort”. If done right, this could be a really big deal. Having a representative willing and eager to make this work is half the battle. Now all he and his team need is a little support designing a more robust digital engagement process.

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