As I prepare my remarks for the Internet Governance Forum next week, I’m interested in what can be learned from recent ICT-enabled consultations that have taken place around different political processes. Here are a few notable ones:
- Minnesota just finished an interesting multi-modal e-debate among all six candidates for governor
- A joint US/Canadian consultation took place on how to effectively manage the great lakes in December of last year
- In July the UN High Level Panel on System-wide Coherence held an e-consultation
- In preparation for the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in June, a "Habitat Jam" e-consultation was organized
- The UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs has a series of discussion forums that apparently they use for e-consultations in conjunction with various meetings
I will go into some detail on how these events were organized, and conclude with some thoughts on what lessons can be gleaned from these experiences.
Some notable points about each of these ICT-powered consultations:
The Minnesota e-Debate
- Included all candidates, including Democratic, Republican and 4 independent party candidates
- A multi-modal consultation, including YouTube videos of the candidates presenting their various positions, blog-type postings of arguments and rebuttals, comments and ratings from Minnesota citizens, and a heavily moderated discussion forum for issue-related discussions.
- Web 2.0 tagging and aggregation of relevant Flickr images, YouTube videos and blog posts
Great Lakes Joint US/Canadian Consultation
- a multi-national effort
- conducted in English and French, with near live translation of discussion board posts
- Multi-modal consultation, combining physical meetings, email, fax, free phone message, and discussion board
- More than 4,000 participants, with 270 via the web
- Third-party non-profits responsible for large majority of email form submissions
UN High Level Panel on System-wide Coherence e-Consultation
- Web submission process
- No posting of comments
- Third-party NGO coordination of email based submission of other comments by WEDO and Stakeholderforum.org
- Wide outreach effort, including iPod giveaway contest for registrants, results in over 20,000 registrations for the online forum from reportedly 191 countries
- 14,000 posts to discussion forums
- In French and English
- Well-organized system for volunteer moderators, facilitators and technical assistants
- Effort to get people in slums and poor communities to participate, including from Cameroun, India, Brazil and Peru
- Some of my other conclusions
UN DESA Discussion Forums
- Mostly related to gender concerns
- Unclear their connection to UN conferences or meetings
- Poorly attend and moderated
- Only in English
In sum, there is a growing body of experience and knowledge about how to organize these ICT-powered consultative events. Some of my tentative conclusions:
- Outreach outreach outreach. Much of your budget and preparations should be spent on outreach and other efforts to enable widespread participation. The Habitat Jam had 20K registrants just by giving away a free iPod. Steven Clift and his team have been doing e-consultations for a decade or so in Minnesota, so they know how to outreach. The Great Lakes consultation used everything from printed flyers to billboards to get the word out about their online event. It’s not a consultation if nobody comes.
- Third-party NGOs are key to involve from the beginning. The Greak Lakes consultation had the most email submissions from outside groups organizing email campaigns. The Habitat Jam partnered with local non-profits, governments and cybercafes to get slum dwellers online for the event. The Minnesota e-debate was organized by an independent non-profit, not the government.
- Enable Multi-modal Means of Participation. The Minnesota e-debate employed an impressive range of technologies to garner as much public participation as possible. Even if you only had access to email you were able to get some sense of the different positions and debates. The Great Lakes consultation had the most modes of participation, from physical meeting consultations to fax, telephone, email, and web-based participation.
- Speak the Language of Your Stakeholders. For multi-national consultations, there is no way that English or even English and French will suffice. There are significant scaling issues to supporting consultations in several languages (as anyone in the EU knows.) But this question can not be dodged.