This is the first post in my new Tool Tips series, hopefully a weekly best-of with tools that I found helpful to support eParticipation efforts.
Today I want to introduce a small but interesting web app that allows you to quickly visualize results of workshops or online dialogues - Wordle.net. While summarizing dialogues will always be a human task, Wordle parses text or web pages and quickly outputs a nice graph of the most frequently used words, thereby highlighting emerging themes.Very useful for on-the-fly report-outs and easy to embed on your web site ( I also found it works quite well with our TextTheMob.com message boards ).
A similar alternative is TagCrowd.com, less visually compelling, but doesn't require Java.
I stumbled over a Chevy ad on the front page of the New York Times today, announcing a dialogue about alternative energy with the headline "We share a planet, why not share a dialogue". While I appreciate the offer to talk openly about their alternative fuel efforts (and realize I have to do some more research about the seriousness of their efforts), I disagree with their choice of words. After navigating to the microsite, I had to realize all they offer is a Q&A section. The answers seem to be pretty open and address the issues, but technically a Q&A doesn't qualify as a dialogue: Users can only submit questions, neither are they able to respond to the answer nor are other visitors able to leave their response to the answer or the initial question - Chevy has the final word!
Since we launched TextTheMob I'm keeping my eyes open for good case studies and best practices on how to use mobile technology to support eParticipation efforts. I recently discovered MobileActive.org, a great network of practitioners that has put together a quick guide of How to Run a Text-to-Screen Campaign:
They follow with a case study, a good list of questions to ask yourself before starting and a step-by-step guide on how to set it up. A quick read, definitely worth your time if you're looking into utilizing mobile technology as part of your efforts.
Text to screen can function as a unique way for advocacy groups to use interactive media to
- build a database of mobile phone numbers for future use
- show the opinions and demands of a constituency/the public to decision makers in a highly visible manner
- generate media and public attention.
Last weekend I participated in DrupalCamp Colorado. Some very interesting presentations and amazing to see the Drupal community grow so fast.
I know I'm kind of late to the game, but I'm finally warming up to Twitter. So during the conference I started live twittering and I liked it. Does anyone care? I'm not convinced, but other participants discovered me and ended up being a discussion starter.
Also, Beth Kanter's thoughts and experiences with live twittering at conferences keep me thinking - there's something to it, even though I feel like it's not quite there yet.
Digiactive, 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]
I'm excited to announce that I recently started to work for Public Agenda as a consultant. I'm coming on board as a Public Engagement Associate and will help them identify online strategies to support their choicework approach.
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.
I'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 >>
From the OneWebDay website:
OneWebDay is one day a year when we all - everyone around the physical globe - can celebrate the Web and what it means to us as individuals, organizations, and communities.
The idea behind OneWebDay is to:
- focus attention on a key internet value (this year, online participation in democracy)
- focus attention on local internet concerns (connectivity, censorship, individual skills)
- create a global constituency that cares about protecting and defending the internet
We’re building towards September 22, a Monday this year.
Curious to see what activities around online participation in democracy will be offered.
Mobile Participation (mParticipation) seems to be the next step in ePartizipation. With the rising of the iPhone and other smart phones and combined with other features like GPS and Location Based Services the expectations for new applications for are high. Consequently mobile applications amplify eParticipation in an spatial and temporal dimension. Not only at home, but also e.g. traveling in the metro, participants are enabled to read, write and follow the discussions.
While the discussion about mParticipation itself is not new, the debate about its benefits is changing with new phones and features coming out on a weekly basis. At this point, I feel the question is, what do we call mParticipation and where is the difference to what we consider eParticipation?
In my eyes, using smartphones to participate in online dialogues or consultation processes shouldn't be considered mParticipation. Technologies change and a couple of years from now I doubt there's going to be any differentiation whether citizens use desktop PCs, laptops, xBoxes, mobile devices or whatever online-enabled device comes next to participate in eParticipation projects.
Where I agree with Stefan, and feel some of the comments are coming short, is the added value mobile devices can bring to the table - the core of mParticipation. Stefan points out that
"even if SMS only offer limited possibilities (because of the restriction to 160 signs) in comparison to mobile internet devices, there are arguments for integration in participation processes. They are an easy to use feature, they are cheap, they can be integrated to web (and vice versa). Looking at demoscopic data, they even offer more advantages."The point is they are ubiquitous, basically everyone on the street carries them. This is the true value which we need to explore further - how do we best use mobile devices as points-of-entry to the main engagement offering: a short question, first statements, spatial annotations, etc. that are context-sensitive and make the connection between project and everyday life of our target audiences. And responses with further information and automatic opt-ins into a contact database are bridges that can help to turn interested passerbys into engaged participants. The design of those kinds of cross-media participation processes is still in its infancy. I barely know good examples in the field (any pointers?), but looking at the shifts going on in the marketing world, there's a lot of potential.
Finally, I believe we shouldn't get hung up in discussions about whether mParticipation is a next step (e.g. here and here), but an addition to the toolset with a lot of potential that still needs to prove its true benefits.