[DW] Government 2.0 and Everyday Citizens and Democracy Speech to Council of Europe

April 1st, 2009

I’ve placed the audio from my 20 minute speech to the 47 nation Forum
for the Future of Democracy organized last November by the Council of
Europe online here:


Links to the extensive conference resources are available from that
page as well. It includes some highlights from my Sidewalk for
Democracy Online article and my Ten Practical Online Steps for
Government Support of Democracy articles:

Comments appreciated: clift@publicus.net

Steven Clift

Group home for Newswire – Steven Clift’s Democracies Online Newswire:

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Obama: Transparency and Open Government, Freedom of Information

January 21st, 2009

These memos are circulating all over the Internet. I would guess they will soon be up on WhiteHouse.Gov.

“Government should be participatory.” I like it. For the many government friends, if you are looking for a source of ideas about how to use technology to operationalize such things, check out my slides and audio from “Great Expectations: After the vote – citizens online, e-democracy in governance, and White House 2.0.”

If there are 100 ways to try this and only five that work well, the challenge is to find the best options. When government messes up, it takes a generation for the bureaucratic scars to purge themselves. So don’t mess this up.

In terms of shifting the premise of Freedom of Information from reactionary to dissemination, check out the themes in my speech to the Personal Democracy Forum which essentially says all public government information should be online unless the law says otherwise. I suggested that in a real democracy we might get there in a number of years … now we might move toward that vision much sooner. Estonia is doing some of this already, but words on paper mean little compared to moving the culture of government toward openness.

Steven Clift Democracies Online E-Democracy.Org

P.S. I am interested in sharing an updated version of the presentation in DC and/or via a webinar. If you want to help organize something to help our government learn from past experience with e-democracy, let me know: clift@publicus.net

Transparency and Open Government

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009

Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the

Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.


THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release January 21, 2009

January 21, 2009

Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the Federal Register. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIA reports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

This memorandum does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


My One Billion Dollar Economic Stimulus Plan – Online Community Infrastructure Builders

January 13th, 2009

A little birdie told me that Obama’s transition team is looking for “shovel-ready” ideas. Creating jobs, that’s the goal right now. So instead of just concrete bridges, I’ve drawn up a digital bridge building framework to create 30,000 “Community Infrastructure Builder” jobs for about a billion dollars.

While I know some of the people involved in President-elect Obama’s Technology, Innovation & Government Reform policy working group, DC is still a long way from frigid Minnesota. It was -17.5F (-27.5C) when I woke up this morning with this proposal in my head. I’ve always found the colder it gets, the more innovative and grand the ideas are from Minnesotans.

Now I am guessing the many of you could take this idea and improve it 10 times over or if someone asked you to come up with something from scratch in our digital niche you’d come up something even better. I’m asking. The thing is, while I like to drive on smooth roads, why not put “digital infrastructure” (and not just “pipes” or access without applications/civic use) on the agenda as well. I haven’t seen it, have you?

Come discuss on the U.S. Democracy Online Exchange and pass this note on to others:


The draft for discussion is below and available in PDF at:

Steven Clift
E-Democracy.Org (not an official proposal by any means)

Community Infrastructure Builders – The Online Bridge to Somewhere

An innovative “shovel ready” option for the U.S. economic stimulus – Discussion draft by Steven Clift
Discuss this idea and share your own on the U.S. Democracy Online Exchange: dowire.org/us

A bridge is infrastructure designed to connect people to each other for social and economic growth. Digital bridges can do the same for a fraction of the cost.

Across the United States, a quiet revolution is connecting some local people to one another online. Let’s make it most people. Americans are using technology to:

• Create electronic block clubs to deter crime and keep their children safer.

• Establish online neighborhood and community forums, blogs, and social networks that promote community problem-solving, support for local small business and are beginning to be used for mutual benefit and support during these difficult economic times.

• Promote reuse of goods and materials through open exchange primarily at a regional level.

• Promote awareness of volunteer opportunities in local community and non-profit groups.

• Connect the public to local government services through e-mail newsletters, customized alert services, and other online systems.

This highly distributed local activity, particularly at the highly empowering block and neighborhood level, is only reaching a fraction of the population that would benefit from and be interested in such opportunities. It is not just a matter of awareness, it is the lack of thorough on-the-ground outreach required to connect millions of Americans “locally” on the global Internet. It is about the civic use of information technology to complement the many efforts focused on access.

The Community Infrastructure Builders effort is a “digital shovel ready” proposal that can be rolled out rapidly to:

1. 30,000 Jobs – Promote the necessarily distributed array of existing online opportunities in local communities directly to local residents by creating approximately 30,000 outreach “for results” jobs – approximately one for each standard Zip Code based on place in the United States.

2. Effective In-Person Outreach – “Bridge” people locally online built on essential in-person outreach. Based on E-Democracy.Org’s direct experience with online recruitment in low income areas, rural communities, etc., the primary and missing activity is in-person outreach. Online advertising, etc. only allows you to effectively reach those who are essentially looking for what you are providing. That is not how you build new community bonds. This effort will include outreach at community events, door-to-door, building to building, and more using a mix of paper and technology-based forms for opt-in engagement. Online white pages do not exist that allow you to look-up and easily invite your neighbors to join an e-block club electronically nor for local government to build opt-in participation in cost-effective online public services. With training and the support of local host organizations (libraries, community technology centers, local governments, non-profits, colleges, etc.) where available, the results will be measured by the percentage of residents/households that opt-in to various local online options and crucially, the creation of new online groups/e-news services fostered or organized by our Community Infrastructure Builders.

3. Collaborative Approach, Multiple Providers – Work with community organizations and local governments to build digitally connective opportunities through collaborative online technology development, effective training, and model transfer as well as exposure to competing providers and services. Hundreds if not thousands of existing, often local, online services will be promoted instead of one single monolithic online service.

4. Promote Lasting Connections – Promote lasting economic stimulus by promoting greater efficiency in local government and community group communication with the public. Make every block potentially safer through neighbor to neighbor connections despite the crisis in resources for policing. Encourage every neighborhood and community to have an online public space that promotes effective “anytime, anywhere” participation in public life to combat the scarcity of time available.

5. Jobs in the Community – Depending upon the stimulus budget, a significant number of these positions would be designed for as summer work for students as well as part-time contract work for retirees needing to re-enter the workforce for economic reasons. The best candidates will be those with both a deep interest in their local community and an ability to work where a significant portion of their compensation is based on their recruitment results.

Real People, Real Results

The following goals would result in at least 100 million Americans signed up in at least one of these areas within two years with an average of 100 group messages/e-alerts received per year per person or 10 billion “bridging” public communication opportunities each year into the future.

• 1.5 million electronic block clubs – ~50 in each standard Zip Code reaching at an average 25 residents each or 37.5 million Americans (these will be secure resident-only online spaces)

• 150,000 new or assisted online neighborhood/community forums – ~5 in each Zipcode (rural areas would likely have just one) reaching an average 300 registered participants reaching 45 million Americans (mostly public, open spaces)

• A least 75 million Americans “opted-in” to online services and alerts provided by local government including crime alerts, city e-mail newsletters, schools e-alerts and more. This will build the existing base already established by adding a “tell me more” check box option about additional e-services from local government and community groups to our outreach paper forms and websites

Stimulus Budget

The local in-person approach is the most effective way to reach harder to reach populations. It can be complemented by Internet-wide outreach efforts through national partners where upon entering geographic information, the public would be offered an array of civic and government online groups, e-mail newsletters, and local links. The key outcome is a “Yes, tell me what’s new” or “I want to engage my neighbors, sign me up” and not a simple transitory web visit where no sustained relationship was established.

To create 30,000 jobs, with most deployed starting in the summer of 2009, this will take real resources. These positions are “bridging” in nature through the deepest part of our recession and will lead in many cases to future work opportunities after the bulk of outreach work is completed. As a crucial one-time investment, community organization and local governments will save millions in communication and service costs over the long-run.

Estimated cost – based on an estimated $30,000 per position including the supporting management, training, and technology costs to create 30,000 field positions the total budget required is: $900 million

Similar results are obtainable under various models and timelines, but the social equity aspect does require in-person outreach to be most effective. With the right national online partners and pro-bono contribution by major web sites, millions of American could be driven to a national online starting point offering local options for a lower cost and allow a greater in-person outreach focus in the most economically depressed areas. As a draft for discussion, if anyone with any insider power or influence in the new administration wants to adopt this idea at 10%, even 1% of the proposed budget, let’s get connected.


To discuss this proposal or share your own for the Obama transition team and Congress, join the non-partisan U.S. Democracy Online Exchange: dowire.org/us

About the Author

Steven Clift is the founder of E-Democracy.Org which created the world’s first election information website in 1994. Today E-Democracy.Org hosts 25 community and neighborhood “Issues Forums” across 15 communities. He has spoken on democracy, community, and government on the Internet across 27 countries and is recognized as an Ashoka Fellow for his socially entrepreneurial efforts. He experiences what every neighborhood should have on the online neighborhood forum – e-democracy.org/se – that he hosts and is involved in efforts to open similar forums in higher immigrant areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul – blog.e-democracy.org/posts/172 . More from: stevenclift.com or e-mail Participate - 1 Comment »
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How I would change Change.Gov, Pew survey on American’s great expectations for Obama online

December 30th, 2008

Every time I try to ramp up to tackle this post, I get struck by another by another, “oh, wow” when I visit Change.Gov. This week they have the Open for Questions experience (being discussed on our Consult@ group) and I just discovered their Seat at the Table option where groups can upload documents to provide input to the transition team.

Today, the respected Pew Internet and American Life Project released a survey on expectations about Obama’s use of technology in office (news reports). There are some great numbers (press release below). The shortcoming of the survey is that it focused on activism/communication – how people expect Obama to activate them or how they might act on behalf of the new President to push his agenda online. I fully expect Obama’s campaign, I said campaign, to continue BarackObama.com as an activist tool and its bottom-up engagement environment for supporters.

However, as President and with WhiteHouse.Gov (I assume Change.Gov will move to that domain Jan. 20), Obama represents everyone and the more important question to me is what do people expect from the next President and government as whole in terms of listening/engaging people online. Old politics transferred to the new medium in terms of broadcast communication is so Beltway.

That said, Change.Gov is already starting to answer that question by both accepting input in different structured form and by using the sites visitors to rate/vote up content/questions. In the past I’ve pointed out leading features on the websites of world leaders outside the United States. We were a desert in governance online. No more. Ha. Finally.

How will the next Administration use the Internet to listen to people and involve them in meeting public challenges? In this era, it is clear that government alone won’t have the resources to fix things for us, but it can play a vital convening role of citizen capacity from the local up to national level. Obama used a neighbor to neighbor tool to allow people to go door to door or call their neighbors to influence their votes, will they engage people at that level (because clearly the technology can) bring people together to not just support the President’s agenda but to instead solve local problems nationally? Wow, that would be something.

Even so, I do have some changes I’d to propose to Change.Gov and the next WhiteHouse.Gov. I’ll expand on these in the coming weeks on the U.S. Democracy Online Exchangedowire.org/us

They will come in large part from my Ten Practical Online Steps for Government Support of Democracy and Sidewalks for Democracy Online articles, the practical e-democracy best practices “briefs” as well as my longer and older report to the U.N. titled E-Government and Democracy: Representation & Citizen Engagement in the Information Age.

Let me offer one. It is good that Change.Gov allows people to opt-in to e-mail contact. While the action specific e-mail update have been helpful, like Japanese Prime Ministers have done with considerable success, send out a weekly e-mail newsletter. Keep it concise and highlight the most important new things across your website. In Japan they send it out on Thursday’s when the bulk of the week’s new content in on the site. Most importantly it contains a short first person article most weeks from the leader of their country. I expect my next President to talk to me first person online somewhere. My not in an e-mail newsletter that will likely be read by more people than those who listen to or watch the weekly radio address.

Steven Clift
612-203-5181 – Mobile

P.S. The note from PewInternet:

From: Cornelia Carter-Sykes
Subject: Pew Internet Report: Post-Election Voter Engagement

After a presidential election in which voters increasingly went online to mobilize others and take part in the political debate, many of those who were active during the campaign expect to remain engaged with the incoming Obama Administration and mobilize others in support of his agenda.

This is the key finding of a new national phone survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which also found that:

* 62% of Obama voters expect that they will encourage others to support the new administration’s policies during the upcoming year. 48% of these expect to do so in person, 25% expect to do so over the phone, and 16% expect to promote the new President’s agenda to others on the

* Among Obama voters who were involved online during the campaign, 25% say they plan to mobilize support for the administration’s policies by using the internet.

For the full report please visit:

Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the

November 25th, 2008


November, 2008
Living and Learning with New
Media: Summary of Findings
from the Digital Youth Project

Major Findings

youth use online media to extend friendships
and interests.

Most youth use online networks to extend the friendships
that they navigate in the familiar contexts of
school, religious organizations, sports, and other local
activities. They can be �always on,� in constant contact
with their friends through private communications like
instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in
public ways through social network sites such as
MySpace and Facebook. With these �friendship-driven�
practices, youth are almost always associating with
people they already know in their offline lives. The majority
of youth use new media to �hang out� and extend
existing friendships in these ways.

A smaller number of youth also use the online world to
explore interests and find information that goes beyond
what they have access to at school or in their local community.

Online groups enable youth to connect to peers
who share specialized and niche interests of various
kinds, whether that is online gaming, creative writing,
video editing, or other artistic endeavors. In these interest-
driven networks, youth may find new peers outside
the boundaries of their local community. They can also
find opportunities to publicize and distribute their work
to online audiences, and to gain new forms of visibility
and reputation.

youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.

In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity,
youth create and navigate new forms of expression
and rules for social behavior. By exploring new interests,
tinkering, and �messing around� with new forms of media,
they acquire various forms of technical and media
literacy. Through trial and error, youth add new media
skills to their repertoire, such as how to create a video
or game, or customize their MySpace page. Teens then
share their creations and receive feedback from others
online. By its immediacy and breadth of information,
the digital world lowers barriers to self-directed learning.

Some youth �geek out� and dive into a topic or
talent. Contrary to popular images, geeking out is highly
social and engaged, although usually not driven primarily
by local friendships. Youth turn instead to specialized
knowledge groups of both teens and adults from
around the country or world, with the goal of improving
their craft and gaining reputation among expert peers.
While adults participate, they are not automatically the
resident experts by virtue of their age. Geeking out in
many respects erases the traditional markers of status
and authority.

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy
for youth that is less apparent in a classroom
setting. Youth respect one another�s authority online,
and they are often more motivated to learn from peers
than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed,
and the outcome emerges through exploration, in
contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set,
predefined goals.


New media forms have altered how youth socialize
and learn, and raise a new set of issues that educators,
parents, and policymakers should consider.

adults should facilitate young people�s engagement with
digital media.

Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online,
youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they
need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting
barriers to participation deprives teens of access to
these forms of learning. Participation in the digital age
means more than being able to access serious online
information and culture. Youth could benefit from educators
being more open to forms of experimentation and
social exploration that are generally not characteristic
of educational institutions.

given the diversity of digital medi a, it is problematic to develop
a standardized set of benchmarks against whi ch to
measure young people�s technical and new medi a literacy.

Friendship-driven and interest-driven online participation
have very different kinds of social connotations. For
example, whereas friendship-driven activities center
upon peer culture, adult participation is more welcomed
in the latter more �geeky� forms of learning. In addition,
the content, behavior, and skills that youth value are
highly variable depending on with which social groups
they associate.

in interest-driven participation, adults have an
important role to play.

Youth using new media often learn from their peers,
not teachers or adults. Yet adults can still have tremendous
influence in setting learning goals, particularly on
the interest-driven side where adult hobbyists function
as role models and more experienced peers.

to stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions
need to keep pace wi th the rapid changes introduced by
digital medi a.

Youths� participation in this networked world suggests
new ways of thinking about the role of education. What,
the authors ask, would it mean to really exploit the
potential of the learning opportunities available through
online resources and networks? What would it mean to
reach beyond traditional education and civic institutions
and enlist the help of others in young people�s learning?
Rather than assuming that education is primarily about
preparing for jobs and careers, they question what it
would mean to think of it as a process guiding youths�
participation in public life more generally.

More Information

More information about the study and the MacArthur
Foundation�s digital media and learning initiative can
be found online at www.digitallearning.macfound.org/

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