Participatory Democracy Online

Fri 17 Jun, 2011 08:26 am
Chicago Posts Lobbyists' Earnings Online
(By Ivanna Hampton| NBC Chicago| June 17, 2011)

Chicago is shining a digital spotlight on the lobbyists working to influence City Hall.

The city posted the compensation records of registered lobbyists on the city's data portal.

Lobbyists, who try to persuade aldermen or city agencies, must register with the Board of Ethics and submit reports twice a year. Anyone can submit a written request for the information under Illinois' public records law. Now, all the information will appear online.

"I am committed to changing the way City government does business," Mayor Emanuel said in a statement. "Public service is about the people of Chicago; it's not about personal gain."

The highest-paid lobbyist was Theodore Brunsvold, the son of a late downstate lawmaker. Brunsvold represents around 18 companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Dish Network and Allstate Insurance. He earned $978,000.

Some firms with very recognizable political names also made the list.

Daley and George LLP is the law firm led by former Mayor Richard Daley's brother, Michael, and Daley's former law partner. The firm, Chico and Nunes, where former mayoral candidate Gery Chico is partner, also showed up in the report.
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Mon 20 Jun, 2011 07:16 am
Can a Mobile App Put Activism in Your Pocket?
(Zachary Sniderman, Mashable.com, June 1, 2011)

ONE.org, the anti-poverty advocacy group co-founded by Bono, just released its first app designed to raise the profile and efficacy of digital advocacy.

ONE is interesting because it doesn’t actually want your money. Instead, the organization asks its more than 2.5 million members for their collective voice. The ONE app, designed by @radical.media, is another step in creating a community of digital activists to create real change.

The app is broken into five main sections: Latest, Blog, Proof, Connect and More. These sections include calls to action, recent posts from the ONE.org site, quick facts that include surprising data and talking points about major issues, and a slew of videos and articles showing the results of the ONE community’s advocacy. One example featured a female barber in Africa who was able to open her first storefront.

Connect is the social layer where users can share when they do social good. Users can also recruit friends to join the cause with a simple email form.

The ONE app is all about empowering the user. It acts like a tiny advocacy tool kit, teaching how to be a better activist. Take government calls, for example. The Latest section often asks users to call their local government official. The app provides the number, the official’s name and a sample text that users can read during the call. Each call has a target goal that is updated whenever a call is made. For example, a call to the White House might have a target goal of 1 million total calls, and a local official might be closer to 1,000.

The app also extends ONE’s reach and gives the organization more accurate data, with its ability to place calls and automatically log participation. It also puts slacktivists on the spot. “We’ll get 100% reporting,” says Jeff Davidoff, ONE’s chief marketing officer.

It used to be easy for people to hear about ONE at an event and say they’d get to it later when they get to a computer, says Davidoff. Now, ONE can ask them to take out their phones and start engaging immediately.

The app mirrors ONE’s commitment to advocacy rather than monetary donations. When asked why, Davidoff joked about why Jesse James robbed banks: “Why do I rob banks? Because that is where the money is.” Davidoff’s joke raises a good point. While the U.S. gives more money than many countries, less than 1% of government spending goes to foreign aid. The money is already there; ONE is hoping to direct more of it to fight issues around global poverty.
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Mon 20 Jun, 2011 08:03 am
Good thread, Wandel, i'm glad you're staying on top of the subject.
Mon 20 Jun, 2011 08:08 am
Thanks! The subject interests me very much.

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Wed 22 Jun, 2011 02:23 pm
E-petitions buried as councils fail to offer citizens a right to reply
(Dr. Tony Elliman, Guardian Professional, June 21, 2011)

By the end of last year, all English councils were required to offer an online space where the public could "e-petition" their elected representatives. Three months later, Brunel University carried out the first nationwide survey of the websites that councils had created.

What we found was disappointing: design quality was low, and advertising of the sites was poor. Many went entirely unused.

Some councils had set up online petitions as early as 2004, but most only acted in 2010. This rush came because the Labour government made petitions a legal requirement not long before they lost the election. In March 2011, my colleagues Panos Panagiotopoulos and Chris Moody looked at all 353 English council websites. Despite the lack of direction from the new coalition, there are now more than 290 English councils with online petitions. Sadly, only about half of them are easy to find from each council's home page.

In England, we have used petitions to make a point and tell government what we think since the Middle Ages, but this research shows that online petitions are not an easy win for councils. Within almost 70% of the websites, we did not find any completed petitions, and, within some, not one had been started. We found more activity in higher income areas or areas led by Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

The best councils had also offered added support for petitioners, providing help to write the text clearly and to add web links to background information. Although drumming up support for local campaigns is not the council's job, making space for discussion forums and email notices demonstrates to people that their petitions are taken seriously.

How councils respond is critical. Almost 90% of them either set no bottom limit for signatures on a petition, or asked for 50 or less as the minimum before replying to them. The committee structure of English councils makes it easy to arrange public discussion of a petition by the right people. This clearly shows how the question is considered and how seriously it is taken. What matters is not that people get their own way, but that they see they have had a fair hearing. To make online petitions work, the whole process must be clear and without party bias.

As a link between citizens and politics, petitions are unique. Although council staff control what happens, the ideas, issues and the drive come from citizens themselves. Council staff will also ensure that the politicians give a public reply to the petition.

There is a lot of debate about the internet's ability to create a new democracy. This is unlikely, but it will change the way we, as citizens, take part in policymaking.

My research group at Brunel is involved in several studies of how this is changing and how we might shape the future online. The Labour law to make all councils run online petitions is a historic point in online democracy. It was the first time any sort of online activity was made a legal requirement, and it gave us the chance to look at how councils across the country responded.

The results have shown how much is needed to make even an accepted practice such as petitions work online. IT alone is not enough; it requires support for petitioners, visible public replies and clearly neutral support. Other new ways of working with citizens will also need clear backing and thought from politicians to be successful.
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Tue 28 Jun, 2011 09:13 am
A radical integration of local public services and technology
(Jos Creese, PublicService.co.uk, June 28, 2011)

The government has set some ambitious targets for the public sector, which go far beyond the current focus on cuts. It envisages wholesale public sector reform (eg. a smaller state and greater transparency), significant economic growth stimulated by smaller companies taking on the traditional roles of the public sector and greater social mobility, responsibility and equality (ie. the 'Big Society'). All of this, whilst dealing with the deficit and moving to a 'greener' world where we use less energy and work more flexibly.

What many observers have missed in the heated debates about the benefits and downsides is that in a modern democracy with the opportunities of modern technology, most of this is inevitable – it is going to happen and it is only the pace of change that is optional. For example, social networking is already impacting democracies around the world. Ubiquitous access to electronic information and electronic communications are bringing together communities of interest and giving individuals and groups of citizens a louder voice to change the minds of politicians, large companies and public service institutions – arguably as much as the ballot box. It has become very hard to hide what goes on in organisations from prying eyes – from phone hacking to transparency in government expenditure.

Technology can and is already fundamentally changing how services are designed and delivered, but the private sector, driven by competitive pressures and profit motivation, has been quicker than the public sector in general to seize that potential. It is no coincidence that the leading organisations in the retail and financial sectors, for example, are typically leading because of the way they have used technology to their strategic advantage. They have reshaped the way they interact with their customers and are designing internal and customer facing processes around the web with greater automation. IT is seen as a board level issue, not just a utility support service. Get it wrong and you lose money – lots of it.

This is not just about being efficient. It is also responding to demand. Services designed around the customer that are easy to use and intuitive make economic sense. By contrast, in parts of the public sector, web transactions have often simply been 'bolted on' alongside traditional delivery channels, and their design dictated by internal structures and processes.

This is worrying because it risks marginalising IT, which is exactly the mistake that was made in the e-government programmes of the last decade. At that time transactions were put online with little thought given to their design, value or potential to drive 'channel shift' and therefore savings.

The pace of the cuts to public services is both a friend and an enemy. On the plus side, it is creating the stimulus for change across the public sector to rival the private sector's constant pressure to adapt and change to improve the bottom line and shareholder value. Less money and less time are more likely to drive shared services and modernisation. If that was not true, we would have seen much greater levels of change in the public sector in the recent years of relative affluence.

At the same time, the pace of reform and cuts across local government is now so rapid that it could actually close off opportunities and strategic thinking. In the frantic efforts to remain solvent, some public services are simply cutting activities or farming out work to the private sector, irrespective of longer-term cost, benefit or the 'green' agenda.

To get the real benefits of existing technology investment and its potential to modernise and reform public services, we need time: time to plan, time to manage the risks effectively and time to put in place committed and effective change leadership that will ensure radical reform and sustainability. This includes the adoption of technologies that reduce carbon footprint.

Hampshire County Council has placed IT at the centre of its reform programmes: its customer service strategy and contact centre (Hantsdirect); its 'Workstyle' programme transforming how people work and use buildings with greater levels of mobile and flexible working; its external and internal 'self-service' programmes to move to the best value for money channel of delivery wherever possible; and its 'green' programmes relying on IT to reduce energy, travel, paper and overall carbon footprint of its buildings.

Indeed, it is arguable that the only solution to the austerity measures facing the public sector other than to 'slash and burn' lies in better use of technology. Furthermore, the delivery of most of the government's core objectives around economic growth, social mobility and public service reform depend hugely on IT – social inclusion, social enterprise, public engagement and economic prosperity. IT can, if well designed, joined-up and well used, drive the UK's competitiveness, open up opportunities for communities and individuals in ways never previously possible and allow the public sector to continue to protect and serve citizens by pooling infrastructure and skills. In fact, shared services are only possible if the underlying IT infrastructure is in place first. You can't have shared teams working flexibility or co-located unless you have shared networks, shared electronic information and systems, with integrated communications.

It is surprising, therefore, that politicians are often relatively silent on the role of technology. I suspect there are some reasons for this. It is partly simply because technology is not understood well enough. It is also seen as a major risk and cost, and its adoption especially, but not only, in the public sector has been littered with high profile project failures. Critically, IT is all too often mistakenly seen as a commodity service. Any modern business providing public services that sees IT in this limited way is doomed to underachieve.

There is another reason, and it lies nearer to home for IT professionals. I know I won't be popular for saying this, but too often IT leaders (CIOs, heads of IT) operate as managers of technology, not as 'agents of change'. Rather than advocating the benefits of technology to transform, we sometimes use a language not relevant to the business, focusing on technology advantage, rather than business benefits and outcomes. Even if IT is relatively effective, this results in IT that is not seen as closely enough aligned to the priorities of the organisation – eg. dealing with cuts and better risk management. Protectionism about 'my IT department' that stops shared services naturally developing exacerbates this.

IT suppliers have a part to play as well. They can oversell and under-deliver, misjudging the complexity of IT in the public sector compared with the private sector. This damages the reputation of IT and compounds the problem (watch the 'cloud computing space'). Often the way contracts for IT are set up makes them inflexible, too expensive or just too slow to put in place. Risks are naively shared between public and private sectors, and admin­istrative burdens are far too high. These problems lie behind some of the reasons why IT outsourcing contracts in the public sector have so often failed to deliver the value they promise, as shown in recent research and publications by the Society of IT Management (SOCITM).

So what is the answer? The first steps must be to change the culture and approach to technology in the public sector. That needs political and board level backing, for example:
• Make the web the default delivery channel wherever possible;
• Encourage and embrace transparency unless it compromises personal privacy and data protection;
• Push for local public service integration as a matter of policy – public protection, local councils, central government services, health and the third sector;
• Demand internal self-service to remove layers of traditional bureaucracy and support that are no longer needed or affordable;
• Prioritise a digital inclusion programme – it will improve health, education, employment and it is essential for online public service take up; and
• Change IT itself – to be part of business improvement and development, not acting as the custodians of technology and technology support services.

The rewards are big, although how big is, of course, debatable. I believe that total savings from a radical integration of local public services through technology, with the removal of unnecessary layers of bureaucracy or manual intervention, could save 10-20% on total current costs. It's not without risk. It's not without some investment in change. And it will take time. But this potential level of return is too big to ignore or leave to the IT professionals.
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Wed 29 Jun, 2011 09:18 am
Are Facebook, Twitter Fostering Civic Engagement?
(Emily Badger, Miller-McCune.com, June 28, 2011)

Since the first days of the Arab Spring, social media has been celebrated for its role in helping to foment democracy in countries that don’t yet have it. An intriguing though less dramatic question back home is this: Can it also be used to strengthen democracy and civic engagement in countries like the U.S. that do have it?

The answer isn’t so obvious. Political operatives and White House insiders have touted the power of Facebook, Twitter and Google to engage the public in election season and the governing decisions that follow. But contrarian voices have sprung up to suggest those platforms have hidden consequences, encouraging “slacktivism” as much as activism, and narrowing our world view rather than expanding it.

Most controversially of late, Eli Pariser suggests in the new book The Filter Bubble that today’s hyper-personalized Facebook feeds and Google search results may just feed us information from the people who already think like us and about news that confirms what we already believe. By using indicators we provide about ourselves — when we “like” Sarah Palin’s Facebook page — Pariser suggests social networks may be tailoring content to our biases, filtering out precisely the opposing views a globally connected Internet was supposed to facilitate.

Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion, suggests meanwhile that “group fetishism” has led us to confuse quantity with quality in online activism. After all, it’s easy to be “engaged” in politics when all you have to do is “like” a candidate or her cause.

This, Morozov writes, “all too often leads to civic promiscuity — usually the result of a mad shopping binge in the online identity supermarket that is Facebook — that makes online activists feel useful and important while having preciously little political impact.”

In other words, so what if Barack Obama’s Twitter feed has nearly 9 million followers? How many of them called their representative to lobby for his health care bill?

Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital strategy, sounds certain the net effect is positive for invigorating civic participation. Speaking Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, he cited a Web debate the White House organized last month after Obama’s major Middle East policy speech. The White House tapped NPR’s Twitter guru Andy Carvin and George Washington University political scientist Marc Lynch to interview national security adviser Ben Rhodes, with the help of the Twitter-sphere.

“They were facilitating a conversation between a large group of people and an American policy official,” Phillips said. “That’s to my mind a new model of engagement.”


Lee Rainie, director of Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, has done research that suggests many of the grimmest predictions about social media’s impact on politics have actually not come to pass.

“The bad news story just isn’t there,” he said, speaking alongside Phillips at Brookings. “The theory and potential threats that the use of social media were thought to be bringing to politics — pulling people away from real friendships, pulling them away from their communities, distracting them, pulling people into cocooned spaces where they’re not encountering different views — all of that is not sustained in the work that we’ve done.”

Research that Pew released last week suggests quite the opposite: Facebook users are more politically engaged than most people, and they’re more trusting of others and have more and stronger relationships in the real world. The study also showed that MySpace users are more likely to be open to opposing points of view.

In response to critiques like Morozov’s of “group festishism,” Rainie points out that concerns over the phenomenon — individuals slacking when they think the larger group has got things covered — predates social media. He also suggests engagement is a spectrum: We want lurkers to become commenters, and commenters to become forwarders, and forwarders to start knocking on their neighbors’ doors.

If social media helps move any of those people a little further down that line, isn’t that increasing engagement — depending, at least, on what you think engagement really means.

“Whether it’s consuming something or sharing something or signing a petition or sending an email, there are different values to each of those actions,” said Mindy Finn, who has worked on digital strategy for several Republican campaigns. “The biggest question is what is the value, and are there activities that in the past we may not have considered real civic engagement or having value that do have value?”
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Thu 11 Aug, 2011 03:39 pm
Riots: Benefits e-petition hits crucial 100,000 mark
(BBC News, August 11, 2011)

An e-petition calling for rioters to lose their benefits has hit 100,000 signatures and becomes the first to be considered for a Commons debate.

It has dwarfed others on the government website, which has struggled to deal with the volume of people accessing it.

The petition has now been formally referred to a committee which will decide whether to hold a debate.

It comes as English councils say they will seek to evict social tenants found guilty of taking part in disorder.

The e-petitions website has been closed to address its technical problems and is due to re-open on Friday.

But the Cabinet Office, which runs it, has confirmed the e-petition submitted by Stephen Mains, saying "convicted London rioters should loose [sic] all benefits" has reached 100,000 signatures.

The threshold for the petition to be referred to the Commons backbench business committee, which can table debates, is 100,000.

Mr Mains's petition has attracted vast numbers of signatures in just a few days. Its nearest rival, a bid launched by Conservative MP Robert Halfon to cut the price of petrol, was well behind it with 24,000 signatures on Wednesday.

Mr Mains's petition argues: "No taxpayer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them."

If the backbench committee agrees to table a Commons debate, there is no guarantee the law will be changed.

The committee's chairman, Labour MP Natascha Engel, quizzed Prime Minister David Cameron about whether action will be taken to respond to the petition.

She told Mr Cameron: "One of the ways in which ordinary people are trying to get their voices heard is by going onto the government's new e-petitions website and signing a petition posted two days ago, asking for rioters to have their benefits withdrawn.

"How is the prime minister going to meet those raised expectations... that something will happen as a result of going onto a government sponsored website?"

Mr Cameron replied that the point of the e-petitions website, set up last week, was to "empower" people to make their voices heard on various topics. "If it reaches a certain level of signatures it will be debated in this House whether we like it or not and I think that is an important way of empowering people."

He added: "I think there may be opportunities, possibly through the new criminal justice and sentencing legislation to make sure we are better at confiscating things from people when they commit crimes because we have got to look at all the ways we can of making sure our punishments are robust."

It comes as councils in Manchester, Nottingham and London say they will seek to evict social housing tenants who are convicted of violence locally and the government says it will consult on extending their powers, to allow them to punish those who travelled out of the area to take part.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said Mr Mains' e-petition had been formally referred to Ms Engel's committee, adding: "The e-petition is now eligible for consideration for debate by MPs and in the meantime, the government will respond to those who have signed the e-petition. It will remain on the site, and people will be able to continue adding their signatures.

"Under the procedures previously announced, it will be for the committee to decide whether an e-petition should be proposed for debate after the Commons returns from the summer recess."

Other popular e-petitions include the campaign to retain the ban on capital punishment, signed by 20,000, which began in response to a less popular campaign to bring it back.

The most popular of the petitions calling for the return of the death penalty has been signed by 11,000 people.

Asked about the e-petition, a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said that, under current arrangements, "any benefit recipient who is convicted of an offence and is imprisoned, will lose their benefit entitlement".

Mr Cameron, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Deputy PM Nick Clegg have expressed sympathy with suggestions social tenants found to have been engaged in criminal activities should be evicted.

But Labour MP Kevin Barron warned evicting people from social housing in one area - only to see them rehoused in another "taking that unacceptable behaviour with them" would not "solve the problems".

Ministers have warned MPs not to "ignore" e-petitions although Leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young has suggested the threshold for signatures to prompt a debate may be raised if it is found to be too low.

Labour has said the petitions could lead to debates on "crazy ideas".

The system replaces the previous e-petitions pages on the Downing Street website, set up when Tony Blair was PM. The most popular of these, with more than 1.8 million people in support, opposed road pricing.
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Thu 11 Aug, 2011 04:08 pm
I am not up on everything posted here. Have you checked out these people?
They plan to get a candidate on the ballot for every state, if I got it right.
Thu 11 Aug, 2011 05:34 pm
Thanks, edgar. I had never seen that website before. I will probably look it over.
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Fri 12 Aug, 2011 01:41 pm
Political group pledges to let the voters decide
(Suzanne Adams, Kingman Daily Miner, August 4, 2011)

Voters will have a new party candidate to vote for in the next presidential election. The Arizona Secretary of State officially recognized the Americans Elect Party on July 20.

"We're not really a third party," said Ainsley Perrien, a spokeswoman for the organization's Washington, D.C. office. "We want people to choose the platform."

The idea behind the organization is to offer every registered voter in the U.S. a chance to go beyond the two party political system and pick their own candidate for president and vice president.

In order to do this, the organization has set up a website, www.americanselect.org, where registered voters can sign up and fill out a survey to find out what goals and issues are most important to them. The organization will show them a list of candidates who have agreed to run under the Americans Elect name that match their priorities. People registered with the website will then be able to vote for the candidate they want in an online convention in June. The winner of the convention will go on the ballot in hopefully every state in the nation, Perrien said.

In order to get on the 2012 ballot, Americans Elect has to go through the ballot access process in each of the 50 states, which have 50 different requirements. The organization has already been registered for the 2012 ballot in four states: Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, and Kansas. It is finishing the process in Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri and Florida, as well. It is currently working on getting on the ballot in California and started filing 1.6 million signatures with the California Secretary of State's Office on July 27. They have a grand total of about 2.9 million signatures nationwide.

Several news reports have claimed Americans Elect will throw the 2012 election for one party or another. Others have claimed the organization is not transparent about its funding. Because of changes in federal elections laws, the organization is not required to release the names of its donors.

"We are completely legit," Perrien said. Americans Elect is not trying to throw the election. It just wants to provide voters with a chance to choose the issues that are most important to them and the candidates they like. While the organization is accepting donations, the money is not going to fund candidates, she said.

Americans Elect is non-party specific, she said. Anyone from any party or even those not running for a specific party can register to run for an Americans Elect nomination. Perrien didn't elaborate on the criteria that candidates must meet in order to run.

However, she has confidence in the registered voters who will be choosing the Americans Elect 2012 candidate. The organization already has more than 30,000 people signed up, and Perrien said she believes Americans Elect voters will weed out any extremists.

Also, any candidate who wins the nomination must choose a running mate from a different party, Perrien said. The idea is to encourage candidates who say they are willing to compromise with the other party to do just that.
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Sat 3 Sep, 2011 07:28 am
Media and Policy Makers Need to Connect to Online Influentials
( by Susan Moeller, WorldBank.org, 09/01/2011)

Most of those who have been riveted to the breaking news in North Africa and the Middle East during the so-called “Arab Spring” and the recent grimmer months this summer have been focused on predicting the actions of the various heads of state—of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad. But many academics have been trying to figure out who have been the prime movers of the grassroots unrest sweeping the region.

Specifically, researchers have been looking into what roles social media have played in mobilizing opinion as well as galvanizing the revolutions in the streets. Academics have wanted to identify who has been talking to whom, as well as learn who have been the most influential voices. Whose messages are the ones passed on?

Among researchers, Twitter has been the medium of choice to investigate. Twitter launched on March 21, 2006, and three years, 2 months and 1 day later it sent its one-billionth tweet. Now Twitter handles a billion tweets every week. The exponential growth of the service as well as the relative ease with which researchers can collect tweets and organize them by “followers,” “retweets” and “mentions,” has made it a data trove for those who seek to calibrate influence and map social and political networks.


Building on such insights, Jorge Faytong Real and Nishant Patel, two graduate students at the University of Maryland working on a project in Prof. Ben Shneiderman course on Information Visualization, took a look at three slices of the Twitter universe to determine who have been “influentials” during the Middle East unrest. Faytong and Patel looked at the Twitter network of an extraordinarily-well linked U.S-based Syrian and Middle East activist who tweets in both English and Arabic: Ammar Abdulhamid—known to Twitter users as @tharwacolamus.

As they mapped the network of the several thousand followers of @tharwacolamus, Faytong and Patel noted that the most active 300 followers (with an average of 5,300 tweets each), in turn had a non-unique aggregated total of over 17 million followers—a size that made this whole “an excellent representation of the Middle East activist network.” (Note that Faytong and Patel conducted their network analysis and generated their data visualizations with NodeXL, a free, open-source tool).


Why does all this matter?

The research matters because, as the graphics dramatically show, if news outlets—and policy makers— really want to get the pulse of a community, they need to look for and listen to those individuals and groups whose are connected in dynamic ways. They need to look for and listen to those individuals and groups whose messages are being passed on—or in the case of Twitter, those whose messages are being retweeted.

The common way to identify who matters in a community is to look for who’s popular, who is followed, or even, who has the most votes. The new research on Twitter suggests that media and policy makers need also to look for those who have a track record of saying things that others find valuable to pass on.

In fact if policy makers and media are NOT listening to those kinds of “influentials,” then their projections of the “Gemeinschaft” of a community may be appreciably skewed, and their policy recommendations may ultimately fall short of what is needed or wanted.
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Sat 10 Sep, 2011 09:22 am
Icelanders have shown democracy in action
(George Gunn, John o' Groats Journal, September 9, 2011)

AFTER the deluge of August the brief drying winds of early September have at last allowed the combines into the barley and corn parks of Caithness.

It may be a frustrating harvest for the farmer but one thing is certain: the winds of change are blowing – although you would be hard pressed to notice it as it is not the sort of wind which is going to knock over your annoyingly blue wheelie bin or flatten your grain crop.

Any change in Caithness is always problematic. For 60 years our economic barometer has been kept high by a single large-scale employer sited upon our northern coast. Come November the nature of that relationship changes.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will pass on the running of Dounreay to a private company. So management transfers from the state to private enterprise and there has been little debate in the county as to what this actually means.

Traditionally, when civic society in Caithness has been presented with a socioeconomic challenge all eyes have looked to Dounreay for a solution. In this decommissioning world the eyes we will see staring back at us will, most likely, be American.

Whether it is Babcock or Caithness Solutions, the corporate trail and the money flow leads back to the US.

There are no “Caithness solutions” forthcoming from that quarter, as there is no socioeconomic percentage clause written into the contract and either outfit will complete the decommissioning as quickly and as cheaply as possible. So we had better look elsewhere.

Where better than Iceland – admittedly a different country and in this regard its solution is to a different problem but one which profoundly affects us all. The Icelandic problem was what to do after the financial collapse of 2008 when the country was all but declared bankrupt.

Its three banks were subsequently nationalised, its currency (the króna) lost 85 per cent of its value and the Government (the Althing) negotiated a $2,100,000 loan from the International Monetary Fund to which the Nordic countries added another $2,500,000. But these loans came with drastic conditions attached.

The IMF and the European Union wanted to take over management of the debt claiming this was the only way Iceland could be guaranteed to pay back what it owed.

THIS measure was not popular in Iceland. Elections were brought forward to April 2009 and a left-wing coalition was voted in but it immediately gave into the demands of the IMF that Iceland repay three-and-a-half-million euros. What this meant was each Icelandic citizen was required to pay 100 euros a month for 15 years at 5.5 per cent interest, and this to pay off a debt incurred by private banks, companies and individuals.

This is more or less the situation in Britain but here the reaction has been very different.

This is what happened in Iceland. The head of state, Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson, under huge public pressure, refused to ratify the law that would have made ordinary Icelanders responsible for the bankers’ debt. He also called for a referendum on the issue. The financial crisis transformed the relationship between the citizens and their political institutions and, as a result, it dawned on the politicians to side with their constituents. This has not happened here where there is a blind acceptance we all must pay for the bankers’ debacle.

The reaction to all this from the international money men was predictable: they threatened to block any financial aid unless Iceland did as it was instructed by the IMF, just as Ireland, Greece and Portugal have had to do. The Icelanders did no such thing. In the referendum of March last year 93 per cent voted against repayment of the debt. The IMF immediately froze its debt. The Althing was not intimidated. Instead, it set Interpol to put out international arrest warrants for the leading individuals responsible for the banking mess who had promptly fled the country. Domestically, Iceland decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the overblown power of international capital and virtual money. This process was undertaken online so all citizens could participate and ensure it would not be the work of a political elite. This process is ongoing but when the new constitution emerges it will be submitted to the Althing for approval after the next elections.

This is an example of participatory democracy in action. The population of Iceland is 320,000. Scotland has a population of 5,222,100. In Iceland the Government was reminded by the people the people are sovereign. This is the Icelandic solution. Do we have the smeddum to find a true Caithness solution to our problem?

Emphasis added by me.
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Sun 11 Sep, 2011 07:19 am
We the People: Announcing White House Petitions & How They Work
(Macon Phillips, WhiteHouse.gov, September 01, 2011)

Something exciting is coming to WhiteHouse.gov. It's called We the People and it will significantly change how the public -- you! -- engage with the White House online.

Our Constitution guarantees your right to petition our government. Now, with We the People, we're offering a new way to submit an online petition on a range of issues -- and get an official response.

We're announcing We the People before it's live to give folks time to think about what petitions they want to create, and how they are going to build the support to get a response.

When will it be live? Soon. If you want to be the first to know when the system is available, sign up for an email alert.

Here are the basics:

Individuals will be able to create or sign a petition that calls for action by the federal government on a range of issues. If a petition gathers enough support (i.e., signatures) it will be reviewed by a standing group of White House staff, routed to any other appropriate offices and generate an official, on-the-record response.

How many signatures? Initially petitions that gather more than 5,000 signatures in 30 days will be reviewed and answered.

There's another aspect to this meant to emphasize the grassroots, word of mouth organizing that thrives on the internet. At first, a petition's unique URL will only be known to its creator and will not show up anywhere else on WhiteHouse.gov. It's up to that person to share it in their network to gather an initial amount of signatures -- initially 150 -- before it is searchable on WhiteHouse.gov.

As we move forward, your feedback about We the People will be invaluable, and there are a few ways you can share it. Numerous pages on WhiteHouse.gov, including the We the People section, feature a feedback form. In addition, you can use the twitter hashtag #WHWeb to give the White House digital team advice and feedback. I'll also try to answer questions when I have time today -- you can pose them to @macon44.

Finally, while We the People is a fresh approach to official, online petitions, the United States isn't the first to try it; for example, the United Kingdom offers e-petitions, and this work was very helpful as we developed our own.
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