My Building Democracy idea

I just had a request from someone asking what the best community sites are for a certain – fairly specific – group of people. A little digging, partly Google, partly ‘I know I’ve seen something like this somewhere…’, soon produced some good results. I emailed them off and my contact was a happy chappy (hopefully).

This set me off thinking, that some kind of online resource for government, both central and local, and other organisations, could use to identify where the places are that people are talking about certain topics. It could be community maintained and updated, but would need some seriously work in the first place to firstly identify key target groups that would be good places to start, and secondly do the grunt work to track down the most popular communities and forums, and then list them on the site.

A further development could then be to add other communities which aren’t necessarily online based – though if they have no web presence at all, that might be tricky.

So, some time is required to get it up and running, which if I were to do it (and why not?) I’d probably like to be paid for. Which made me think of Building Democracy, the competition to identify projects which help ‘stimulate public discussion’. I reckon this idea suits that remit pretty well. I need to do some maths around how much time it would take to scope and do the initial work, but I doubt it will use up very much of the available £150,000 at all.

Before I post it up to the site, though, I’d like some initial feedback:

  • Is it a good idea?
  • Does something like this already exist?
  • Can you see any problems at this early stage of the idea’s development?

Any thoughts welcomed! Oh, and please don’t steal my idea!

9 thoughts on “My Building Democracy idea”

  1. I think it’s not a bad idea off the bat – but one thing that occurs instantly is, do you ‘bless’ particular sites that you or a reviewing panel believes have good content and good discussions, or do you allow something more ground up – “Digg for Civil Servants” – where trusted sites, individual blogs, or discussions can float to the surface by being recommended by users?

    They both have their appeal, but probably produce different results (and the review panel approach is time-intensive),

    Of course, it doesn’t get away from the demographic and selection bias that’s inherent in political discussions online. I remember when this were all libertarian, lad.

  2. I see the need, but I’m not sure about the solution.

    Most issues have quite a niche set of circumstances, such that you really need to do a mapping process to work out which communities are relevant, have the right kind of membership, are likely to have something constructive to contribute and so on. And of course things change of time, too, so what might be a buzzing new community one week could be relatively dormant within a few months.

    There’s a good list on the POI Review wiki at: but I don’t really find myself turning there all that often. It’s easier to use the search tools out there like Google Blogsearch and regular Google to help identify those communities talking about a particular set of keywords, and then analyse what’s being said to judge whether the debate is live and relevant.

    I guess the challenge for this idea would be how to harness the power of social media to do some of the work for you…?

  3. Hi Dave

    As a resource I think it’s a goer. Certainly the “mapping” of online community territory and resource will be an important step in in empowering the public.

    We are starting to do a similar thing (albeit locally) with a council mapping out where it’s constituents are online.

    Secondly, as part of the Local Eyes project we are looking to create a database for all communities and groups in the UK. An ambitious project, but if you get the funding for the online element let us know. It would be invaluable.

  4. Thanks for the feedback guys.

    I think I should have outlined in a little more detail exactly how I envisage this thing working.

    When I say that some time and money would be spent filling in all the details, that’s really just to get it started. The idea is that it will be a social/open/crowdsourced thing that anyone can add to. I do think though that there is a need to get some content in first so it is instantly useful and doesn’t look empty from the start.

    It will probably be some kind of wiki, with a page for each community, tagging the community with relevant keywords so that they can be found, and avoiding a directory approach that only allows a community to be labeled once, for example. It would list blogs, forums, social networks, wikis etc etc.

    Anyone could add communities (they probably need an account first to deter spammers), even if they run them themselves – obviously I and others would keep an eye on this to make sure it was all done correctly. Tags can be added by the community and descriptions added, maybe several different views of the community could exist on the page and people would make their own minds up whether it was a community they would like to get involved in.

    So the aim is to list as many communities as possible, without ‘blessing’ any of them, as Anthony puts it. It will just be a case of saving people time in Google etc tracking them down in the first place, because all the information they need will be on one site.

  5. I definitely think this has got legs.

    I don’t mind people knowing that it was my call to Dave that sparked this. (Though thanks for your discretion, especially about which interest group I am trying to reach). I needed to identify some communities, fast. I guess what I wanted was to find if there’s a ‘netmums’ equivalent or several for my audience group (though personally I am a mumsnet man).

    Though I’m familiar with the search tools (I tried addictomatic, google blogsearch, technorati) what’s missing is some filtering. By humans. With brains. A time consuming task for one person to try to do to an impossible deadline, but something that a collaborative wiki type approach would potentially resolve – so long as it was well maintained.

    Greater knowledge of the well-used social spaces would also surely help reduce the tendency to create new spaces rather than participate in the ones already out there?

    Whether it’s something you can get funding for is another matter: but I wouldn’t want Dave to do it for free.

  6. Thanks Neil. I think I might submit this into Building Democracy, as it will be a fairly small scale project which won’t eat into too much of the MoJ’s big pile of money, so it might sneak under the radar!

    Will blog again once I have figured out exactly what I’d do, then I’ll submit to the Building Democracy site.

  7. I think it needs to be open in both directions to be really successful and sustainable: open for input – don’t require accounts, but put unaccounted submissions through an automatic filter and then some human filter (let registered users review the submissions?); and open for output – make the database available for download under some open terms – I think there’s a good Open Database Content Licence out there, or there’s the Open Directory’s licence.

    This is a brick wall I’m currently banging my head against in multiple other fields. Don’t make another for local communities work for me, please! 😉

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