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FCW Insider: What users have to say about Change.gov

Last week, I posted an entry about the Obama's team providing some basic guidelines for posting comments on Change.gov. As I pointed, that seemingly mundane post in fact was an effort by the team to teach users some Government 2.0 etiquette, the absence of which would render the whole initiative meaningless.

But those users have ideas of their, as might be expected. That blog post has received more than 400 comments so far. Of course, despite the guidelines, a majority of the comments are off topic ("I don't want someone to become Secretary of Agriculture who opposes or ridicules organic food, nor someone who supports biotech and genetically engineered crops"). But many users offered their advice about how to make Change.gov forums manageable and useful.

A topic of much debate is the role of moderators. Another is the organization of the various forums and the comments. And some more high-minded people mull the place of online forums in a democracy.

Here is a sampling of what people wrote:

...I am confused about topics for comments being limited to the discussion that change.gov proposes. For example, the health care or economic crisis discussions. What if you wish to comment on a different subject.

...I don't believe that moderators are a good idea. That chases people away. A better idea would be if people in Barack's administration could contribute comments with an easily identifiable highlighting to their posts. Then they could simply steer the conversation if a tangent goes off the cliff of non-viability, etc.

...I'm so happy for this forum. It's another example of Barack doing things right. I work with a group of 20,000 teaching community values. We have no hierarchy, no "leaders", no administration. It works wonderfully, and sometimes the greatest wisdom and ideas do come from "newbies".

...I'm pro-moderator. I run a sports fan community online, we have moderators and administrators. The goal of the 'staff' is to sort the content and keep it on topic, and make sure that the users stay within the confines of being respectful, to the other members, to the community itself, to the people being discussed, etc. and keep the language 'family friendly'. Not to steer the conversation. We 'employ' moderators from the community. Members who have shown themselves to have an understanding of the respectful tone we're asking people to stick to.

...So where is the Feedback from the GOV DOT (we're) CHANGE (ing)?
AH! The Sound Of Silence.... You know "Silent Voices Sound The Same"
Once "The words of the Prophets were written on the subway walls and tenement halls"
Today "Those words may appear on the blogs of cyberspace 'stalls' and meant for all."

...IMHO we need all comments reviewed by a transition teams member were we can get a return receipt telling the poster that his or her comment has or has not been routed to the proper administrator for action and consideration, and I do not mean an auto reply. That's just a blow off. I myself have always wondered if what I write is being seen by someone who can make a change or is it just a forum for people to vent to make them feel as if they're contributing to the change they want.

...I think with all that the transition team has to deal with right now, if giving feedback in this forum became a major focus of their attention this soon in the game, I'd be very worried. We're adults. We can build ideas together and network, no? Let's build something. Let's vote on the ideas we build and let the cream rise to the top. I don't think we should be waiting for someone to do that for us.

...Simply spouting off without organization doesn't accomplish much. Organization is needed so that the cream of ideas will rise to the top. I suggest a tiered method with volunteers which have ability selected to screen, consolidate and respond to ideas presenting the best to the next tier so that ultimately a few good ideas will be missed and the cream of ideas have a better chance of getting heard where they can have some affect.

...I encourage you to add a community, registration, message board system that is independent and not powered by a third party company and develop an internal system of choosing moderators from members of the community. As this resource grows, it has become more and more difficult to effectively communicate due to the limitations of the blog-n-comment style of the participation tools. It's difficult to even find your last post and see if any discussion has developed from it. This situation calls for a message board system - i.e. something open source like phpBB - which would solve the bulk of the challenges quickly and inexpensively.

...Is there some way to use the forums at change.gov to offer specific policy proposals? For example, I know an officer in a government-oriented IT consulting firm who would like to offer suggestions to save us millions of dollars each year, but I on the website I can't see any method for getting information to the people who can make something happen. If the Obama administration is truly interested in our ideas, there should be a way to easily find the proper way to submit them. Or is this online forum just meant to let us feel better by venting?

...I'm taking the purpose of the forums at face value. The stated topic for the forum we're in is just to suggest topics. Other forums were for telling your own story (on health care and the economy). You might call that venting. I assume that it is also a way for the transition team to get an overview of what is on people's minds. The Seat at the Table forum seems to be about problem solving. I think people are not sticking to the topic for each forum, but I don't think we should expect any forum to be something other than what it says it is. And I think it's tremendously exciting that we have these forums -- for what they are right now and for what they are bound to evolve into.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Dec 11, 2008 at 12:18 PM


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