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FCW Insider: Tips on keeping public comments civil (Part 1)

The Obama team's experiments with Change.gov made one thing clear: It's no easy task to keep the public engaged, civil and on point all at the same time. Which made me wonder: it's not easy, but is it possible?

Last week, when I was reading about the U.K. Power of Information Taskforce, I came across a U.K.-based group called the Consultation Institute that offers training in eParticipation, as they call it, so I put my question to them: How do you make eParticipation both manageable and useful? I heard back from Fraser Henderson, who teaches that course and who also is director of PartiTech. Here is what he advises:

Some sort of eParticipation manager is usually needed to keep conversations focused in any sort of consultation. Facilitation is better than moderation. Their main role should be to:

* Provide positive reinforcement of constructive comments.

* Re-enforce purpose to new participants.

* Uphold rules.

Generally speaking it is a good idea to:

* Establish clear rules (e.g. no personal attacks, use your full and actual name).

* Deal with violations in private.

* Provide tips for contributors (e.g. never post when you are angry, always re-read your comments).

* Avoid "loudest voice" syndrome by considering a cap on the number of responses an individual can make (e.g. 2 a day).

* Celebrate (e.g. with offline meets) launches or anniversaries. This serves as a reminder that there are “real people” on the end of an eParticipation exercise. Alternatively, co-ordinate a simultaneous online and offline session (e.g. http://pep-net.eu/wordpress/?p=229). Connecting geography and a sense of social accountability might involve dividing up a participation exercise into local boundaries.

Also consider argument visualization. For an example, click here and then simply select a topic to view its argument map.

Tomorrow I will post tips from another social networking expert.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Feb 17, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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