The Effect of SMS on Participation: Evidence from Uganda

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I’ve been wanting to post about this paper for a while. At the intersection of technology and citizen participation this is probably one of the best studies produced in 2013 and I’m surprised I haven’t heard a lot about it outside the scholarly circle.

One of the fundamental questions concerning the use of technology to foster participation is whether it impacts inclusiveness and, if it does, in what way. That is, if technology has an effect on participation, does it reinforce or minimize participation biases? There is no straightforward answer, and the limited existing evidence suggests that the impact of technology on inclusiveness depends on a number of factors such as technology fit, institutional design and communication efforts.

If the answer to the question is “it depends”, then the more studies looking at the subject, the more we refine our understanding of how it works, when and why. The study, “Does Information Technology Flatten Interest Articulation? Evidence from Uganda” (Grossman, Humphreys, & Sacramone-Lutz, 2013), is a great contribution in that sense. The abstract is below (highlights are mine):

We use a field experiment to study how the availability and cost of political communication channels affect the efforts constituents take to influence their representatives. We presented sampled constituents in Uganda with an opportunity to send a text-message to their representatives at one of three randomly assigned prices. This allows us to ascertain whether ICTs can “flatten” interest articulation and how access costs determine who communicates and what gets communicated to politicians. Critically, contrary to concerns that technological innovations benefit the privileged, we find that ICT leads to significant flattening: a greater share of marginalized populations use this channel compared to existing political communication channels. Price matters too, as free messaging increase uptake by about 50%. Surprisingly, subsidy-induced increases in uptake do not yield further flattening since free channels are used at higher rates by both marginalized and well-connected constituents. More subtle strategic hypotheses find little support in the data.

But even if the question of “who participates” is answered in this paper, one is left wondering “as to what effect?”. Fortunately, the authors mention in a footnote that they are collecting data for a companion paper in which they focus on the behavior of MPs, which will hopefully address this issue. Looking forward to reading that one as well.

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Also read

Mobile phones and SMS: some data on inclusiveness 

Unequal Participation: Open Government’s Unresolved Dilemma

Mobile Connectivity in Africa: Increasing the Likelihood of Violence?


Open Data and Citizen Engagement – Disentangling the Relationship

[This is a cross-post from Sunlight Foundation's  series OpenGov Conversations, an ongoing discourse featuring contributions from transparency and accountability researchers and practitioners around the world.] 

As asserted by Jeremy Bentham nearly two centuries ago, “[I]n the same proportion as it is desirable for the governed to know the conduct of their governors, is it also important for the governors to know the real wishes of the governed.” Although Bentham’s historical call may come across as obvious to some, it highlights one of the major shortcomings of the current open government movement: while a strong focus is given to mechanisms to let the governed know the conduct of their governors (i.e. transparency), less attention is given to the means by which the governed can express their wishes (i.e. citizen engagement).

But striking a balance between transparency and participation is particularly important if transparency is conceived as a means for accountability. To clarify, let us consider the role transparency (and data) plays in a simplified accountability cycle. As any accountability mechanism built on disclosure principles, it should require a minimal chain of events that can be summarized in the following manner: (1) Data is published; (2) The data published reaches its intended public; (3) Members of the public are able to process the data and react to it; and (4) Public officials respond to the public’s reaction or are sanctioned by the public through institutional means. This simplified path toward accountability highlights the limits of the disclosure of information. Even in the most simplified model of accountability, while essential, the disclosure of data accounts for no more than one-fourth of the accountability process. [Note 1 - see below]

But what are the conditions required to close the accountability cycle? First, once the data is disclosed (1), in order for it to reach its intended public (2), a minimal condition is the presence of info-mediators that can process open data in a minimally enabling environment (e.g. free and pluralistic media). Considering these factors are present, we are still only half way towards accountability. Nevertheless, the remaining steps (3 and 4) cannot be achieved in the absence of citizen engagement, notably electoral and participatory processes.

 

Beyond Elections

 

With regard to elections as a means for accountability, citizens may periodically choose to reward or sanction elected officials based on the information that they have received and processed. While this may seem a minor requisite for developed democracies like the US, the problem gains importance for a number of countries where open data platforms have launched but where elections are still a work in progress (in such cases, some research suggests that transparency may even backfire).

But, even if elections are in place, alone they might not suffice. The Brazilian case is illustrative and highlights the limits of representative systems as a means to create sustained interface between governments and citizens. Despite two decades of electoral democracy and unprecedented economic prosperity in the country, citizens suddenly went to the streets to demand an end to corruption, improvement in public services and… increased participation. Politicians, themselves, came to the quick realization that elections are not enough, as recently underlined by former Brazilian President Lula in an op ed at the New York Times “(….) people do not simply wish to vote every four years. They want daily interaction with governments both local and national, and to take part in defining public policies, offering opinions on the decisions that affect them each day.” If transparency and electoral democracy are not enough, citizen engagement remains as the missing link for open and inclusive governments.

 

Open Data And Citizen Engagement

 

Within an ecosystem that combines transparency and participation, examining the relationship between the two becomes essential. More specifically, a clearer understanding of the interaction between open data and participatory institutions remains a frontier to be explored. In the following paragraphs I put forward two issues, of many, that I believe should be considered when examining this interaction.

I) Behavior and causal chains

Evan Lieberman and his colleagues conducted an experiment in Kenya that provided parents with information about their children’s schools and how to improve their children’s learning. Nevertheless, to the disillusionment of many, despite efforts to provide parents with access to information, the intervention had no impact on parents’ behavior. Following this rather disappointing finding, the authors proceeded to articulating a causal chain that explores the link between access to information and behavioral change.

Information-Citizen Action Causal Chain

The Information-Citizen Action Causal Chain (Lieberman et al. 2013)

 

While the model put forward by the authors is not perfect, it is a great starting point and it does call attention to the dire need for a clear understanding of the ensemble of mechanisms and factors acting between access to data and citizen action.

II) Embeddedness in participatory arrangements

Another issue that might be worth examination relates to the extent to which open data is purposefully connected to participatory institutions or not. In this respect, much like the notion of targeted transparency, a possible hypothesis would be that open data is fully effective for accountability purposes only when the information produced becomes “embedded” in participatory processes.

This notion of “embeddedness” would call for hard thinking on how different participatory processes can most benefit from open data and its applications (e.g. visualizations, analysis). For example, the use of open data to inform a referendum process is potentially a very different type of use than within participatory budgeting process. Stemming from this reasoning, open data efforts should be increasingly customized to different existing participatory processes, hence increasing their embeddedness in these processes. This would be the case, for instance, when budget data visualization solutions are tailored to inform participatory budgeting meetings, thus creating a clear link between the consumption of that data and the decision-making process that follows.

Granted, information is per se an essential component of good participatory processes, and one can take a more or less intuitive view on which types of information are more suitable for one process or another. However, a more refined knowledge of how to maximize the impact of data in participatory processes is far from achieved and much more work is needed.

 

R&D For Data-Driven Participation

 

Coming up with clear hypotheses and testing them is essential if we are to move forward with the ecosystem that brings together open data, participation and accountability. Surely, many organizations working in the open government space are operating with limited resources, squeezing their budgets to keep their operational work going. In this sense, conducting experiments to test hypotheses may appear as a luxury that very few can afford.

Nevertheless, one of the opportunities provided by the use of technologies for civic behavior is that of potentially driving down the costs for experimentation. For instance, online and mobile experiments could play the role of tech-enabled (and affordable) randomized controlled trials, improving our understanding of how open data can be best used to spur collective action. Thinking of the ways in which technology can be used to conduct lowered costs experiments to shed light on behavioral and causal chains is still limited to a small number of people and organizations, and much work is needed on that front.

Yet, it is also important to acknowledge that experiments are not the only source of relevant knowledge. To stick with a simple example, in some cases even an online survey trying to figure out who is accessing data, what data they use, and how they use it may provide us with valuable knowledge about the interaction between open data and citizen action. In any case, however, it may be important that the actors working in that space agree upon a minimal framework that facilitates comparison and incremental learning: the field of technology for accountability desperately needs a more coordinated research agenda.

Citizen Data Platforms?

As more and more players engage in participatory initiatives, there is a significant amount of citizen-generated data being collected, which is important on its own. However, in a similar vein to government data, the potential of citizen data may be further unlocked if openly available to third parties who can learn from it and build upon it. In this respect, it might not be long before we realize the need to have adequate structures and platforms to host this wealth of data that – hopefully – will be increasingly generated around the world. This would entail that not only governments open up their data related to citizen engagement initiatives, but also that other actors working in that field – such as donors and NGOs – do the same. Such structures would also be the means by which lessons generated by experiments and other approaches are widely shared, bringing cumulative knowledge to the field.

However, as we think of future scenarios, we should not lose sight of current challenges and knowledge gaps when it comes to the relationship between citizen engagement and open data. Better disentangling the relationship between the two is the most immediate priority, and a long overdue topic in the open government conversation.

 

Notes

 

Note 1: This section of this post is based on arguments previously developed in the article, “The Uncertain Relationship between Open Data and Accountability”.

Note 2: And some evidence seems to confirm that hypothesis. For instance, in a field experiment in Kenya, villagers only responded to information about local spending in development projects when that information was coupled with specific guidance on how to participate in local decision-making processes).

 

 


The Fateful Choice: The Pilgrims Assign Private Property Rights in Land

On the eve of Thanksgiving here in the US, Andro Linklater, the author of a new book, Owning the Earth:  The Transforming History of Land Ownership (Bloomsbury), describes how the Pilgrims imposed their notions of private property on the land commons in the New World.  The consequences – while perhaps inevitable, whether from them or other settlers – were nonetheless pivotal in the future development of America.  Lanklater published an excerpt of his book recently on the Bloomberg News website. (Tragically, Linklater died a week before his book’s publication on November 12.)

In 1623, William Bradford, the future governor of the colony, declared that land would be privately owned and managed, with each family assigned a parcel of land “according to the proportion of their number.”  This decision had profound effects on how individual Pilgrims managed their land and related to each other.  

As Bradford wrote:  ‘‘And no man now thought he could live except he had catle and a great deale of ground to keep them all, all striving to increase their stocks. By which means they were scattered all over the bay quickly and the towne in which they lived compactly till now was left very thinne.’’ You might say that private property rights in land were the beginning of suburban sprawl. 

Linklater points out that the native people, the Wampanaog, had allowed individual parcels of land to be used and occupied by individual families, but no one could have exclusive, permanent ownership of the land.  As the Wampanaog leader Massasoit explained:  ‘‘The land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish, and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?’’

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Adding Art to Public Meetings

We hope you’ll take a moment to read this inspiring article about the power of art in public meetings - and in this case, the art of words – from our friends at AmericaSpeaks. You can read it below or find the original post on their blog by clicking here.

AmericaSpeaks_Logo

The Power of Spoken Word

We have facilitated hundreds of public meetings over the past 18 years. All are memorable in their own right, but some have special moments that are unforgettable.

At our Creating Community Solutions DC meeting on Saturday, October 12th, we facilitated a day-long meeting for 400 participants on mental health in the District. We had a fantastic turnout, literally standing room only, and particularly of youth aged 15-24, with more than 120 participating.

In every meeting, we try to feature local talent of one type or another – whether it be a band that plays prior to the beginning of a meeting or an exercise leader who leads an energetic stretch break for participants 4 or 5 hours into the meeting.

At Creating Community Solutions, we had the honor of including two very talented, precocious teenage spoken word artists, both from the DC Youth Slam Team.

Both artists – Amina Iro and Thomas “Vocab” Hill – have been performing for the past year, and have competed in national contests like the 2013 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival.

Amina performed first, a powerful poem about the depression her mother has battled and the impact it has on her mom, herself, and her family. The crowd gave her an extended standing ovation.

Later in the morning Vocab performed a moving piece about his uncle, a veteran, who suffers PTSD after several tours in Iraq. He too brought down the house.

Whereas the rest of the day focused on conveying critical data and information about mental health and illness and featured in-depth and sometimes difficult conversations about what challenges youth face and how do we overcome these challenges, these artistic moments served to inspire, energize, and focus the audience on the critical nature of the convening.

Art can make an enormous difference in so many parts of our lives. And, even in unlikely settings like a public meeting on a public policy concern.

Thank you Amina and Thomas!

To read more about Creating Community Solutions DC, CLICK HERE.

15% Discount for NCDD Members on Harwood Lab

Mike Wood of the Harwood Institute shared on the listserv today that they still have a few spaces left in their national Public Innovators Lab, happening December 10-12 in Alexandria, VA (at United Way Worldwide’s Mary Gates Learning Center). Every NCDD member gets a 15% rebate on the price. You can register here and when you input your organization’s name, just add “-NCDD” after the name and you’ll get the 15% percent rebate on whatever credit card you use to pay the fee.

HarwoodLogoThis is a 3-day learning session where we take you through all of the essential Harwood tools and frameworks that are designed to help you develop a deep understanding of your community through conversations and then use that public knowledge to shape your strategies and change the way you operate inside and out. We cover topics such as:

  • Understanding your community’s “stage of community life” and the implications for how you structure your community change agenda.
  • Assessing your “public capital” – there are nine factors of public capital – the essential ingredients of community. Learn how you develop strategies that actually create public capital at the same time (what we call finding the sweet spot).
  • The 3 A’s of Public Life – Authority, Authenticity and Accountability – assess yourself and your organization against the 3 A’s and learn about how to cultivate these characteristics
  • Turning Outward and “The Turn Quiz” – what it means to be turned outward in your work and how you can easily engage with your staff and teams on whether you have a outward or inwardly focused culture.

Learn more at http://conferences.unitedway.org/harwood.

Two Job Openings at the Orton Family Foundation

Orton LogoOur partners at the Orton Family Foundation, an NCDD member organization, have recently announced two great job opportunities that we wanted to make sure all of our NCDD members hear about. Orton is looking for a new Senior Associate in Outreach & Strategic Partnerships and for a new Communications Associate, and we know that there are lots of NCDD members out there who would be great for the positions.

You can read about the current job openings, as well as future ones, on the Orton website at www.orton.org/who/jobs, or you can check out the descriptions below.

The Senior Associate position is described briefly below, and you can find the full job description by clicking here.

Senior Associate, Outreach & Strategic Partnerships: This full-time position reports to the Executive Director. Applicants must possess a strong commitment to the success and future of small towns and cities in rural areas and to the Orton Family Foundation’s philosophy and mission.  Travel will be required and needed for achievement of goals.

The ideal candidate must: have a minimum 5 years of demonstrated success at identifying and forming purposeful relationships with program/organizational/business strategic partners; be a tech-savvy and people-oriented professional who can set and achieve goals to grow program support among individual supporters and mutually aligned groups; be able to persuasively communicate the Foundation’s Mission and Purpose; be a self-starter who can develop direction and activities for success. Primarily an externally focused position, candidate must have strong commitment to accountability to and communication with fellow Foundation staff that develop and implement mission driven program and communication activities. Must have a deep commitment to and passion for the life, culture, heritage, and future of rural small towns and cities across the USA.

And next, the brief description of the Communications Associate position is below, with the full job description available here.

Communications Associate: This full-time position will report to the Communications Director and work closely with Foundation staff to shape and strengthen the Foundation’s voice and coordinate its message, with particular emphasis on responsibility for the Foundation’s website and the promotion and marketing of its offerings.

The ideal candidate will have: at least 4-5 years experience in media and digital marketing; a college degree; strong written and verbal skills; extensive website management experience; public relations, publicity, and marketing experience; fluency in social media, blogs, and other online promotional channels; creative thinking and a willingness to take risks; knowledge of multimedia production and online distribution; mastery of Microsoft tools; ability to manage people and projects; a spirited, directed work style.

We encourage NCDD members to consider applying for either of these great positions by sending your resume and cover letter to cbertrand@orton.org. Make sure to share the openings with your friends and colleagues, too.

The application deadline is Friday, December 20th, so don’t let the date sneak up on you. Good luck to all the applicants!

lowering the voting age to 17

(New York City) One of the recommendations of our major recent report, “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement,” is to experiment with lowering the voting age to 17 in local and state elections. Voting for the first time at 18 is a bit problematic, because that is just when many people have left the communities in which they grew up for work or college. They are suddenly in networks of other 18-year-olds, in which everyone is new to politics, and less connected to older adults. On the other hand, if you could vote at 17, you could register in school and learn about the political system and how to vote in your social studies class.

In November, Takoma Park, MD tried it. Their 16- and 17-year-old residents voted in the city’s municipal election. Their turnout was 16.9%, nearly double the 8.5% turnout rate of eligible residents 18 and up.

This is a tiny data point–one election in one small community. A possible explanation for the respectable turnout is that it was the first time; there was a “buzz” about the new right to vote. We know that the first presidential election in which 18-21′s could vote, 1972, set a turnout record never since matched. But the more optimistic explanation is that Takoma Park kids heard about the election in school and were encouraged to vote. That could happen every year.

The post lowering the voting age to 17 appeared first on Peter Levine.

Bayard Rustin and the Audacity of Hope

President Obama's posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bayard Rustin on November 20, 2013, marked overdue recognition of Rustin's extraordinary contributions to the civil rights movement. On another level, Rustin's strategic vision has prophetic relevance for our time. It embodies the "audacity of hope" that we can build a deeper and more vibrant democracy.

Rustin recognized the need for pluralistic and coalition politics which could win over the great majority of Americans to the work of creating a more egalitarian society. He realized the need for building independent centers of power through community organizing.

He also anchored his strategy for change in a challenge still largely unaddressed by either political progressives or by community organizers -- a call for the democratic transformation of the social fabric itself. In contrast, today's activists have an anti-institutional bias rooted in the widespread assumption that institutions are largely impervious to change.

As Charles Euchner shows in Nobody Turn Me Round: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin, organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, was indispensable to creating the platform for "I Have a Dream." He was also a key strategist of many other phrases of the movement - a main actor in creating the Freedom Rides, Martin Luther King's tutor in nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an architect of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Rustin lived a complicated life. A Quaker, he was a conscientious objector in World War II. He was gay. He had been in the Young Communist League as a young man. As a nonviolent African-American gay former communist, Rustin was extremely controversial. Civil rights leaders kept him behind the scenes. But his accomplishments were legendary.

Rustin's question was the one familiar to community organizers, how to move from the world as it is to the world as it should be, or, put differently, how to put power behind program. As Euchner shows, Rustin was sophisticated in work with the Kennedy administration as he organized the March on Washington. He recognized the importance of being in relationship with the White House, knowing well the presidency's multiple roles in setting the nation's agenda. He also was careful not to be co-opted by the White House agenda. Rustin continually kept in mind the main task, building an independent citizen movement for ending racial discrimination, achieving greater equality, and deepening democracy.

In his view, this required that the movement's goals evolve to meet the times. In his 1965 Commentary article "From Protest to Politics," Rustin pointed out the changing tasks facing African-Americans after the end of formal, legal segregation:

"The Negro today finds himself stymied by obstacles of far greater magnitude than the legal barriers he was attacking before: automation, urban decay, de facto school segregation. These are problems which, while conditioned by Jim Crow, do not vanish upon its demise. They are more deeply rooted in our socio-economic order; they are the result of the total society's failure to meet not only the Negro's needs, but human needs generally."

Rustin worried that the movement's strategic capacity was eroding, just as its tasks were growing. Thus he questioned the growing tendency of young activists, both black and white, to substitute "posture and volume" for "effect." Militants, he argued,

"...are often described as the radicals of the movement, but they are really its moralists. They seek to change white hearts--by traumatizing them. Frequently abetted by white self-flagellants, they may gleefully applaud (though not really agreeing with) Malcolm X because, while they admit he has no program, they think he can frighten white people into doing the right thing."

He proposed a different approach -- change in the nation's very institutional structure:

"Hearts are not relevant to the issue; neither racial affinities nor racial hostilities are rooted there. It is institutions--social, political, and economic institutions--which are the ultimate molders of collective sentiments. Let these institutions be reconstructed... and let the ineluctable gradualism of history govern the formation of a new psychology."

With this argument Rustin challenged conventional wisdom on a grand scale. Though he did not develop the idea in detail, as far as I know, serious institutional reconstruction to achieve greater equality and deeper democracy necessitates not only transforming institutional racism, part and parcel of American society since European settlement. It also requires reversing what the South African public intellectual Xolela Mangcu calls "technocratic creep," the bureaucratization which is a defining feature of modern societies everywhere.

Bureaucratization involves the spread of norms and practices which replace tradition and communal values with efficiency and goal-oriented rationality. Max Weber called this culture "the polar night of icy darkness." The spreading polar night, what Weber also called the "iron cage," has long been taken as inevitable.

Today, despite widespread fatalism, there are multiplying signs that inevitable technocracy is not so. In earlier Huffington Post blogs with Blase Scarnati, John Spencer, Jason Lowry, and Jen Nelson, I described democratizing cultural change in K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

In a new series in The Boston Globe, "Trench Democracy ," Albert Dzur chronicles "democratic professionals [who] are creating power-sharing arrangements in organizations, institutions, and workplaces that are usually hierarchical and non-participatory."

Finally, "Civic Studies," a new interdisciplinary area of civic engagement, is gaining authority as a citizen-centered alternative to top-down problem solving and government-centered democracy. Its framing statement, The New Civic Politicshttp://activecitizen.tufts.edu/circle/summer-institute/summer-institute-of-civic-studies-framing-statement/, co-authored by Nobel Prize winning Elinor Ostrom and six others, stresses citizens as agents of change and co-creators of democracy. Civic Studies includes revitalizing the public work roles and practices of institutions.

All these signs help to vindicate Bayard Rustin's belief that institutional reconstruction is possible. Many years ago, he called for what Italian activists once termed "the long march through the institutions."

The march may be gaining momentum.

Boyte, who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a college student, is Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He is also one of the co-authors of The New Civic Politics.

Lessons Learned from a Statewide Gathering of NCDD Members in VA

On November 19th, Nancy Gansneder at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia and I teamed up to host a 3-hour gathering and knowledge exchange for Virginians working in the fields of dialogue and deliberation. The event was held at UVA in Charlottesville, VA.

Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service      National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

We’re posting the lessons we learned here for others who might be interested in hosting their own in-person gatherings in their state.

Outcomes

The results were good: 19 in-person attendees, 26 others who registered and indicated their availability for alternate days, sufficient interest to continue hosting statewide gatherings like this every six months, and one of the participants stepped up as the next organizer (success!!). There was consensus within the group that we should request a state-based email discussion list, hosted by NCDD; Sandy is setting this up for us.

Breakout Sessions Proposed during our Meeting

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  • How to bring in reluctant stakeholders?
  • What is a good “hook” to interest participants in dialogues?
  • What has failed miserably?
  • How to go from dialogue & deliberation to advocacy and long term maintenance of solutions?
  • Collaborative learning in dialogue and deliberation
  • What affect do modern communications platforms have on D&D?
  • Engaging the under-engaged
  • How to work with 2 or more communities with different identities when resources are limited and a the problem/solution involves both of them
  • Getting diversity at the table
  • Creative diversity in the community
  • Hosting dialogues with open topics
  • Who does and who should pay for D&D?
  • What does success look like?
  • General logistics and planning tips
  • Forums on mental health
  • Making the case for investment in process from within a government organization

Here’s What’s Needed to Make this Happen in Your State

  • One self-starter to get the ball rolling
  • A co-organizer to bounce ideas off (you can find this person with the initial invitation email)
  • A venue that can hold the participants (20-30 people is a great turnout); universities are a great place to start looking.
  • The NCDD Member Map and Member Directory will help you know who is in your area.
  • Office supplies (name tags, sharpies, pens, scrap paper, large notepads to brainstorm breakout sessions topics, and anything else you might find useful)
  • Funds for lunch or snacks/coffee for an afternoon meeting (we coordinated with Sandy Heierbacher prior to the event to secure $250 from NCDD for lunch; alternatively, you could charge $10 or $20 or ask a local organization to sponsor)
  • Basic familiarity with Google Docs, Excel, and Eventbrite.

Pointers for Setting Up a Statewide Gathering, Step by Step

  • Two months prior to the event: Create the invitation (2 hours)
    • Copy & paste email addresses from NCDD members in your state from the member map or directory into an email, or request a member chart from your state from Joy.
    • Draft the body of the initial invitation email (use this previous example as a starting point).  The purpose is to gauge interest, to find a co-organizer that has a venue, and to receive suggestions.
    • Let NCDD know what you’re planning, and have Joy send you some NCDD postcards to hand out and perhaps other materials that are available.
  • Collect feedback from invitees when they respond via email.  Decide whether or not to go forward.  Choose 3-4 dates that work for both organizers (1 hour)
  • The organizer with the venue reserves the space (0.5 hours)
  • One month prior to the event:
    • Set up the document for the meeting notes (see this template for meeting notes that you can copy) prior to sending out the invitation. (1 hour)
    • Create the Eventbrite invitation; see this previous example (there are probably several online tools that you can use for invitations, but Eventbrite seems to be one of the best invitation tools for free events).  Be sure to create a custom multiple-choice question for invitees to indicate which of the 3-4 possible dates you are offering is best for them (in Eventbrite after you create the event, this is under “Manage” and then “Order Form” and scroll down to “Add Question”.  Example text for the question: “Which days can you attend from 11am-2pm? Please choose all that apply.”). (2 hours)
    • Announce the event on the NCDD main discussion list and/or this blog (1 hour)
    • Ask Sandy Heierbacher to forward the invitation by email to all NCDD contacts (members and others) in your state with a note of support. (0.5 hours)
  • One week prior to the event: Pre-order lunch (0.5 hours).
  • Day of the event:
    • Print out the list of attendees so you can take attendance (from Eventbrite you can download attendees in an Excel file by going to “Manage” and then “Event Reports”).
    • Show up 1-2 hours early to verify that the furniture is arranged how you want it (1.5 hours).  It was important that the tables and chairs were mobile.  During the opening plenary discussion, chairs were oriented toward the center of the room.  We moved to small-group circles when the breakout sessions began.
  • After the Event: Write up a blog post detailing what went well and what could be improved (1.5 hours).  Clean up the Excel file of attendee contact information and distribute it to the attendees (if they requested it) and send it to NCDD to help them get a sense of the energy for these regional events (1.5 hours).

General Suggestions and Lessons Learned

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  • Greet each individual at the door to create a welcoming environment.
  • Set ground rules for the event when it begins.  For example, “If you don’t want something in the notes, please state that it is off the record.”
  • 11am-2pm was convenient for people who had to drive a long distance.  Some drove 2.5 hours each way.
  • With a group size of 20, we had breakout groups ranging from 2-8 people in size.  We had 4 separate small-group discussions during the breakouts on 3 different topics + 1 “open topic”.
  • During the plenary session we dove right into proposing breakout session topics.  Often the group picked up the topic for a moment and people built on each other’s ideas and the framing of the problem.  We didn’t interrupt when there was energy around any particular topic.
  • Keeping everything on time was important so that people could get back on the road for their long drives.  Rather than coming up with a perfect solution for grouping the breakout topics or allowing for a full-blown open space process for selecting the breakouts (there were more than we had time to discuss), instead we told participants, “Given that you see all these topics on the board and that we want to do this as efficiently as possible, we’re going to choose topics in the following manner.  If you are moved to host a topic, stand up, announce it and move to a corner of the room.  You will be the facilitator; it’s a group discussion rather than a presentation.  We’ll choose 4 breakout sessions in this manner right now and we’ll choose a few of the ones which will take place after lunch.  If you want to propose combining two topics in a session, please make the suggestion to the person who stepped forward to facilitate that topic.” After all, the group only needs to choose 6-8 topics, so this doesn’t need to be much more complicated than this.  In a three-hour workshop, time goes quickly, and if sessions are 30 or 45 minutes each, then it’s important to minimize this “process overhead” as much as possible without causing the participants to feel rushed.  Have fun with it!!
  • Give “5 min” notice with a piece of paper so that you don’t have to verbally interrupt the groups.
  • Rather than herding everyone towards lunch at the same time, let people flow through the lunch area organically after their breakout session comes to a natural conclusion; if they keep talking and they see everyone else with lunch, they’ll get the idea that lunch is served and they’ll be able to make the call as to whether they should continue speaking or finish the conversation and eat.  Some breakout sessions might reconvene informally through lunch.
  • Folks at our event took the stairs to get lunch and brought it back downstairs to continue the meeting; this enabled the participants to mingle.  The second breakout session began while some folks were still eating/drinking; they brought their food with them, and there was no problem.
  • If the breakout sessions run longer than expected (we blocked off 30 minutes per breakout, but there was energy for 40 minutes), then be prepare to have a shorter closing plenary discussion.  We chose to have a 20 minute closing and that worked for us.  The group came to consensus quickly about the need for requesting that NCDD set up an email discussion so that we can continue to stay in touch, and everyone was happy to have the organizers release their contact information to the other participants.
  • During sessions, recommend but do not require folks to take notes during their session.  If they don’t want to write them on the doc themselves, offer to transcribe the notes for them onto the meeting notes (in our template for meeting notes, we used a Google doc that anyone can edit).
  • Be sure to thank the host and any sponsors of the event at the closing plenary.  It can’t happen without them!

Of course, these are just methods that worked for us in Virginia, and we welcome your suggestions for improvement in the comments below.