I got back to Kamloops this morning, after a whirlwind couple of days in New York City at the Personal Democracy Forum 2007 conference. Obviously, I am still trying to synthesize a huge amount of information, but I want to share some of my preliminary thoughts on how me attending this conference benefited all of you.
As many know, I have always had almost an innate bent towards encouraging more full and honest participation in democracy. I believe the more engaged people, from all walks of life, we have working on community issues the better. A lot of other people believe this is a good thing as well.
I know I have not always responded to emails in as timely a way as I should, or even recognized some of the great comments on this blog, but this is what I strive to do.
Internet technologies can make these efforts so much easier. Just look at all the features the City of Kamloops has added to the official city website - meeting minutes, bylaw searches, useful maps, and so much more.
At Personal Democracy Forum, the subject matter revolved around the cutting edge of technology in government and communities and I specifically looked for technologies and projects that could help all Kamloopsians share thoughts, ideas, and concerns about our community more easily and effectively.
- Here are some of the takeaways:Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, spoke of the Internet's potential as a political "truth director". There were a couple of innovators I met who are making that concept as a reality. Utah Rep Steve Urquhart, a new friend, has put together an amazing site giving grassroots citizens a better handle of what on happenings in the Utah legislature. Its called Politicopia and people can post pros and con arguments on different issues of the day. Others can scan through the arguments to help them come to more informed points of view. It seems really accessible. And I see potential for us to create something similar in Kamloops. A similar, more dense, site is Debatepedia.
- A lot of people are using social networking tools to organize around issues. The most prominent sites are facebook and myspace. Might be useful for citizen groups such as Save Public Waterfront to look into this. I even found a "City of Kamloops" myspace page, posted by someone outside city hall. I am not sure city staff would ever write a tagline that read " "I am the city of Kamloops and you suck!!", although I think its kind of funny.
- Seems to me that a lot of this internet democracy stuff will help us reach out to young people in our community. Enabled by the sites mentioned above, but also through 3d worlds like Second Life. I saw a really interesting demo of second life at the conference.
- I saw some great new tools. Front Porch Forum is a site that connects a great number of people living close to each other in Burlington Vermont. It has a 50% participation rate with 20% of Burlington citizens participating. Eventful is a free online event service which even allows people to request events that are not yet organized. Another mention here for Second Life as it allows you to create virtual 3D models of potential city plans and projects.
- There was a great deal of concern expressed about the use of the Internet only to further awful behaviour and nastiness in government - attack ads, taking things out of context. There was talk of rules of behaviour, codes of conduct. I think this is a very difficult, important issue and it was good to start focusing on it in my head. I would hate for elected people to start becoming even more private in this world where everyone has a camera on their cellphone, and a lot of folks are starting to blog their thoughts online.