E-Democracy has recently released a report on their approach (and success) in engaging diverse participants in their online (email and web-based) forums. E-Democracy hosts online discussions based on geographic location. Most of their communities are based on city or neighborhood.
I am a long-time E-Democracy volunteer. The traditional way to grow a list is through existing social networks. In other words, I ask two friends to join, they ask two friends and so on. It grows a list – but it also means you get folks who run in the same circles. In the last couple of years, E-Democracy has made concerted effort to encourage greater diversity in forum participation. This report explains what they have done successfully.
I think this work will be valuable for community leaders who are also struggling with how to make their programs more inclusive.
Here’s a quick description from the report itself…
Through this work, E-Democracy hopes to debunk assumptions that people in poverty, of color, new immigrants, and others historically disenfranchised are digitally disconnected or less interested in connecting with their neighbors online than those in homogeneous, wealthy neighborhoods – and instead demonstrate that they in fact bring assets, capacities, information, and agenda-setting value to online civic participation.
And here’s an abbreviated/paraphrased list of what has worked…
- Face-to-face connections, paper signup sheets, and a personal approach are by far the most successful recruiting methods.
- Building trust is essential. Knowing that “someone like me” is on the forum makes a difference. Personal invitations and direct support help people get started.
- Understanding people’s needs and then helping them find ways for those needs to be addressed through the forum smooths the path for their participation and continued involvement.
- Partnering with respected neighbors and event organizers creates opportunities to participate in community activities and offer people the chance to sign up for our forums
- Seeding stories that are of interest to diverse populations
- Maintaining cultural awareness and proficiency in posts and outreach
The report is full of stories and practical advice – and again suggested reading for leaders in any community effort that would benefit from increasing diversity. (I have to think that’s just about any effort.) You can also learn more about the project on a special online event with the authors and others involved with the project will speak.