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“Our Budget, Our Economy” and “BürgerForum” – two large-scale strategies to involve people in an opinion forming process

29. June 2010 – 10:55 by Simone Gerdesmeier

One of the major tasks the organizers of eParticipation projects face is designing workflows to bring thousands of people together in one online discussion – especially when the aim is not only to deliberate about a specific topic, but to produce concrete and useful outcomes. Two projects in America and Germany try to reach out to citizens all over the nation, using two very different approaches: In the US, “Our Budget, our Economy”, organized by AmericaSpeaks, and in Germany, the BürgerForum, initiated by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and Heinz Nixdorf Stiftung and conducted with the help of Zebralog Hagedorn.

“Our Budget, Our Economy” has reached its peak with a series of live events, so called Town Meetings, all over the USA on June 26th.  Here, approximately 3,500 participants have discussed about the federal budget and worked out a message, saying which reforms they find to be most important. As the organizers announced, the project should help the participants to “weigh-in on the difficult choices necessary to put our federal budget on a sustainable path.”

We at Zebralog are currently working on the third edition of the BürgerForum, an online-discussion forum dedicated to produce the so called citizen agenda. In 2011, about 10,000 German citizens are going to join the discussion about the growing diversity in Germany’s society. Read the rest of this entry »

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BürgerForum 2011: German Federal President Horst Köhler initiates a citizens´ online dialogue

27. May 2010 – 17:18 by Simone Gerdesmeier

In 2008 and 2009, Zebralog conducted two very successful citizens´ online dialogues, initiated by the German Bertelsmann Stiftung und the Heinz Nixdorf Stiftung: The BürgerForum for Social Market Economy and the BürgerForum Europe. In both forums, about 350 randomly chosen citizens have been involved in an intense and focused online discussion and worked out their own political programmes, consisting of different challenges and possible solutions.

2011 we will open a new round with a new online dialogue. This time the BürgerForum found a prominent initiator: German Federal President Horst Köhler starts this project to foster citizen participation. The Bertelsmann Stiftung and Heinz Nixdorf Stiftung will act as project partners.

Participants will focus their discussion on the growing social diversity and the multicultural society. As in 2008 and 2009, the political programmes will be discussed and worked out on a specially designed online-platform, using the format BürgerAgenda (citizens´ agenda), designed by Zebralog and proved in the two former online discussions. But instead of a few hundred people, the BürgerForum 2011 will unite 10.000 German citizens. To open the dialogue for this considerably larger group of participants, the discussion process as well as the website has to undergo a few changes: First, the participants will debate in 25 local forums, whereby each region will work on their own citizens’ agenda. Afterwards, the local forums will be combined to one nationwide forum, where the participants will approve a common citizens´ agenda.

Several live events will accompany the online discussion: In January 2011, the participants of each region will meet and chose the topics for their debate. In May 2011, the approved citizens’ agenda will be presented to Federal President Köhler.

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An idea for organising multilingual online dialogues

5. May 2010 – 18:06 by Simone Gerdesmeier

One of the major challenges of organizing European or international online dialogues is dealing with multilingualism. The experience with multilingual online discussions shows that people tend to stick to their own language group. Sometimes they are discussing in English, but crossing language boarders and particularly commenting in a foreign language seems to be a hard task for most of the users – even if they have some knowledge of foreign languages.

Employing professional translators is definitely too expensive. Using peer-to-peer translation might be a good idea, if you have a rather slow developing, open-ended dialogue, e.g. the comments of a weblog.  But a translation always slows down the track of comments, so communication across language barriers would still be constricted.

So, how can organizers and designers make it easier for people to leave their own language group and to get into contact with people speaking different languages – thus, what can you do to enable a real, inclusive discussion across language barriers?

We’d like to introduce an idea – and are very interested about your comments and insights:

We though about a mechanism matching users who have different native languages, but who can speak the same foreign language.

In detail: This matching mechanism would work in online dialogues were users do not only discuss in an open forum but also communicate one-to-one using a messenger-system integrated into the platform. When signing up for the online discussion the users would have to state their mother tongue as well as the languages they can also speak and understand.

The system would than match the users. Every user would be attached to a defined number of peers, lets say to 10 other users. The condition: these users may NOT have the same native language, but are accordant in at last one of the languages they are familiar with as well.

So, a German user who can speak English, French and Spanish would be matched with English, French and Spanish user speaking German, with Italian users speaking French, with Greek users speaking English, and so on – but not with other German users. So, this user would get into intensive one-to-one dialogue (reducing the embarrassment some might feel when writing in a foreign language into an open forum) with different people from different language groups.

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Building your European identity on Facebook

18. March 2010 – 16:24 by Simone Gerdesmeier

Social Networks are not only a place to meet and greet your friends online. They are becoming more and more ubiquitous and especially – but not only – for the young generation they are an alternative tool for sharing information and news. Some Social Networks promote the exchange about political topics with special tools. Let’s take Facebook for example: Facebook members can not only write on their friend’s walls, share personal messages, and follow their friend’s timeline; users can also create or become members of groups and feature so called causes. In this way they express their political views, take part in political discussion or simply show their support for certain causes on their profile.

Facebook members use group feature to discuss about the European Union

Facebook does not provide concrete figures about how many groups deal with political topics. But there are a lot of them, creating a buzz about current political events as well as about long-term processes. Given the mass of users located in the European Union, it’s hardly surprising that a number of groups are also concerned with specific European topics. If searching for the term “European Union”, you get far more than 500 results, including groups like FOR A “EUROPEAN UNION” NETWORK, At least 400 million EU citizens don ‘t want Turkey in European Union !!!!, Females In Front – EU or anti-European groups like I Declare Myself Not a Citizen of the European Union.

Looking at this lively group culture, the questions pops up: Can social media like Facebook help to create a European Identity?

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