Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Countywide Community Forums Gets Shoutout from Tim O'Reilly

Zanby client Countywide Community Forums of King County, an innovative citizen engagement program in Seattle, has been getting national attention lately. Most recently, technosage Tim O'Reilly, the man who coined the terms "Web 2.0" and "Gov 2.0", gave CCF this glowing shoutout on the blog of his latest project, Civic Commons, an important new directory of tools and resources for open government. O'Reilly thanks CCF for generously handing over the "civiccommons.org" and ".net" domains, then goes on to describe the program:

Countywide Community Forums is actually an interesting Gov 2.0 effort itself. They provide civic engagement forums and surveys designed to give elected officials an accurate picture of what their constituents are thinking; equally importantly, the forums are a place for those constituents to discuss issues with each other. The forums are designed to enable diffuse opinion to coalesce into something coherent — a kind of smoothing factor for representative democracy. We’ve seen other tools that do this (think IdeaScale); the innovative touch here is that it’s both online and in-person, and is specifically designed for citizen engagement with elected officials. CCF even provides videos to help people learn how to facilitate in-person events more productively.

This is all happening in a pretty big venue: King County is the 14th-largest county in the United States, home to the city of Seattle (the county seat), but extending well beyond the city, into rural areas. CCF is part of a public-private partnership with the county government, under the 2007 “The Easy Citizen Involvement Initiative”, with the forums and surveys used to give the county government feedback about budget priorities (and getting a fair amount of notice for it: see some of these other articles about CCF, in particular this September 2010 Seattle Times Op-Ed).

What O'Reilly doesn't mention is that the technology powering the CCF website is Zanby. To be more precise, the site, which the Zanby team built last summer, uses a combination of technologies, integrated via APIs, to deliver a rich set of tools for measuring the opinions of citizens on tough issues facing the King County government. The stack of technologies powering the site includes:

  • Zanby: The heart of the CCF program is an online community powered by Zanby's unique group-management platform, with message boards and a calendar of off-line events, hosted by Zanby on a SaaS basis. When a "forum round" is open, anyone who lives or works in King County can register as a volunteer "citizen councilor" and join an online discussion or browse a map and calendar of in-person meetings in cafes, libraries and living rooms across the county. A 15-minute video produced by CCF staff gives an overview of the current topic. After the discussion, participants fill out a survey, online or on paper. Survey results are then tabulated and delivered as a report to the County Auditor and Council.
  • Wordpress: CCF staff use a Wordpress CMS to post information promoting the program and links to news stories relevant to the current discussion topic. A custom module allows a single-signon between the Wordpress site and the Zanby community.
  • VoterVoice: During registration, a user's home or work address is authenticated via the VoterVoice API to ensure they live or work in King County.
  • Salsa CRM: The Zanby user database is synced with CCF's constituent DB via the Salsa API.
  • SurveyGizmo: After discussing the topic of the current forum round, users can take an online survey via SurveyGizmo. Responses are anonymized, but SurveyGizmo tells Salsa when a user has completed the survey, to prevent multiple responses.
  • Forum Foundation: Raw data from SurveyGizmo and paper surveys from in-person meetings are fed into the Forum Foundation's "Opinionnaire(R)" analysis software, which CCF staff use to generate the final report to the county government.

We're thrilled to see the CCF program get this much-deserved attention, and from no less a figure than the intellectual father of the open government movement.

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