Land of Opportunity

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  • July 11th, 2012 by Laine

    Online Citizen Participation: The New Open Door Policy

    By Sofie Strasser, LOP Design Strategist

    I love the internet. I see inspiring things happen every day, enabled by information and communication made possible by the WWW. The internet is a platform for young & old, from all different backgrounds, and is becoming a necessary asset to keep up with the rapid evolution towards digitization. It’s an essential tool that can now be used to achieve most any goal, whether you want to start a post-modern grassroots movement, earn money from home, get an education, or heck, fall in love! But,  Confucius say: “With all these opportunities come limitations.”

    There are essential people and communities we intend to reach whose worlds exist outside the medium of the internet and who spend their daily lives offline.  Some simply don’t have online access, and others have few opportunities- these are the folks that this project speaks for.  How then can this project effectively cross the digital divide?

    What we’re toying with now is how the Land of Opportunity Interactive Project will not only represent this unplugged demographic, but invite them to join in and contribute to a democratic space. What we’re working to create is equally important to who will be able to access it. In this new Opensource age, we are focused on exploring how inclusive (and effective) online participation can be.

    There are beaucoup citizen participation-based web projects out there right now, from the local initiative Neighborland to the Russian public space game “Crowdsourced Moscow 2012” (no, this is not a viral Olympic spoof). Andrei Goncharo’s game invites the players (the citizens) to take over the planning process for a city and have the chance to propose projects and vote for/against others’ pitches. It’s an approach to bring stakeholders together in an online environment to let them propose, support and negotiate ideas for the real world on a direct democratic base. How it works: players get the chance to propose projects and vote for or against the ideas of others, with optional additional support of another person’s project through a virtual monetary donation (read more here).

    I found other elevating interactive projects (openplans.com, niot.org, www.streetfilms.org, civiccommons.org, citiesthemagazine.com) that are also working to make their participatory governance dreams come true. But then I stumbled upon Andrea Cornwall’s essay “Locating Citizen Participation”, who puts into check some of these lofty engagement goals. Simply creating a “new institution” (like, citizen based interactive project, for instance) says Cornwall,

    “is not enough to purge it of older associations; new spaces may come to be infused with existing relations of power, reproducing existing relations of rule. Spaces created…may be discursively bounded to permit only limited citizen influence, colonizing interaction”.

    This hits home over here at Land of Opportunity, as we want the users (be it our partners, individuals, stakeholder groups, etc) who may not regularly utilize the internet, to gain knowledge, resources, and feel empowered from our platform.

    As we develop and implement the design of the project, making it easily accessible (i.e. creating a friendly user-generated content management system) for communities to participate will be the key to our success, and one of our biggest challenges to develop on the back-end.
    How universal is citizen participation now? How can we bring non-web users in and spread such a web-based project beyond the web?  Hey, you look like you’ve created an online-based citizen participation project! Or at least you’ve used one…or maybe you just read about it, like us (no big deal)- In the name of having your voice heard, don’t give us the last word.

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