Local Govs – You Need A Ning

harringayonline1Regular readers and offline folks may have heard me talk about how an effective community outreach strategy for a local government might involve a Ning network. It’s a concept informed by discussions with smart folks like Andrew Krzmarzick, participation on the great govie network GovLoop.com, and by the success of the State Department’s Ning, exchangesconnect.

Yesterday, Dominic Campbell of the UK consultancy Future Gov, pointed out two perfect examples of what I’m talking about. Dominic told me that Harringay online actually has 1,000 members in a community of just 13,000 – and it’s citizen run.

Local governments – the people are ready. Are you?

17 thoughts on “Local Govs – You Need A Ning

  1. I think the Ning networks have such HUGE potential for any community or group. I would so jump into a local Ning network for my community.
    I’ve been toying with the idea of a Ning for our local school/PTA. But the few folks I’ve approached are hesitant. The only thing about getting a Ning network going is you need a nice sized group to get it off the ground. I think for a school or PTA it would be great. Schools could always use a better way for teachers & parents to connect. Not to mention sports groups, clubs etc. Also, if you get a big enough group, you could possibly make a little money off selling local ads (a huge plus for schools).

  2. Great post, Adriel. Last week, I had conversations with two different groups about launching a Ning community – my church and a coalition of international advocacy organizations. I’m working with both of them to get started. Why is Ning great? Two key reasons: (1) Free (unless you want to remove the ads) and (2) Flexibility that allows for customization (versus Facebook). In order to promote the use of Ning among local government, we should create a list akin to GovTwit that provides samples…which will lead to ideas and (hopefully) implementation by other cities and towns.

  3. Thanks Adriel. Always nice to be mentioned in despatches. I hope we can act as a useful reference point for others. (For our mistakes as well as our successes).

    And this stuff really does work. A healthy and growing membership is great – (It’s gone up since I last updated Dominic and I probably made a mistake on the target population. We’re now at 1,300+ out of a 15,000 community) – and good user/usage stats are great too.

    BUT what really counts for us is the impacts we’re making on the ground. I guess we’re still a little surprised at how it’s all worked really.

    My humble advice to Meghan (above) is that you need one person to start a Ning site (and a little time) as long as you have a membership pool to target.

    Buena suerte to all the budding neighbourhood ningers out there.

  4. Pingback: FutureGov » Useful links » links for 2009-03-02

  5. Not intending to be the voice of dissent, but I’m very hesitant to support local governments embracing Ning for the very reason Andrew mentioned in his comment: the only way to remove the advertisements is by paying for the service.

    In that sense, Ning is not *really* open source.

    For the past few months, I’ve kept Elgg in the back of my mind. And today, I came across Barnraiser. Both are open source, ad-free, and fairly easy to implement from what I hear. Elgg (not sure about the other) is also PHP, enabling connections to Pligg, WordPress, Drupal, etc.

    http://elgg.com
    http://barnraiser.org

    I like Ning. But for a local government agency (or any government agency)? Hesitant.

  6. The fee is pretty nominal fee (around 25.00) to remove those ads. Ad space could be then sold to local businesss, giving the city a small (with potential) but steady stream of extra income. Thats been my idea for our creating one for our PTA. Right now any little additional income for the city would be welcomed. Or the site could just be ad free, for that small fee.
    I think the simplicity of Ning is it’s beauty and the biggest advantage of all.

  7. I’ve been experiementing with a few hosted networks for LG, and in addition to those already mentioned, I’ve come across Grou.ps (http://grou.ps) and Social GO (http://www.socialgo.com/).

    Both seem pretty new and have different approaches to open source/charging models.

    I can’t find many reference sites out there to look at, so would be interested in any feedback from people who have used/investigated these.

  8. Fair enough, Meghan, but Ning doesn’t enable Digg-like functions. I’ve probed around with some folks on Twitter and have discovered some are creating ingenious ways of merging Elgg and Pligg.

  9. Awright, you sold me, I’ll set up one of these for my town, maybe in association with a couple folks running for office. So …. concerns about advertising aside (and they’re legit) what platforms should we consider besides Ning? I’ve not set up a Ning before so any tips are welcome about what options on it are going to be most empowering and informative for cits and their representatives. My first reaction to looking at the example is that I have to wonder if a lot of the elements belong more on a hyperlocal news site than a government-connected page. But I’ll play around with the site and welcome your ideas.

  10. Walter, Harringay Online is citizen-run. Initially we were not popular at all with the local authority. They’re getting their heads around us now and seeing the positive. Over here local govt is trying to work out what its relationship should be with sites like ours.

  11. From an elected city official’s perspective, the concern about open source can be added to concern about open public meeting laws if a site were sponsored by a City Council or utilized too extensively by the Council. If a majority of the councilmembers were engaged on the blog and a citizen called for public record’s review, the blog could be construed as part of the public record. The City Clerk could be called upon to review the entire blog and include it in the city’s official record.

    Reviewing a site to gain input from or a better understanding of constituents is one thing but participating in it from a Councilmember’s perspective would require some legal guidelines to remain compliant with State Open Public Meeting Acts.

    I know of fellow Councilmembers outside of my municipality who have successfully created online tools for communicating with the public and I am interested in taking the lead in my community so am following all your ideas on LinkedIn, Ning, Elgg, Pligg, Grou.ps, Social GO, Digg, and the host of other potential sources for connecting with web-savvy constituents.

    I’d be curious what some of you see as the pros and cons of the various options for both people who are actively engaged in web connections and those who may never have connected to any groups. We have a segment of our population that is not so web-savvy and I’d like to find non-intimidating ways to engage them on-line. Pros for savvy groups may be cons for the not-so-savvy and vice versa. Any thoughts?

    I find it interesting that Town Hall meetings tend to draw a larger not-so-web-savvy crowd that the web-savvy constituents do not attend as readily. Elected Officials need to be engaged in both realms to connect with constituents.

  12. Thanks everyone, for the great comments. Tim, I’d say that these networks are open and non-deliberative. I don’t think you are going to have a lot of trouble re: public records. Perhaps Ning’s member sign-in could be a problem, though. I agree you need a really easy interface, and also be connected with tech-savvy and non-tech savvy folks. If you look deeper into my writings here, you’ll see I advocate tech solutions as a way to greatly expand access and participation by non-techie folks who simply can’t be at meetings but would like to express, have input and be informed.

  13. It took me several hours to realize the same concern that Tim expressed, and it’s a real one. Washington state law is very specific that a majority of council members can only engage in discussion about public policy if their discussion is agendized as part of a properly noticed public meeting.

    The purpose of the law is that members of the public are entitled to see the deliberations of their elected officials.

    So maybe what I have to do is set something up and ban other electeds from it, or just include the candidates for office who are not incumbents … I frankly have no idea and am still thinking through it.

  14. Adriel,
    I’ll take you up on your challenge to read more. I, too, am looking for tech solutions.

    Our very cross-generational community is not as engaged in the political process as I would hope except in rare cases where potential decisions change the status quo.

    My goal when I became involved as an elected official was to engage the population in the more routine political process. I see tech solutions as the easy answer for constituents who are web-savvy. I’d also like to find ways to enable less than web-savvy constituents to be comfortable with blogs without all the sign-up fuss.

    A couple frustrations I’ve run into with some national and partisan sites, including some for my own representatives, is the timing out components that require cut and paste from word processors or require a bit more than basic knowledge of what districts, etc. I live in before I can leave a comment. It is quite frankly infuriating after thinking through and researching a topic while writing in the comment section and discovering after I click “submit” that it timed out and lost all my comments. That factor tends especially tends to discourage less than web-savvy people from participating.

    As a matter of perspective, I stopped in the middle of this comment to see how easy it might be to set up a Ning Community. Check it out at stanwood.ning.com and let me know what you think. Now I just need to populate it. 🙂

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