Expanding civic engagement through online technology

Yesterday, a few of the NC Sierra Club staff got the opportunity to attend a workshop put on by The Triangle Community Foundation. The workshop was entitled Civic Engagement and Technology, Connecting People, Information and Causes in an Online Era.

It was a great treat to hear from some of our non-profit colleagues here in the Triangle about what tools they are using to better engage citizens and their members in their organizations' causes. Also, Rob Stuart, President of Evolve Strategies led most of the discussions. He is a famous "early adopter" of using the internet as a way to connect networks of people to political causes and advocacy. Among the tools we looked at were social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook to promote and connect more people to our organizations, web-widgets which are portable chunks of html code which can be used on multiple websites to gain information from the public about a particular issue. We looked at wikis which is a software that creates an interactive website where different people can contribute to the content of the website without knowing html (like Wikipedia). Some organizations are even utilizing YouTube as a method for online training of volunteers.

There are dozens of tools out there that can educate people on the issues, connect people to each other and their common causes, but the workshop also made it clear that it's important to use these tools as a spring board to real action. It is important to moving these people offline into the real world to engage in actions such as phonebanking, participating in community meetings or talking to public officials in person.

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