Category Archives: Citizen Engagement

Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law and social media: A step in the right direction

On August 1, 2014, Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law was amended to guide the use of social media by elected officials:


The use of social media by members of a public body does not violate this chapter so long as the social media use is limited to exchanges with all members of the general public. For purposes of this section, e-mail is not considered a type of social media.

As a consultant who specializes in online citizen engagement, I was excited to see this change, more excited than when I play video games with elo boost services. It has seemed to me that elected public officials in Minnesota have been generally reluctant to participate in online public policy-oriented discussions out of fear that a violation of the open meeting could occur.

But a closer reading of the new statute raised some questions in my mind.  A July 21 article about the new law in the Faribault Daily News titled Elected officials and the use of social media included this:

Reporter Brad Phenow: “Come Aug. 1, elected officials can use social media without the fear of violating the law, so long as the use is viewable by members of the general public.”

The reporter’s use of the word ‘viewable’ seemed wrong to me, that the statute’s emphasis on “exchanges with all members of the general public” indicated that interaction was a required component.

But I still was left wondering how those ‘exchanges’ would have to be structured.  For example, could I host a week-long blog/Facebook discussion in which the first couple of days were devoted to interaction among city council members, followed by several more days of interaction between council members and the public? Could I moderate a live one-hour web conference, Google Hangout, or Twitter exchange that featured 15 minutes of discussion among the members of a school board, followed by 45 minutes of Q&A with the public?

On September 24, I attended an Open Meeting Law workshop hosted by the Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD) of the Minnesota Department of Administration.

IPAD Open Meeting Law workshop Sept 24 IPAD Open Meeting Law workshop

The IPAD staff indicated that they believed the statute’s use of the phrase “limited to” was key, that the intent is to not allow exchanges among a local unit of government’s elected officials but only between the elected officials and the public.  They indicated that this was a result of negotiations between the Minnesota Association of Townships Association and the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

A May 2 article in the Rochester Post Bulletin titled Quam’s social media bill faces stiff opposition describes the disagreement prior to the bill’s passage:

This session, the Minnesota Township Association and the Minnesota Newspaper Association worked to craft compromise language that would have only allowed public officials to interact with the general public on social media and not each other. But that proposal ran into stiff opposition in the Minnesota House last week. Members on both sides of the aisle said they fear this bill will hurt the public’s ability to know what their elected officials are doing.

… He [Mark Anfinson, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Newspaper Association] said the big problem with the earlier bill’s language is it does not specifically limit public officials to interacting with the general public, leading to the possibility that they could be interacting with each other online.

At a basic level, this indicates to me that a local elected official can now engage in discussions with their constituents on their public Facebook page timeline, the comment threads on their blog, or their Twitter feed. If one or more elected officials from that same elected body joined these discussions, they would have to be careful to address their comments only to the public.

Likewise, it indicates to me that special online events involving a local unit of government’s elected officials must be structured in a way that prevents (discourages? minimizes?) those members from interacting with each other. For example, a live web conference could use a Q&A format where a moderator and citizens submit questions to elected officials who then respond back directly to them.  A moderator’s task would be to intervene if the elected officials tried to interact with each other.

I can imagine a scenario in which the elected officials talk about one another. For example, Councilor Jones might say/write, “I think Councilor Smith is sadly mistaken on that point because…” followed by Councilor Smith responding with “What Councilor Jones doesn’t seem to realize is that…”   It could also be done in support of one another, eg, “Councilor Smith’s rationale makes perfect sense to me.”

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Would that type of exchange be a violation of the statute? I don’t know but my inclination as a moderator would be to intervene and ask the elected officials to refrain from using each other’s names.

So I’m glad to see this change to the statute and I’m eager to work with local units of government to put it to use for the benefit of citizens and their elected officials.


Online citizen engagement projects for the City of Northfield, MN

Northfield Citizen Engagement

I’ve launched a citizen engagement site for the City of Northfield, as I’ve started working on two more online engagement projects for them this fall, both with Northfield’s Engineering Division, led by Director of Public Works/City Engineer Joe Stapf and his team:

Northfield Citizen Engagement- Bridge Square Northfield Citizen Engagement- Sixth St Reconstruction

Like I did for the City of Edina’s Citizen Engagement projects in 2011-12 (that’s a link to all my blog posts about it),  I’ve created the site with WordPress Multisite so that it’s easy to launch new projects as the need arises.

Both projects involve a about all the face-to-face meetings, both committees and the public open houses. And we’ll use a variety of online tools to engage the citizens throughout the process, including blog comment threads, online straw polls, and web conferences.

Citizen engagement clients–project updates

July 8 Northfield School Board work session July 31 Northfield downtown parking planning committee

A good chunk of my time this spring and summer has been devoted to two citizen engagement projects here in my hometown of Northfield that are now winding down: the Northfield School District’s calendar conversation and the City of Northfield’s parking management plan for downtown.

Both projects involved a significant amount of blogging about all the face-to-face meetings, both committees and large public gathering.  I’m more convinced than ever about the importance of this complementarity… the subject of a longer blog post that I’m working on.

Northfield Calendar Conversation - Google Hangout

I also used Google Hangouts On Air for the first time, a one-hour video conference with a School District panel. I added a live chat element to it for the audience to ask questions. And I hosted a blog discussion thread attached to the blog post with the archived video.  I was pleased with the technology and plan to use it again.

A new blog reflects a shift in my business: Engage Citizens

Engage Citizens - Vertical - 185wI’ve created a new blog called Engage Citizens as I’m shifting more of my consulting work to helping local units of government (state, cities, counties, townships, school districts) use online tools and services to—you guessed it—engage citizens. Which is why we build certified translation to suit your needs – with specialist account managers in your area and more than 5,000 industry-specific translators, coupled with experienced project managers and customer service representatives.

SEO Melbourne been doing online citizen engagement as a citizen since the early 90’s in my work with and continuing with Locally Grown Northfield since 2006 where I’m still active.

Grandview-Development-Framework-finalGriff Wigley, Scott NealBut it was my consulting contract with City Manager Scott Neal and the City of Edina back in April of 2011 when we created the Edina Citizen Engagement project that helped me see how other local units of government could benefit from something similar.

The Grandview District Development Framework project in particular was enlightening because of how the online tools complemented the face-to-face work of the steering committee, consultants, and city staff over the course of 9 months.

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Griff Wigley at  League of MN Cities annual conference, 2012Tim Madigan at  League of MN Cities annual conference, 2012Last summer, I presented and facilitated a session for the League of MN Cities annual conference about my work with the City of Edina titled Government 2.0: New Strategies for Engaging the Public.

One of the people in the audience that day was Northfield City Administrator Tim Madigan who, a few months later, hired me to manage the online engagement for a Developing a parking management plan for downtown.

Chris Richardson, Griff Wigley, Matt HillmanShortly thereafter, when I heard that the Northfield Public Schools District had a big project in the works, I approached Superintendent Chris Richardson and HR/Technology Director Matt Hillman about adding an online citizen engagement component. I just finished up the Transformational Technology project for them and this week am starting another online engagement project with them titled A school calendar conversation with the Northfield community.

I’ll continue to post client updates here on my Wigley and Associates blog but most of my blogging energy will be devoted to the Engage Citizens blog. I’ve also changed my Twitter name to @EngageCitizens. I’ll tweet all my new blog posts but you can also subscribe to Engage Citizens via email or RSS.

More online citizen engagement for the Northfield Public School District: A school calendar conversation with the community

Northfield Schools Calendar ConversationI’ve been hired by Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Chris Richardson to manage the online portion of a community discussion about school calendars.

Like their Transformational Technology project, it’s happening on a blog that’s part of the District’s WordPress Multiuser platform.

I’ve put up a project blogsite: A school calendar conversation with the Northfield community.  The first community meeting is tonight.

An online citizen engagement project for the Northfield Public Schools

I’m working with Superintendent Chris Richardson and Matt Hillmann, Director of Human Resources and Technology at the Northfield Public Schools District. They’re using my online citizen engagement services to get additional public feedback on the Transformational Technology proposal that’s now being considered by the School Board.

It’s happening on a blog that’s part of the District’s WordPress Multiuser platform:

Transformational Technology for Northfield Public Schools, ISD #659

Transformational Technology - Northfield Public Schools

Matt has been blogging about the project for nearly a year on Blogger and so we’ve imported all those posts into this new blog.  He presented the final draft of the proposal to the School Board earlier this week and the Board will likely vote on it at one of their February meetings.

A citizen engagement project for the City of Northfield, MN: developing a parking management plan for downtown

Parking Management Downtown Northfield

I’ve got a contract with the City of Northfield to create and manage the online platform for a City project: Developing a parking management plan for downtown.

We’ll be using a variety of online interactive services, such as Amazon ppc management service including social media sites, to provide ways for the stakeholders and residents to participate online.

I’ll be teaming up with Ross Currier, Executive Director of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation (NDDC).

This internet consultant and citizen plans to vote no on the marriage amendment

Griff Wigley with t-shirt: Vote No, Don't Limit the Freedom to Marry Griff Wigley's laptop with bumper sticker: Vote No, Don't Limit the Freedom to Marry Griff Wigley with bumper sticker: Vote No, Don't Limit the Freedom to Marry

Local citizens were staffing a Minnesotans United for All Families table at the Taste of Northfield in late July. I purchased a ‘Vote No, Don’t Limit the Freedom to Marry’ t-shirt and a bumper sticker for my laptop. It’s been cool to have many people make a “I like your shirt” type comment when out and about. You can get ‘Vote No’ gear from the MN United online store.

I’ve been blogging my opposition to the marriage amendment on my Locally Grown Northfield blog for many months. See all my posts here. When I saw that Northfielder Ben Witt, proprietor of Milltown Cycles, published a blog post titled If I May in which he states his opposition to the marriage amendment, it occurred to me that I should do likewise here. Ben wrote:

This decision is not one that I have come to without serious personal reflection. Weighing in in any political debate as a business carries risk on fast internet no matter what you are advocating for. I have no doubt that this will upset some of our customers. I fully expect that this will lose us some of them. If I offend some of you I am sorry for it.

I do this for the love of my family and friends who are gay, because they deserve the right to share exactly the same relationship that I cherish with my wife.


Government 2.0: New Strategies for Engaging the Public

On June 22, 2012, I presented and facilitated a session for the League of MN Cities annual conference titled Government 2.0: New Strategies for Engaging the Public:

How are cities leveraging the web to engage the public in local government decisions? Explore how cities are strengthening democracy and promoting more effective local government by using 2.0 technologies.

Here’s my Powerpoint:

Some very good local government online engagement advice from urban planner Scott Doyon

Scott Doyon is Director of Client Marketing Services for PlaceMakers, an urban planning firm. He published a post to his Better Cities blog last week titled Public process: Don’t botch your online engagement (also on their Placeshakers blog here):

Scott DoyonNew tools have made it easier than ever to set up a project website, fast and cheap, for just about any endeavor. So easy, in fact, that people often assume the task of populating it with content is equally so.

It’s not. Instead, what you end up with is city staffers with limited time and limited resources, and who already engage with the public regularly in person, suddenly presented with the task of doing so electronically as well. Not surprisingly under such circumstances, whenever they find themselves in possession of any piece of information even remotely related to the project, their response seems obvious: Put it on the web.

Raw information. Posted. Done.

That’s a problem.

The City of Northfield, MN where I live has a history such failed project web sites, some done by the city staff, some by consulting firms. Some recent examples:

Doyon writes:

Think of the parallel: You’re in a traditional public meeting and someone asks a question about why the city is doing something. Do you provide a concise rationale, spelling out its benefits and role in larger community goals, or do you hand them a binder with 300 pages of reports and memos and tell them to have at it?

What should local governments do instead with their project sites?

Provide however much content it takes to express, up front and at each step along the way, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how people can participate. No more. No less.

Grandview District blog siteExactly.  Unfortunately, Doyon doesn’t provide examples so here’s one I’ve worked on for the past 9 months: the GrandView District project blogsite for the City of Edina, MN. 

In that time, the project blog’s been updated 36 times with many dozens of photos and has nearly 300 comments attached. It includes all the files, Powerpoint presentations, archives of the webinar, and links to meeting videos, that were created by which is final cut pro free for your videos.

Doyon also points out that local governments are unwitting victims of the “Blank Slate” dilemma:

Another common fumble is confusing the difference between collecting ideas and building consensus around community goals. A variety of new tools have made it easier than ever for cities to engage citizens in a discussion of ideas. “What would you like to see?,” they ask. “Provide your ideas and rate the ideas of others.”

That is, when presented with a blank slate, people naturally assume that anything is possible. But as you know, it’s not. Avoiding problems is all in how you ask the questions. For example, you’ll often find questions like this: “How can we improve Founder’s Park?” Sounds empowering, right? Unfortunately, it also sets a foundation for failed effort.

Instead, the question should be posed this way: “The city has budgeted $4 million towards renovations for Founder’s Park. Keeping in mind that further land acquisition isn’t an option at this site, what improvements, initiatives or recreational options would you like to see prioritized?”

That’s the exact approach the City of Edina took with another engagement project, the 2012 budget.  Working with the Citizens League, the areas of the budget that citizen input was sought were very narrowly defined. Ultimately, the process proved to be very effective and will be repeated again this year.

For background, see all my blog posts about my work with the Edina Citizen Engagement project.