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What IS a Local Issues Forum? Why start one?

Written by Michael (admin)
Thursday, 12 February 2009 21:14

What is a Local Issues Forum? Why start one in Westborough?

Simply put, a Local Issues Forum is an online public commons where any citizen, journalist, or elected official can:

  • post an idea
  • ask a question
  • make a public announcement
  • connect with one another
  • monitor public opinion
  • ask for public input
  • and where journalists can look for story ideas or identify sources for articles.

The goal of a Local Issues Forum is to give everyone a greater voice in local decisions and encourage more citizen participation in local public policy making. It also provides a forum for decision-makers to receive immediate feedback from the community on issues that must be decided or voted on.

One of the most important features of a Local Issues Forum is that it is citizen driven. Anyone can introduce a topic, concern or idea for discussion as long as it relates to an issue that impacts the quality of life in the local community. A Local Issues Forum empowers individual citizens to bring their ideas, suggestions and concerns to the forefront of public attention.

Why Should Citizens Participate in a Local Issues Forum?

A dynamic community is one in which citizens interact and work together in a variety of constructive ways. Unfortunately, we all lead busy lives and it is not always convenient to attend a local meeting or interact with your local elected official. A Local Issues Forum provides an alternative means for you to contribute to the civic health of your community in a flexible manner. Here are some reasons why you might want to participate:

Top 5 Reasons, Why A Citizen Should Participate

1. Keep up with community happenings
2. Network with other local citizens
3. Ask questions – get useful information
4. Share your opinion on important local issues
5. Connect with elected officials and city staff

Top 5 Reasons, Why A Community Activist Should Participate

1. Place to post announcements about meetings & events.
2. Network with other community activists
3. Keep your local issue in front of the community
4. Keep your issue in front of the press
5. Keep up with NEWS in the community

Why Should/Do Elected Officials and Decisions Makers Participate?

Some decision makers/elected officials may be skeptical about the value of participating in a Local Issues Forum. They are concerned about becoming “too available” or getting “sucked” into another project. Here are some very practical reasons, why they might want to try it out:

Top 5 Reasons, Why An Elected Official Should Participate

1. Fear of being left out of important discussions
2. A great place to float trial balloons
3. Instant citizen feedback
4. Early warning system for “hot” issues
5. Dispel rumors before they do damage

How does it work?

I'm proposing a Local Issues Forum that combines the capabilities of both an easy-to-use web site alongside a more traditional “email discussion group,” the latter also known as a "listserv", "list", or "online forum". If you are active online, you probably have already encountered such lists. When you want to share your thoughts with the Local Issues Forum, you send an email to one address and the “SERVER” forwards your message to everyone else who is a member of the group. When anyone else on the group sends a response to your message, their response is forwarded to every other member of the group. The result is an ongoing community discussion that takes place in your email “in-box.” Our system will allow for participants to participate either through email or a web interface, or both.

Keep in mind, that messages to a Local Issues Forum are often forwarded to friends, distributed on other local listserves, or incorporated in media coverage of the issue. So, the impact of your Local Issues Forum extends beyond the immediate subscriber list. Possible outcomes of a discussion in your Local Issues Forum range from increased citizen awareness of a particular issue or problem to direct action by local government officials or agencies.

Is this of interest to you? Want to be involved?

I'm seeking a few people to help establish a Local Issues Forum for Westborough.  You don't even have to be that computer savvy -- if you're reading this, and would like to see us realize a resource as described above, you're qualified! 

Participation in this initial "steering committee" would involve a few initial discussions via email and private online forum, and then an in-person meeting to discuss topics such as our charter statement, and the plan to recruit initial forum participants.  A LOT of the process has already been ironed out by E-Democracy.org, so we don't have to re-invent the wheel whatsoever.  It'll be a blast!

Imagine what our next Town Meeting could be like, with attendees having had a chance to explore and civilly discuss the issues in advance?

IF YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST OR QUESTIONS, or just want to be kept apprised of our progress, please send an email to:


Thank You!
/Michael Hyde


Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 March 2009 13:13