Thinking about using the social web to do democratic things…..

Europetitions and how to tell a story in 5 languages

I’ve spent most of the week in Vincenza in northern Italy at a Europetitions project meeting. The point of the project is to try and get support for petitions to the European Parliament from more than one member state. Petitioning the european parliament is actually quite popular – however the petitions tend to be fairly local in scope and as a result do not tend to have the reach and impact that you might achieve with the support of wider network. This question of trans-European petitions becomes even more pressing when considered in the context of the European Citizens Initiative which, if it can ever be bureaucratically untangled, has the potential to lob a fairly explosive grenade into the heart of the European Parliament. Let’s see how that goes shall we?!!

On a separate note this is interesting in that the parliament is seeing one solution to the democratic deficit within our representative democracy as creating a poweful direct democracy instrument. I think it’s important to be clear on the role of the representative within these ideas and this is another element of this that I will watch with interest.

Anyway, Europetitions is in it’s final trial stage where we are now trying to promote and communicate petitions through the network. As ever with projects there have been a number of learning points about the process outside of the formal evaluation process that is being run by Peter Cruikshank (aka @spartakan) at Edinburgh Napier University.

The comments are very much in the context of Europetitions going well and heading towards a successful conclusion – I’ m just an over demanding perfectionist who can always see ways to do stuff better

  • Build your story early on – these huge project documents and useless at trying to get a team of people to work together.  You need to build a simple and compelling story for the project which people can narrate to others in their organisation.  Do this early and you get people’s whole efforts from the start
  • Establish your channels of communication – no really – get a huge group emailing list and start using it with short informative updates.  Don’t try and do fancy discussion boards and wiki’s until people are begging for fewer emails.  And use social media – set up that facebook page, do a group on LinkedIn and tweet like the flock of sparrows that you are.
  • Communicate little and often – make it convenient to read and not to write – you may feel better from putting everything in one email but you know no-one will read it.  If you want to have an impact time the time to separate it into shorter actionable messages.
  • Agree and communicate expectations – the only shared reason for being in a funded project is the funding.  Find out what your partners need to gain strategically and institutionally and build this into the project.  Your project team will all have different starting points – you need to make sure that you are accommodating them all.  Some people might have very limited requirements and others will be trying to advance the cutting edge – understand who wants to get to where.
  • Eat and drink – these social events can seem like a waste of money, and the small talk can be tedious, but they make a huge difference to your ability to get along
  • Agree your high minded and then more pragmatic objectives – and then make sure you are all happy with these.  Sometimes you need to include some more cosmetic outcomes for political reasons – suck it up and do it.
  • Don’t start things you can’t finish – most project over scope at the start.  be less ambitious and achieve more – and build ideas of sustainability in from the start.
  • Really only do projects you want to do -50% funding isn’t a lot if you don’t want to do the other 50%
  • Keep the project management going between meetings – project management needs to happen even if the folks aren’t in front of you
  • Language – keep to the pace of the person whose understands the least Don’t exclude the non-native speakers but extend this thought to non-technical people – provide translations when you are talking technically

Anyway – this is fairly quick and dirty post – and I will make sure I re-read it again before the kickoff of our next project.  Any other tips are gratefully received!!!!!

2 Responses to “Europetitions and how to tell a story in 5 languages”

  1. I’ve been mulling this over, and also catching up with the blogs I watch – sorry about the slow response.

    There’s nothing to disagree with in your list. One thing I would want to add though (kind of related to sustainablity) is think about the citizens. E-Participation projects if they’re any good will make an impact on some peoples’ lives, so just stopping a service when the project funding comes to an end doesn’t seem right: It needs to be clear early on what’s going to be done with live activities (how will the participants be told the game’s over, who will tell them).

    For instance, to take EuroPetition as an example, I think there’s a moral commitment to supporting existing petitions through to completion by the service provider, and by the local authorities. But that’s easy for me to say and I won’t have to do any of it!

    PS It’s Cruickshank, but thanks for the namecheck anyway!

  2. Peter – I am so sorry – I consistently spell your name wrong!!! Have now added it to spellchecker on both my laptops in an effort to avoid this in the future….

    And yes – you are of course right – we often end up on a very euro-bubble state on this projects where we, like the parliament, are 3 stages removed from the people we are trying to help.

    I take your point re: moral commitment – but you do need a group will to do this – which is I suppose why its important to get a strong project dynamic in play at the start of the project.

    C.

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