These are links to recommended sites to help your organization practice effective deliberative democracy and transparent governance.
Simple Technology and Tips for Co-ops and NGOs
A short list of tools, sites and tips for people who are responsible for technical work and decisions within co-operatives, community and not-for-profit organizations.
Gmail.com or Google.com/a/smallbiz/
Gmail gives you an easy to use email account, great spam filtering and tons of storage space, plus collaborative online documents and spreadsheets (these are really useful), a shared calendar and a very basic web page, all for free. If you want to use MyName@YourOwnDomain.coop you’ll need a geek friend to spend 30 minutes to set up Google Apps, which is also free.
Create a free personalized group site. Add pages, forums, photos and various widgets. Pay $14.95 USD per month to remove the ads.
An easy way to upload and share really big files, like that 11MB PowerPoint slide show that you can’t e-mail.
Host conference calls for free (although long-distance charges apply). Or get 10 cents minute/caller toll-free calls with MP3 audio recordings.
Easily recognize ideal dates to schedule a meeting with multiple people. Great for avoiding email/phone tag to decide a meeting date.
DimDim.com - coming soon. In the mean time try Glance or WebEx
Host online meetings complete with PowerPoint slides, shared screens, whiteboards, chat, web cams and audio. A recommended alternative to the time and expense of arranging and traveling to face-to-face meetings.
Create a simple web based survey for 100 people for free or pay $20 month for up to 1000 respondents. Very easy to use and the results can viewed online or exported in different spreadsheet format.
A collection of simple web tools for project and contact management. BaseCamp makes life easier.
Send and track your invoices online. Get paid.
A set of free applications that work just like Word, Excel and PowerPoint without supporting "the man".
Other sites to help you find the technical solutions you need:
TechSoup.org - Idealware.org - SocialSourceCommons.org - iTrainOnline.org
All the information and links you will ever need to develop an awesome co-operative in Canada. Hundreds of organized resources to download, listings of training opportunities and contact info for smart developers in your province to help answer your co-op questions.
Register your own domain with a .coop. They offer hosting too.
Some Website Building Tips
Write a Request for Proposals and choose between at least three different suppliers who propose to develop your site.
Start with a simple and cheap brochure site with your basic info on it, and then at least people can find you online while you are waiting to finish your super cool site.
Expect to spend at least $2000 to $5000 with a professional supplier to have your full featured custom website planned, designed, built and your staff trained to edit and manage it. Budget at least a total of $700 a year for hosting and professional support and technical maintenance. You can pay less or find volunteers, but can you afford to lose $10,000 opportunities because your $300 website broke, does not inspire confidence or lacks key features?
You need a content management system (CMS). A CMS allows you to easily edit the web pages and add new menu options yourself. Using a popular open source CMS, like Drupal or Joomla, allows you to move from one supplier to another without much hassle. "Open source" is a model that compliments co-op values. Ask for it by name!
You can get more tips, consultation and service from Anarres.ca, CommunityBandwidth.ca, Communicopia.net, OpenConcept.ca, PXI.ca, Web.ca - all friends who do smart web development for progressive Canadian organizations.
Writing for the Web
People read web sites differently then they read paper pubications. On the web, people visually scan for chuncks of useful information and link to and from related pages and sites. With this in mind, here are some key tips for writing effectively on the web.
Get to the point. Start with the conclusion
Be yourself. Write conversationally.
Write short, tight paragraphs.
Stay on topic.
Avoid unnecessary wordiness. Half the word count (or less) than conventional writing.
Make your title attention grabbing and still descriptive.
Preview your edits. Make sure mark-up and links work.
Proof-read and spellcheck your work.
Include many useful link references.
Avoid "marketese" e.g. "hottest ever" and “leading edge”.
Write for your audiences’ needs.
Avoid hyperbole e.g. “My Web site has a zillion pages.”
Check your facts and include links to support your claims.
Remember your audience is global.
Write to be Scanned
Chunk the information into bite-sized bits.
Write meaningful headlines for each thought.
Use bulleted lists or a table instead of narrative paragraphs.
Use keywords in the title and introduction / abstract.
Bold keywords throughout.
Use action verbs, i.e. avoid flat verbs like: is, have, was.
Make links describe their destination. Avoid the use of “click here”.
Use one idea per paragraph
Establish a consistent writing style and use of terminology through-out your site.
Decide on a common reference, e.g. The Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary
Recommend spellings: e-mail Web online Internet
Avoid jargon and spell-out acronyms the first time used on each page.
Attribution Best Practices
It's OK to link to any page on the net without requesting permission.
Reposting anything more than a link and quoted paragraph requires getting the author’s permission.
Use and recommend the use of Creative Commons licenses – these promote the easy distribution of great content. See creativecommons.org
Online Tools for Brainstorming, Deliberating and Rating Ideas
While my main interest is in tools for group decision making and governance that people can us without the need for computers, I am frequently asked by the geek types "Hey, I bet dotmocracy would work great online. Do you have a web version?" In short, I don't but there are web applications for brainstorming ideas, deliberating them, rating and recognizing the level of agreement among participants, similar to the paper based dotmocracy process. Here is short list of the best ones I found:
dialogr free web service allows user to quicly register, create topics, post ideas on each topic, rate each idea out of 5 stars and post comments on ideas. Unlike dotmocracy it does not include the "Confusion" rating option, nor does it graph the number of votes per each star, thus users don't know if voting is poloarized or not. That said, so far this is the best out-of-the-box free web based collaborative decision-making tool I have found.
An excellent collection of tools for brainstorming, categorizing, priortization / voting, action planning, surveying and documenting. Unfortunately you are looking at around $18,000 USD for license fees and training.
This is a key application used by AmericaSpeaks for their 21st Century Town Hall Meetings. They don't tell you much about the software on their public site but I can tell you it cost over $10,000 USD for set-up, training and license. You can peak at a demo at www.webcouncil.com/wcapps
Software and services for live large group decision-making. Their latest application called ThinkTank looks quite ideal, except for the price, which was around US $35 seat/day, $105 seat/week, or $200 seat/month (a seat is required for every logged in user).
This is a new web service for controlled and structured posting and voting on content, at last check it was just videos. Seems like it has a lot of potential.
This is a free-ware application for hosting a basic Delphi method which has similar characteristic to dotmocracy. unfortunatly the usability is a bit lacking in the software interface.
Hosted groups with rating features
Both free Yahoo groups and Google groups allows users to post topics, comment and to rate each comment. I'd like to see if any organizations are formally using these features for collective decision making.
Content Management Systems with rating options
Drupal CMS with VoteAPI module and probably some modules/plug-ins/features on other content management systems or forum tools (e.g. phpBB) could be configured or modestly upgraded to provide for similar idea rating, commenting, and graphing that is core to dotmocracy.
If you can suggest other applications for brainstorming ideas, deliberating them, rating and recognizing the level of agreement among participants, please let me know via a comment below. Thanks. -JD