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City Services

eDemocracy

Seattle Democracy Portal Drives Civic Participation

Nov 18 2003 03:34PM
By Michelle Gamble-Risley, Government Technology

The idea of using the Internet to promote civic participation is the driving force behind the creation of the Seattle Democracy Portal. The site was built to help change the relationship of citizens and government and encourage participation in the political process. City Council meetings are no longer relegated to the far reaches of a cable channel. With the Seattle Democracy Portal, citizens can use the Web site to view live videostreams of the Seattle Channel TV signal and utilize an extensive video archive of over 900 sessions to watch past meetings.

Built with vendor partner Real Networks on an inexpensive budget of $200,000 a year added to pre-existing programs to cover three extra staff positions, the portal focuses on issues of civic importance. Materials are presented topically, with internal and external links to documents, videos, articles in the media, and opportunities for interaction. Rather than just posting a plan or proposal, the site provides extensive analysis, tracks the plan through the public participation and legislative review process, and highlights opportunities for public involvement, media coverage, and more.

It also includes: information about current TV programs, including weekly current affairs programs; the opportunity to e-mail questions that are asked of the mayor on a monthly call-in program; the daily TV schedule; weekly polls on current issues; and other features designed to make it easy for citizens to become more involved in issues that affect their lives.

Almost all of the council-meeting videos are indexed, making it easy for users to go directly to the topic of interest. The indexing is done efficiently, with time codes marked while the video is being produced and entered into a script developed internally by the Web staff. Videos are also posted almost immediately, with indexing usually available by the next day.

"We realize that some people don't want to sit through listening to hours of meetings," said Rona Zevin, director of the Office of Electronic Communications in the Department of Information Technology. "So, we're trying to do several things. For the Web, we believe that the index helps people find what they're looking for quickly. We make it possible for people to search for and find a particular topic and listen to that. They don't have to listen to a three-hour meeting to find the one subject they want to watch. And we're doing programming where we summarize what's happening, what's coming up, and what opportunities are available for people to participate."

Additionally, 2004 plans include a major initiative to create a new program centered on the City Council, with the goal of enhancing coverage of council meetings with more direct links to related materials. Staff also plans to work on making the meetings more interactive so council members and participates can use links to find out more information about what is being discussed. "We're also going to do a program where council members talk about issues coming before ther committees," added Zevin.

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