I’ve been digging around to see how Discourse is being used across different sectors and I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock. I’m really curious to know if Discourse is being used in the public sector, like on government websites or forums.
The whole idea of open discussions and community engagement seems like a perfect fit for government sites, ne? I’m sure there are some great examples out there.
If you’ve come across any Discourse-powered government sites or know of any resources that could point me in the right direction, I’d really appreciate it.
Thx, Maiki! I have limited experience in Discourse communities, but have experienced enough to know that it may have tremendous potential in the public sector, and for municipal or city- or town-wide applications. Building on the distinction that you made in your initial reply to my question, I am currently thinking that “login required” (or intranet-type access) would actually be an essential aspect of a healthy, vibrant Discourse-augmented town-specific community. People belong to or participate in towns in different role or capacities–resident, employee, visitor, student, etc.–and the Discourse platform could/should validate and support these role(s). My interest in the Discourse-specific question/topic is part of a larger interest in building what I have been calling a “Constituent Success Platform” for a while.
AFAIK in Finland, or any Nordic countries, none of governmental or communal bodies don’t use any kind of forums. It doesn’t seen as such action that official society should maintain. Those don’t use Wordpress, Drupal etc. either, but purpose made (and awful expensive) software.
Having attended hundreds of City Council and community meetings over the past decade, and seeing elected officials and City Managers come and go, I am interested in how a platform like Discourse could be used to “augment” the reality of existing communities or constituencies. When a local government agency is responding to a challenge or seeking to take advantage of an opportunity, the status quo is to essentially start over from scratch. If the experienced Discourse users on this forum are not aware of any great use cases in the public sector, then the question we may want to ask ourselves (for starters) is: why not? What is it about the way or ways that democratic governments at all scales function that has prevented them from embracing a platform like Discourse?
Thx, Hawk! Can we name any public sector agencies (city, county, state) in California that are using Discourse, private or otherwise, hosted or otherwise? If not California, where else in the US? Internationally?
In my opinion, Maiki is absolutely right: “the whole idea of open discussions and community engagement” is “a perfect fit for government,” especially local government.
Efficient, reliable public (uncontrolled) access to government information in absolutely essential, and for decades agencies at all levels of government have been using internet -based system to further this goal.
What is surprising is the lack of interest or up take by the public sector (at least that are widely known and not locked down/private) of a platform like Discourse that does so much more than serve up documents and make searching and data retrieval easier.
yes. no idea about Oakland or any of California, but lots of organizations use Discourse for private in-house solutions, whether it’s discussion, help desk, private customer services, etc. it’s very flexible, extendable, and customizable to various needs.
Possibly getting off topic, but I’m assuming the interest here is in Discourse sites that provide an interface between the general public and government institutions. What I’m seeing where I live is elected officials attempting to use social media to fulfill this function. The results aren’t great.
Last year, after seeing my local MP (Canadian Member of Parliament) getting yelled at on Facebook, I contacted them to suggest setting up a Discourse forum as an alternative to posting on social media. I got a response from someone who worked in their office. They had some interest in the idea. Unfortunately, I didn’t pursue things any further. I hadn’t fully thought through the idea and wasn’t in a position to implement it at the time.
My thoughts now. The forum should:
be owned by a somewhat neutral, but upstanding third party. Public libraries might be the ideal candidate for this.
strive to get the backing of a variety of public institutions, businesses, and individuals: political parties, elected officials, the local Chamber of Commerce, citizen groups, arts groups, local celebrities, community minded businesses, etc.
shield public individuals from abuse
be structured and moderated in a way that gets the best feedback, ideas, criticism, concerns, questions, etc, that are generated by the public in front of the eyes of elected officials. It should make the job of being an elected official easier, not harder.
Discourse could accomplish this in a way that social media can’t. The big stumbling block is that it would require a dedicated group of people to do the work.
I’m somewhat reluctant to post this as I’m making an effort to not suggest pie-in-the-sky types of ideas. This seems like something that could be done though. There are multiple ways it could be sold, starting with trying to get government institutions and elected officials onboard with the idea of Discourse as an alternative to posting on social media.
Edit: an example of a real world problem where this could be useful is what’s going on with forest fires at the moment in western Canada. There are members of the public with experience in forest management whose knowledge isn’t being passed on to the government officials who are responsible for setting forest management policy. The public is divided on the issue, with some focusing on climate change, others focusing on forest management. There are extreme views on both sides making it difficult to have a reasonable conversation (see Facebook comments on the issue.) Elected officials are being pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions. It would be a difficult task, but a Discourse forum (or forums) associated with some level of government could help with this.
@simon thank you for this thoughtful post. I agree with everything you said.
Discourse provides a unique opportunity and toolset far superior to the public sector’s current attempts to use commercial social media apps.
Perhaps the more decentralized applications comprising the “Fediverse” (which IMHO are about to explode and take over the currently crumbling institutions of commercial social media), could be used effectively for [the public sector ← → the people] especially if high quality auto-moderation systems are intelligently developed and open-sourced.
A client of mine is one of the pioneers in the field of organizational psychology and has had a thriving consulting business for decades serving non-profits and public sector institutions.
I’ve tried to impart to her the need and the opportunities for applying her phenomenal expertise to online org and community platforms.
But alas, the most skilled practitioners in these types of fields are not also steeped in the technologies of the day as are you and I.
The experience of using Discourse is something that is very difficult to convey. It seems like one must really use it for a while to truly understand its potential applications and use-cases.
People like my friend are only roughly familiar with the old-style “forums” of the past which were awesome, but really nothing like what Discourse has become.
If practitioners like her could be employed to help with AI training it would be a game-changer that IMO could enable the types of platforms you are describing.