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In Virginia, City Council Debates to Include Questions Posed Online

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, May 21 2012

The Alexandria Democratic Party in Alexandria, Virginia has partnered with online civic engagement platform ACTion Alexandria to include questions solicited in an online forum in the final Democratic primary debate for a City Council election there on June 4, ahead of the June 12 election, according to a statement released by the group. ACTion Alexandria hopes to work with both parties during the general election.

Participants in the project can add questions to the forum, or vote on questions that have already been posed, although each user is only given three votes to distribute. Users are also encouraged to use their real names. Questions submitted so far hit on topics ranging from broadband access to a ban on food trucks in the city.

Launching in February 2011, ACTion Alexandria up until now has focused on presenting community actions in need of funding ranging from a call for volunteers to distribute and deliver food to families in need or donations for the expansion of a public park. Based on 2010 census data, 1.7 percent of the city's total population participates in the platform. Altogether the project has encouraged $500,000 in community investment since its launch, according to Tracy Viselli, ACTion Alexandia community manager.

The University of Maryland's Information Policy & Access Center has published a draft of their case study on ACTion Alexandria as a platform for community action. From February 7, 2011, to February 29, 2012, ACTion Alexandria had accumulated a total of 1,963 registered members and 130 registered nonprofit organizations or government agencies, according to the report. Through fourteen featured actions promoted on the website and through social media, community members contributed $115,680 in online donations and 3,720 items (valued at $4,338) to City of Alexandria nonprofits, making the overall donation total $120,018, the report notes. "All but one of the featured actions promoted in the platform's first year met or exceeded their goal," the report says. "Several of the featured action nonprofits mentioned that they would not have launched a campaign like the one they launched for the featured action had it not been for ACTion Alexandria. This was particularly the case because many nonprofits did not have the technological sophistication and experience to perform online action-based initiatives."