Welcome to our Blog

OnlineTownhalls software offers elected leaders, government agencies, and organizations the ability to engage the public in a meaningful way on a large scale.  This is our blog where we post information about news and ongoing projects.  For more information, drop us a note at hello@onlinetownhalls.com.

Previous clients include NASA, ASU, Department of State, etc

Why Our Software is Different

OnlineTownhalls provides structure to make online conversations of all sizes more productive. You might ask, “Wait– how large can these conversations get?!” Well, because OnlineTownhalls is hosted on Amazon’s Elastic Computing Cloud, there can be millions of people in the same structured conversation.

Typically, the quality of conversation– either online or face-to-face– decreases as the number of participants increases due to a lack of structure. The trick is to provide just enough structure so that the conversation improves as more people join; this is a big challenge, and it’s one that we’re passionate about.

OnlineTownhalls helps to find the best ideas on each side of an issue and opens those ideas to critical analysis. It’s not enough to just list pros and cons; we must follow up and dig deeper to get past sound bites and talking points.

There are several advantages of the OnlineTownhalls method:

  • Efficiency: Creates a map of each conversation for simpler navigation of complex conversations.
  • Quality: Sorts the highest-rated ideas to the top to make the most of your time.
  • Scale: Allows an unlimited number of simultaneous participants to collaborate in the same conversation. More people = more ideas. Having more ideas is better as long as you have a system like Onlinetownhalls to empower the participants to separate the good ones from the uhh… not so good.
  • Structure: Can be used to provide structure for almost any type of conversation- collecting feedback, open discussion, multi-linear instant messaging, group brainstorming, two-sided debate, etc.
  • Credibility: Track of each participant’s reputation over time, and find out who your superstars are.
  • Logic-Based: Opens all ideas to logical discussion based on facts, assumptions, logic, and definitions.
  • Optional Anonymity: Anonymity, if used correctly, can be critical to creating an atmosphere of honest dialogue. Tied to reputation and credibility, the risk of abuse is minimal.
  • “Red Team” Analysis: Giving a voice to dissenting opinions, or even requiring that some people in your organization challenge conventional wisdom is essential to reducing the risk of groupthink.
  • Common Ground: Using the map, participants can visualize the common ground so you can move forward as a group on the items with which you agree, and focus on the disagreements when appropriate.
  • Context: The same exact conversation can exist in many contexts across many URLs. This means you can engage many different audiences in the same conversation without them having to leave the websites they are on.

However, there are several barriers to adoption in many organizations:

  • Logic-Based: Some people are afraid to have their ideas open to constructive feedback and do not want honest dialogue. (What are these people doing in your organization?!)
  • Unconventional: It’s a commonly held assumption that, as more people join a conversation, the less productive it gets. That’s generally true for face-to-face discussions. OnlineTownhalls software creates the possibility of harnessing the intelligence from very large conversations using just the right amount of structure.

A conversation map helps visualize the structure of a conversation.

The best time to use Onlinetownhalls is when you’d like to organize a lot of ideas from a bunch of people. OnlineTownhalls will not produce an absolute answer, but it can arrange the group’s thoughts so that you can make an informed decision in a short amount of time.
For more information, please visit our frequently asked questions or drop us a note at hello@onlinetownhalls.com.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Recently, we’ve been involved with two great initiatives to increase transparency, public participation, can collaboration in government:

Later this month we are facilitating the remote participation process for the NASA Open Source Summit at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA.  If you’re interested in open source software or changing government policy to accommodate open source software, please do sign up.

Also, we also began preparations for 100+ local summits where members of the open government community could help their local public officials navigate the waters of public participation and transparency.  We found local organizers in 40 cities in a dozen countries, but that didn’t reach critical mass of 100 cities.  We are adjusting the plan and will launch the next iteration of the plan with some additional partners in a few weeks.

It’s wonderful to see the energy across the open gov community.  Here is a map of the locations where organizers did sign up (click to see details and zoom in):

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