Posted on Sunday, February 7, 2010 by Michael
The people of Westford, VT continue to do amazing things with Front Porch Forum… lots of voices weighing in about lots of topics. Here’s a comment about one topic gleaned from a blog today…
Principals like feedback, right? Well, we need feedback but it can be difficult to deal with at times. I’ve been thinking a lot about a new web 2.0 type of feedback has affected my school. Our little town in northern Vermont has a web forum called the “Front Porch Forum” and folks have been using it to discuss our upcoming school budget. There have been a wide range of opinions voiced on this forum. It has seemed a bit divisive to me with a range of opinions from “Teachers make too much money, they should take a pay cut” to “Our teachers work hard and deserve their pay.” So why does this seem different to me? People have always held these kinds of opinions. We used to have an annual meeting where people would openly discuss the budget before casting their vote. In my years as a Vermont principal, I have heard many similar comments go back and forth at the annual meeting, but comments stopped when the meeting broke for lunch. Now the comments go on for days in an open forum. And the comments seem a bit sharper – perhaps because you are not looking at your neighbors when you are typing on your keyboard. My superintendent and I have been talking about the urge to respond to these comments. Certainly, some erroneous information needed to be corrected, but many of the comments took care of themselves. When one person insinuated that we spent too much money on busing high school students, another person chimed in to say that she has to drive her child to high school every day because there is no bus. The conversations have died down now and I kind of miss them. We vote on our school budget in a few weeks and I want to know what people are thinking. Reading the forum was like lurking and listening to conversations at the gas pump or the parking lot after a ball game. While I didn’t like everything I heard, it was better to know what people were thinking and saying.
And my response…
Glad to hear that Front Porch Forum is proving valuable in your town. My wife and I started it about three years ago in the South End of Burlington where we live, and now it serves 25 northwest Vermont towns by hosting 140 online neighborhood forums (the one you mention is but one of them). Remarkably (to us at least!), 17,000 area households subscribe with more joining every day. Nearly half of your town subscribes to FPF now. And, as you know, each posting comes from a clearly identified nearby neighbor (not anonymous or distant folk). It’s our hope that this kind of communication helps neighbors connect and build community locally… that comments on our virtual front porch lead to real face-to-face conversations on actual front porches (and country stores, town libraries, sidewalks, etc.). Best wishes with the upcoming vote… hopefully more discussion up front (via FPF as well as face-to-face around town) will lead to the best results.
Posted in: Citizen Journalism, Civic Engagement, Community Building, Democracy, Front Porch Forum, Local Online, Online Civility, Politics, Social Media, Stories, Vermont