Sandbox Environment

Open Proposal

Title of Your Proposal/Discussion


Welcome to the SmartParticipation sandbox. Here you can learn more about the structure and functionalities of the platform, get some advice from the designers (CeRI), and actually practice setting up a discussion yourself. To see the administrative interface and practice set-ups, log in with these credentials: Username admin Password admin. (Credentials for moderator and commenter roles are also available.) Documentation on how to use the platform can be found in the SmartParticipation Manual.

Use this Summary space to give site visitors a concise, plain-language summary of what's going on and why they should participate. Remember that many visitors who arrive at the Home page will need some orientation into the purpose of the discussion and the process of which it's a part. You can use the "Learn" sliders at the top of this page to provide more details. Insert an an eye-catching graphic that can be easily associated with the topic of the discussion, then use that same graphic in Facebook and other social media to spread the word about the discussion and invite participation.

The SmartParticipation platform is designed to allow more than one phase of public commenting (for example, on important questions pre-drafting, and then on the resulting draft). You'll probably want to change the summary text as you move through different phases. For updates during a phase, use the Announcement function.

Discussion Moderation - 3

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1|The value added by facilitative moderation - 2

Moderating an online discussion is an exciting opportunity for some, while others can be nervous. So we'll say right up front that the SmartParticipation platform can be used without moderation.

If you decide to do this, pay particular attention to Comment Support Tips and Dealing with Inappropriate Content.

But here's the case, briefly, for why you should try to get past your nervousness. If you invited a varied group of stakeholders for face-to-face discussion of a proposal, it would probably never occur to you to set them loose in a room, with a set of topics but no one facilitating the meeting. Even if the attendees are completely calm and courteous, it's obvious that a good facilitator can add a lot of value:

  • asking clarifying questions
  • bringing the discussion back on course if it wanders too far afield
  • encouraging participants to engage with the concerns, interests, and ideas of others
  • exploring possible alternatives and seeking new ideas
  • pointing out questionable assumptions, identifying missing information, and generally focusing attention on core issues and questions

Why would it be any different when the discussion is online rather than face-to-face?

Facilitative moderation is a skillset that can be taught to most people in a reasonably short period of time. (Contact us if you're interested in training.) Obviously, some people are more adept than others, and practice improves performance for most. Still, one advantage of online facilitation is having the time to think about whether and how to respond, rather than makomg a split-second decision in front of a room full of people. If you have access to employees or volunteers trained in mediation or facilitation techniques, they will have a lot of the basic skills already.

How much time does it take? As much time as your organization has to give. Time devoted to attentive moderation during the discussion is likely to reduce the time needed after the discussion to synthesize what was said. And, without a doubt, the quality of discussion will be higher. If resources during the discussion are scarce, do what you can. If content has been organized to take advantage of the targeted commenting design, comments will be divided by subject area. In our experience, someone familiar with the issues can read a subtopic comment stream quickly and hone in on points at which the most value can be added from facilitative intervention.


Is there someplace I could see how online facilitative moderation works in a real discussion?

Welcome to the Sandbox, commenter! Here's an example of facilitative moderation in public comment on a federal agency proposal for new rules about consumer debt collection.

Keep in mind that this discussion was intensively moderated because students in an e-government clinic were being taught facilitative techniques.

2|SmartParticipation's moderation interface - 0

Smartparticipation includes a unique moderation interface that makes it easy to keep track of which comments have been moderated (especially helpful if people are sharing moderation). The interface also allows

Access the moderation interface from either the administrator or moderator log in by selection "Moderator" in the navigation below the SmartParticipation title. Using the moderation interface contains step-by-step instructions for moderating with the interface in an actual discussion.

If more than one person is moderating, you'll need to decide whether to use a single moderator persona, or to show each moderator as a distinctive identity. This does NOT mean using actual names. All moderators will appear with the same "Moderator" username. The distinction comes when each moderator selects a unique image to appear in their posts. (In the CeRI student clinic, some students chose to use their photo while others selected a graphic image.) For many years, CeRI opted for the single moderator persona; more recently, we concluded that it made the moderators more human and less remote from the participants to use distinctive moderator identities. You can decide for yourself: RegulationRoom has an example of a discussion that used the single moderator persona; NYC SmartParticipation is an example of a discussion that that used distinctive moderator identities.


3|Dealing with inappropriate content - 1

The best way to deal with inappropriate comment is prevention. Everything about SmartParticipation is designed to signal users that this is a place for informed, thoughtful and civil engagement in important policy questions. You can underscore this message by taking the following steps:

  1. Require registration as a condition of participation. This will discourage some potential participants. But it also discourages the online equivalent of drive-by shooting.
  2. Have a statement of Terms of Use with a prominent, plain-language set of Site Use Guidelines. (You can see what CeRI uses on the Terms of Use and Privacy page.) Require consent to the Guidelines as a condition of registration.
  3. Use the Comment Support Tips to emphasize the elements of deliberative, respectful participation.
  4. Have moderators respond to uncivil comments. See examples of moderator responses in our debt collection discussion: Moderator response to shouting; Moderator response to incivility; Moderator response to inappropriate language;

To encourage interactive discussion, comments are immediately visible without moderator approval. A profanity filter is available to automatically redact the most offensive text. You can adjust the list of words that are removed (see SmartParticipation Manual); based on CeRI's experience, it's best to keep the list small and unequivocal to avoid accidentally interfering with unobjectionable comments.

If you do need to remove inappropriate content, you can redact specific text or quarantine an entire comment from the moderator interface. Either way, it's important for transparency purposes to replace removed text with a note that content has been removed by the moderator for violation of site use guidelines. Quarantined comments remain accessible by site administrators as part of the comment database.


This is what a ******* redacted comment looks like.

[Moderator has removed content for violation of Site Use guidelines]

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