The Citizens Handbook
Information Sharing

Knock and drop
How do you tell everyone in your neighborhood about an event they should attend? Many neighborhood associations do a "knock and drop." Block reps knock on doors to invite neighbors to attend; if no one is home, they drop off a leaflet. Other groups put up posters. Some photocopy machines can turn a leaflet into a small poster suitable for advertising in laundries, community centres, and libraries. If you want people to attend your event, the best approach is to ask everyone to invite friends, family, and neighbors.

A newsletter is one of the most common ways for organizations that have resources to stay in touch. Community newsletters range in frequency from once yearly to twelve times a year. Most are photocopied on both sides of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet or on both sides of a folded 11 x 17. You may be able to defray printing costs by enlisting the support of local merchants, local government, or community organizations.

The big job in putting out a newsletter is finding people who are willing and able to write articles that others are interested in reading. To get good newsletter content, a group often needs to find and pay a writer who will seek out good stories and write them up. Simply asking group members for submissions often yields few or poor results. Besides a writer / researcher, you will need the skills of an editor, and people willing to arrange printing, and distribution. You will also need the services of a graphic designer to make your newsletter appear worth reading. Engaging newsletters look like newspapers, with narrow columns, photographs, and bold headlines.

You will also need people willing to arrange printing and distribution. Try to deliver your newsletter by hand, if you have block reps, they can easily deliver to their own block. Co-distribution is next best. This involves partnering with a local school, business, or community centre so that they distribute your newsletter with their own. Other distribution possibilities include schools sending the newsletter home with students, distribution in churches, literature distribution boxes in libraries, community centres, and other public places, ad mail, or a flyer distribution service. An emailed newsletter avoids the issue of distribution, but limits the audience a group's email list.

Local newspapers
Local newspapers can also help with information sharing, although you may find that a local problem gets far more attention than a local solution. Fortunately, some small papers are changing their idea of what should go into a newspaper. They are beginning to publish articles with a positive local focus that are well written and worth reading.

Telephone trees
A telephone tree is a fast, person-to-person information- sharing technique. It requires a coordinator, and a list of who -calls -whom. An outgoing message starts with the coordinator, who calls a predetermined list of ten activators. The ten activators in turn each call another predetermined list of ten people, who in turn each call another ten. It is important to make sure those at the base of the tree are reliable. The coordinator should check by occasionally calling people at the outer tips of the tree to ensure they've been contacted. One of the largest citizens' groups in the US, Common Cause, initiates most of its actions through an effective national telephone tree.

E-mail newsletters
Another way of staying in touch with citizens locally and in other cities is through an e-mail newsletter To start an email newsletter, put some interesting material on a web site, then invite people to subscribe. Bulk email the newsletter to subscribers by entering their addresses on the "Bcc" (blind cc) line so that addresses remain invisible. Or sign up for a free online newsletter service such as TinyLetter. The big advantage with of email newsletters is that you pay nothing for printing, distribution, and color photos. The other way to do an email newsletter is to put all the content on a website, then email subscribers the web address. You can also build up a searchable archive on the site and link to other interesting material.

Web-based networks
Google Groups, Facebook, and many other online social networking sites enable users to set up interest groups and invite others to join. Others allow you create a wiki that anyone in your group can add to and edit. Wordpress provides free, easily-to-use software for blogs on which all members can post, as well as community forum plugins such as bbPress.

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The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of The Handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots rot, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from bookstores, Amazon or New Society Publishers.