“Growing out of Occupy Wall Street, Strike Debt has been working since May 2012 to build a social movement through various forms of media and market-based activism under the banner of “debt resistance.” They cite the history of Biblical jubilees that canceled debt to normalize society (Graeber 2011), the debtor movement like El Barzon in Mexico (Caffentzis 2013), and “mortgage strikes” by Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s Peoples (Strike Debt 2014, 93), to make an intellectual and moral argument for debt resistance against the contemporary system of debt, which in their analysis causes dehumanizing shame and suffering. They describe debt as a weapon and a web that catches you—as soon as you pay off one loan you are indebted for another reason (Graeff and Bhargava 2014).”
We should optimize the design of civic technologies for developing effective citizens, thus I argue we must put civic and political learning at the core of how we evaluate civic technology’s impact. This will require new definitions and measures that capture the complexity and needs of contemporary, digitally-mediated democracy.
In this talk, I will propose a research agenda for civic learning including definitions, measures, and design goals for our community to explore, using existing literature and analysis of a pilot deployment of the civic app Action Path.
Recent work by Bennett (2007) and Cohen and Kahne (2012) has helped push scholar and practitioner communities to understand how citizens, especially younger generations, are changing in their civic goals and practices—often using social media to consume and share political information, express their voices, and organize civic and political communities. Unfortunately, we lack a definition and operationalization of how “users” grow into the citizens contemporary democracies need. Research should be attempting to tie designs holistically to gains in targeted skills, experience, and self-efficacy.
We must develop and validate measures for civic learning by combining rich qualitative understanding with trace data to evaluate users’ civic trajectories as they explore tools and platforms; and these must scale as large as Facebook and across the diverse contexts in which users are embedded world-wide.
In partnership with SeeClickFix in New Haven, I recently piloted Action Path, a location-based mobile app that invites users to engage in local planning and governance via push notifications and short surveys. I interviewed users and traced their app usage to evaluate the efficacy of location-triggered notifications for increasing knowledge of local issues and engagement in governance. I will highlight the implications of this deployment for civic learning and how it represents a small start to the research agenda I am proposing.
47th Symposium on International Relations
Social Media: Global Impact on Political Engagement, Youth & Privacy
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Connecticut Education Fund, Inc.
Co-sponsored in cooperation with PIER and the Councils of African and Middle East Studies at The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Pat Sabosik, President, Elm City Consulting—advises companies on new digital strategies
Carolyn A. Lin,Professor, University of Connecticut Dept. of Communication (Impact on Political Engagement)
Erhardt Graeff, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard (Impact on Youth)
Lauren Henry Scholz, Postdoctoral Associate in Law, Information Society Project, Yale Law School (Impact on Privacy)
Nancy Ruther, Visiting Fellow, the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies
Goals: To share approaches for understanding impact in civic media – from randomized controlled trials to qualitative evaluation to artistic research methods. The workshop will explore the variety of ways in which people are responding to the increased need to demonstrate the impact of media interventions, including how we evaluate the impact of research, practice, and classroom-community partnerships.
Designing and Evaluating Technologies for Civic Learning
This general exam proposal is designed to prepare me for my larger PhD goal: to design future civic technologies optimized for the development of effective citizens using definitions and measurements of civic and political learning in a way that captures the complexity and needs of contemporary, digitally-mediated democracy.
Last January, I attended a Civics Research Workshop at Google in New York. The leaders of the field of civic technology in attendance, from industry representatives, practitioners, scholars, and funders, all agreed we severely lack ways of measuring impact or even defining it. And yet, there is a rush into this field attracting vast amounts of funding and media attention. With lots of technology being built, claiming to extend citizen voice and efficacy, this is the moment to be working on measures for evaluating and improving civic technology design.
First, there is a need to define this space more clearly by analyzing the design of civic technologies, in terms of their embodiment of certain goals, values, and definitions of democracy and civic participation; how they conceive of good or effective citizenship and of the development of users into those kinds of citizens; and the ways these platforms and their designers measure success. Second, focusing on the potential of technologies to empower citizens to grow into more effective civic actors, it’s important to understand the way Western civilizations have looked at the development of citizens in offline and now digitally-mediated contexts, and how we might assess new forms of civic learning. Thus, my general exam areas cover:
Primary Area: Designing Technologies for Civic Engagement, surveying the range of platforms, technologies, and uses of those tools to promote civic activities.
Contextual Area: History and Philosophy of Civic Education, surveying the most prominent political and educational philosophers and trends in civic education since the birth of modern democracy.
Technical Area: Statistical and Psychometric Validation of Measures of Civic and Political Learning, covering recent approaches to valid assessments of learning in digital contexts.
Joe Flood writes a solid history of the twentieth century city planning through the lens of The War Years fires that burned out large swathes of the poorest parts of New York City. It’s well-researched and hangs together nicely. He cribs a good bit from Robert Caro’s massive biography of planner Robert Moses, and some of his points get repetitive—disrupting the otherwise nicely narrativized of history and analysis that Flood puts to paper.
Students of cities and planning and of power politics will find this an interesting read touching on the complexity of decision-making and the way that politics and management are bound to the times and trends in which they occur. And of course, the indictment of RAND’s systems analysis is an important reminder that we can’t play god even when we are good with all the numbers. The Fires is as a political biography of the men of New York City that did this work and why they did it. As such it offers a companion of different style and scale to James C. Scott’s masterful Seeing Like a State, which makes a similar point about reductionist system analytical planning but over a longer historical and geographical arc.
It’s a quick, fun read. New Yorkers especially should pick up to learn how their city evolved into what it is today and the long development of the city’s racial and economic politic (which were unfortunately replicated around the country).
Civic Media encompasses a broad array of tools, practices, content, and communities that foster or enhance civic engagement. While civic media has always existed, it has recently flourished and been transformed thanks to technologies like smartphones and social media.
At its heart, civic media is best understood as a social phenomenon empowered by technology. Civic media reaches and engages a diverse audience, inviting all to create, share, remix, and share again. Young people are creating memes as political speech, as naturally as they might share a photo of their last meal. Developers are volunteering to build humanitarian software after disasters, enjoying the thrill of solving a hard problem and producing something that matters. And libraries, working at the nexus of information and public interest, are creating spaces in which communities can make change.
“Civic Media: Communities Making Change” will explore prominent examples of civic media; how tools, practices, content, and communities can be designed to be more civic; and the roles libraries can, and already are, playing in making civic media.