Archive for February, 2011

eCitizenship at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

Facebook, wikis, blogs and a host of other social networking tools are transforming the ways that citizens interact with one another and with the government. Indeed, technology is transforming our democracy. In light of these changes, higher education must develop strategies for incorporating these tools and transformations into the civic engagement movement.

The eCitizenship initiative was created to address these technological changes. The participating institutions are working together to study how emerging technologies, particularly social networking tools, support, transform, and shape citizenship behaviors. The primary goal of the initiative is to provide insights into and strategies for engaging undergraduates using social networking tools for civic purposes. Those strategies will then be broadly employed to prepare undergraduates for lives of engagement and participation.

Since launching eCitizenship, I have spent much of my time encouraging ADP participants to ponder the following two questions:  “How am I preparing my students to be citizens for our democracy?”  and, “How am I reaching them online?” Fortunately, we have university leaders within the American Democracy Project who are developing innovative strategies for engaging students online. Notable among these leaders is Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. See below for a description of their activities.

Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

By Kristin J. Jacobson, Associate Professor of American Literature and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

In addition to using social networking and other electronic media to promote
our campus Political Engagement Project, Stockton is moving ahead with the development of a student group related to eCitizenship. We are also developing stronger partnerships with Computer Services on campus. These partnerships are helping us develop and move forward with several initiatives, including the creation of an eCitizenship logo for our campus and a redesigned eCitizenship webpage. We are also developing a workshop, primarily targeted to students, on how to use technology to organize their academic, social and civic engagement. Should the Spring 2011 pilot workshop prove successful, we will seek partnerships with the College’s first-year experience and/or other campus organizations so we can offer this training on a regular basis.

We hope you will “like” Stockton’s eCitizenship Facebook page, Take Action!

For more information about the eCitizenship, please visit this website.

Carnegie Mellon Connects Civic Agency and Deliberative Polling

Guest Blogger Robert Cavalier writes about his work with Deliberative Polling and Civic Agency. Carnegie Mellon has been a very important partner with theAmerican Democracy Project, and the findings of this poll support the need for increased opportunities for citizens to deliberate about important issues of the day.

By Robert Cavalier,  Carnegie Mellon University

On September 25th, 2010 a representative sample of over 180 randomly selected citizens from the Pittsburgh area came to Carnegie Mellon University for a day-long Deliberative Poll ® on county government. The background issues and a report on the results of this deliberative event can be found at this website.

A number of questions on the post-survey form sought input on the participants’ own experience on the deliberative process and the effects that such an experience had on them in terms of civic agency. Here are some relevant highlights:

Feedback on Small-Group Conversations: How helpful did you find the small-group conversation?

“Very” = 66%

“Somewhat” = 28.8%

Feedback on knowledge gained about issues: How much did this day of conversation give you a better understanding of important issues facing your community?

“A great deal” = 60%

“Somewhat” = 30%

Feedback on learning from different points of view: How much did this day of conversation cause you to consider points of view that you had not previously considered?

“A great deal” = 48%

“Somewhat” = 39%

Feedback on Motivation to Act: Will you become more engaged in your community as a result of this deliberative poll? = 90% said “yes”

“Definitely Yes” = 35%

“Probably Yes” = 55%

Feedback on event as a whole: Given what you know now, would you still have participated in the deliberative poll conversation? = rounding the numbers, almost 99% said “yes”

Definitely Yes = 80%

Probably Yes = 19%

(Three individuals said “probably not’; no one said “definitely not.”)

Responses to several of these questions merit special attention, given claims by those both supportive of and critical of the very idea of deliberative democracy. Many who support the idea of a more deliberative democracy need greater empirical evidence to buttress their beliefs. And those critical of deliberative democracy offer data they claim casts doubt about whether American citizens are interested in deliberative forums. Diana Mutz argues that people do not want to engage in discussions with those they don’t agree with while Hibbing and Theiss-Morse uses polls and focus groups to claim that citizens don’t what to be bothered by the details of government. Combing both of these positions, the authors of Stealth Democracy write: “…real-life deliberation can fan emotions unproductively, can exacerbate rather than diminish power differentials among those deliberating, can make people feel frustrated with the system that made them deliberate, is ill-suited to many issues…People dislike political disagreements …People get frustrated by details and many simply tune out of the exchange because they feel uncomfortable or inadequate discussing politics.”

To these critics we can offer empirical evidence that they are wrong in their assertions, and that well-designed and well-structured deliberative forums of the kind we experienced on September 25th can and do bring out the best in our citizens. In a political season where negative ads and superficial sound bites belie a democracy driven by the aggregation of votes at any cost, we can see a different kind of democracy out there, a more deliberative democracy. Initiatives like this and the ones valued by the American Democracy Project can indeed help foster this kind of democracy and raise the level of civic discourse to that sought after by our Founding Fathers.

The Need for Online Civility in a Hyperconnected World

By Andrea Weckerle, Founder, CiviliNation

As the founder of CiviliNation, I see examples of online hostility and attacks every single day and am fully aware of the negative effects this has on individual targets and on society as a whole. In fact, CiviliNation was created specifically to address this epidemic.

CiviliNation’s mission is to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment, or lies. We view freedom of expression as a fundamental human right that no person should have taken away from them. We also know that unless people start listening instead of screaming at each other with their strongly-held beliefs and viewpoints, the ability to move forward on some of the most pressing issues of our times will be severely hampered.

As part of our outreach, we’re launching our “Taking a Stand” campaign where we invite people from around the world to take a stand for civil digital discourse by signing our pledge and sending us a short video explaining, in their own words, why civil discourse is important to them. Two examples, one of me and one from a CiviliNation supporter, among others, can be found on our YouTube channel.

Because of the importance of online civility, especially in the college environment, I’m honored to have been invited to speak at the American Democracy Project National Meeting in Orlando on June 3 about “The Need for Online Civility in a Hyperconnected World.” My session will outline the extent of the problem, address the emotional, physical and reputational effects on victims, and discuss what can be done to create a healthy online environment where everyone can fully engage and contribute without fear or threat. I’ll specifically address why the unique culture of college-age students makes them particularly vulnerable to online hostility, both as targets and as perpetrators, and what college institutions need to do to prevent this from escalating. Certainly the death of Tyler Clementi at Rudger’s University and other similar tragic examples serve as a wake-up call that this is a serious issue that needs immediate and concrete attention.

We the People: Update on the Civic Agency Initiative

By Cecilia M. Orphan, National Manager, American Democracy Project

In light of the increased attention on the part of the Department of Education and many philanthropic organizations on college completion and workforce development, leaders in the American Democracy Project have found ways to tie their work to these goals. Most notable in this effort is the work of the Civic Agency initiative which seeks to develop and operationalize the concept of civic agency. Within this initiative, we deliberately emphasize the connection between developing a strong set of skills that are both civic and professional in nature. To describe this connection we use the phrase “21st Century Skills.”

Participants at the 2010 Civic Agency Institute.

The notion of civic agency involves the capacities of citizens to work collaboratively across differences like partisan ideology, faith traditions, income, geography and ethnicity to address common challenges, solve problems, and create common ground. Civic agency requires a set of individual skills, knowledge, and predispositions. Civic agency also involves questions about institutional design, particularly how to constitute groups and institutions for sustainable collective action. Over the last three years of our partnership with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship led by Harry C. Boyte and Dennis Donovan, we have experimented with strategies for developing a strong sense of civic agency on the part of undergraduate students.

What we are finding is that the programs that produce strong civic outcomes for students also help prepare them for the workforce. Additionally, I have observed anecdotal evidence that suggests that students involved in Civic Agency activities tend to persevere to graduate attainment. While the data is still anecdotal, I’m sure that with a little more digging we’d be able to find actual statistics to support this evidence. This has helped leaders within the initiative demonstrate their commitment to degree attainment and workforce development while developing student civic skills.

The challenges facing American democracy are too complex and deep-rooted to rely simply on elected officials to solve. Indeed, we need a concerted search for solutions that involves everyday people, business leaders, students, non-profit leaders, and governmental officials. This realization gave birth to the new phase of the Civic Agency initiative called “We the People.” In the We the People (WtheP) vision, government is our meeting ground, partner and common instrument in addressing our problems and building a shared life. Students in the Civic Agency initiative are beginning to use their civic skills to foster partnerships with business and NGO leaders and local government with the goal of solving public problems. We launched We the People last fall and many of our campuses have started experimenting with strategies to encourage partnerships between students and elected officials.

What follows is a set of updates about We the People and Civic Agency.

Western Kentucky University (WKU) by Terry Shoemaker

Western Kentucky University’s Institute for Citizenship & Social Responsibility (ICSR) is dedicating the entire month of April to WtheP activities. These activities will include a “Wii the People” civically-minded bowling league, a four-week league that uses Nintendo’s Wii bowling game, that will gather together groups from around WKU’s campus including the Young Republicans, Young Democrats, African-American Studies, WKU Americans for an Informed Democracy (AID), and FeelGood to participate in civic dialogue on contemporary issues while Wii bowling. The league runs through April with the Wii Bowling Championship game set for April 12th.

The ICSR will also bring two guest speakers to WKU’s campus in April.  First, author, activist, and public theologian, Brian McLaren will speak to students and community members on “Being the Change” on April 11th.  McLaren, who published the book, Everything Must Change in 2007, has been instrumental in creating an emerging social justice initiative among evangelical Christians.  He will challenge WKU students to become change agents.

Second, Jon DeGraaf, co-author of Affluenza and National Organizer for Take Back Your Time, will be at WKU’s campus on April 28th. DeGraaf’s work on consumerism and society has been influential in recognizing over-consumption as a systemic issue in America. He will challenge WKU’s students to recognize their time poverty and consumerism, and imagine another way of being. In addition, ICSR will show John DeGraaf’s film Affluenza on April 14th. Third Tuesday Tea, ICSR’s regular monthly meeting to discuss contemporary topics with WKU students, faculty & staff, will be dedicated to the topic “Consuming Democracy.” This timely event will be a precursor to John DeGraaf’s visit and will bring energetic conversation to the topic.

Other organizations are also centering their events around the idea of We the People on WKU’s campus. A group of students will visit the Highland Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee. Another group is participating in a poverty/hunger simulation. Still another is working to cater all these events raising money for the Hunger Project.

For more information visit this website.

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University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) by David Hoffman

In the fall 2010, a third annual cohort of 30 students completed our Civic
Imagination and Social Entrepreneurship course, in which students work in groups to envision, develop and prepare to launch campus and community change projects. Among the projects developed in the class were an online networking space for campus activists, a campaign to discourage distracted driving, a program to inspire K-12 students with visits from collegiate scholar-athletes, and an organization dedicated to addressing incidents of injustice on campus.

We’re also in the process of developing an initiative tentatively entitled UMBC’s Civic Year. The concept is to deepen and make more visible UMBC’s support for civic agency through a year of themed activities, including courses, contests, art exhibitions, online discussions and community-building events.  These activities are likely to encompass recurring programs that might not otherwise emphasize civic agency, including research conferences, book discussions, service projects and speaker series. Our intention is that much like a successful Olympic games, this intense period of themed activities will produce lasting (civic) infrastructure improvements and make civic innovation and agency even more central to our campus culture.

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San Francisco State University (SFSU) by Gerald Eisman

Over the past two years, the Civic Agency project at San Francisco State University has centered around the development of a consortium of local universities who have partnered with neighborhood stakeholders (residents, city agencies, nonprofits, merchants, faith-based and secular community-based organizations) to co-create resilient communities – those rich in social capital and optimally prepared to respond to, and grow from, both short and long term challenges and opportunities.

Founded and coordinated by the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement (ICCE) at San Francisco State, the consortium, named the Neighborhood Empowerment Network University (NENu), serves as a hub for community-engaged scholarship in the Bay Area by facilitating connections among and between local academic institutions and neighborhood stakeholders in support of the larger NEN network. In order to facilitate those connections, NENu engages in three core activities:

  1. recruiting and retaining academic institution partners and neighborhood stakeholders,
  2. providing linkages to city agencies and other asset managers, and
  3. providing the infrastructure to facilitate communications among all NENu partners.

Target neighborhoods (called Engaged Learning Zones – ELZs) are selected for focused NENu activities by the agreement of each of the three dimensions of the partnership – neighborhood leadership, city government representatives, and academic partners. Currently four ELZs are underway – in San Francisco’s Ocean/Merced/Ingleside (OMI) district, North Beach, Polk Street, Western Addition, and we hope to soon launch activities in the neighborhoods Northwest of Twin Peaks.

Initial activities involved stakeholder interviews, identifying assets, public forums, prioritizing issues, and directed action through service learning. Students in varied disciplines such as Urban Studies, Instructional Technologies, Geography, Art, Broadcast Communication, Public Administration, Marketing, Communication Studies and others have contributed to ELZ activities. University students are currently assisting in the development of inclusive online tools for neighborhood leadership development, research on indices for measuring community resilience, GIS mapping of community assets, cohort mapping of leaders and their organizations, and internships in the offices of city supervisors.

One immediate outcome has been the creation of a database of community service opportunities that will be shared by NENu universities to help direct students to community sites. The database will utilize contemporary social media tools on top of traditional listings of community organizations.

Of central importance to NENu is the development of bridging and bonding social capital in a city whose neighborhood demographics are both diverse and changing dynamically. The strength of these bonds will provide a platform for addressing a wide range of issues and help the city as it prepares its residents to respond to and recover from any natural disaster including, as predicted by geologists, a major earthquake in the next 20 years.

For more information about the Civic Agency initiative, please visit this website. For more information about We the People, please visit this website.

Participate in an eCitizenship Research Study Being Conducted by UW La Crosse

Help University of Wisconsin-La Crosse researchers understand community involvement and Facebook use by completing a short, online survey.

By Julie Kildahl, Student, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

I am working with my faculty partner, Jo Arney, to examine community engagement and Facebook use. As I am sure many of you are aware, reactions to Facebook range from fear, to skepticism about social impact, to hope that Facebook will solve all social ills. We are hoping to learn how Facebook is used for civic engagement with the goal of better understanding its potential civic impact. To participate in our research study, please take a moment to complete  this brief, online survey.

The research study has IRB permission and will use a snowball sample on Facebook. After completing this survey, we would greatly appreciate it if you would re-post it on your Facebook wall with an invitation to your friends to complete the survey (i.e. “Will you help a friend of mine by completing this brief, online survey?”).

All responses will be anonymous. The results of the research study will be shared on the ADP Blog when they are compiled.

Thank you in advance for your help!


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