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Pushing Power to the Edges
Jon Lebkowsky, 25 May 05

e-volve.jpgEnvisioning a new era of grassroots civic engagement and empowerment driven by social technology is one thing, making it happen is quite another. When I first wrote about "nodal politics" in the 90s, we didn't have sufficient adoption to drive online political communities and initiatives that were truly effective in addressing other than the "netizen" issues that were a natural focus for net-based constituents. The Internet was in its "boom" phase, though, and it seemed only a matter of time before it would be useful for community and political organizing. Several years and a few weird turns later, we're there. New tools have energized grassroots activists and the activists have used the tools to build networks and activate communities of affinity. When you leverage communication networks, you get more communication, but you don't necessarily get effective action as a result. Talk, as they say, is cheap, so the question is how we get beyond talk; what is our framework for action?

E-Volve Foundation and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) have just released a paper called "Pushing Power to the Edges: Trends and Opportunities in Online Civic Engagement." According to co-author Allison Fine,

It is intended to provide a framework for funders and activists on what all the fuss is about online activism - what it is, why it's important, what we need to do differently to harness all of this energy, inventiveness and enthusiasm for real social change.
The paper, written by Fine in collaboration with Marty Kearns of Network-Centric Advocacy and Jillaine Smith, describes four categories of online civic engagement:
  • Collaboration: many people working together on a single activity, effort or project. Types of technology include wikis, and Yahoo groups discussion boards.
  • Communication: talking with and among constituents. Examples include email, chat rooms, listservs, text messaging using cell phones, and instant messaging.
  • New media/Content development: generating and disseminating original news. Examples include web sites, web logs (blogs), newsletters, RSS (news syndication software), and podcasting (regular audio programming delivered via the Internet to an iPod or other MP3 player).
  • Organizing/Collective Action: coordinating the activities of large numbers of activists and supporters. Examples include smart mobs, meet-ups, virtual phone banks, online petitions, and volunteer management databases.
A key recommendation of the report: nonprofits and NGOs will have to adapt their cultures and practices to keep pace with technology and to use it effectively. They'll have to develop an understanding of the Internet demographic and its relevance to their work - e.g. the Internet is particularly effective in reaching, not necessarily all potential constituents, but at least "influentials" who may be catalysts for organization and action.

The authors don't present this as a conclusive study of online engagement and activism. They invite feedback via comments posted at the E-Volve Blog.

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links not working to the paper folks...

Posted by: matt on 27 May 05

Sorry - fixed!

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 27 May 05



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