This post is a part of the Carnival of Journalism project brought back to life by David Cohn at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.
If you aren’t familiar with the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, I highly suggest you become acquainted with their report and recommendations, as well as with their 17 member panel who are all well established in the tech/media/policy arena and have a heavy hand in determining how this roadmap gets carried forward.
Today I’m going to highlight some of the work being done here in Seattle pertaining to Recommendation #3: “Increase the role of higher education, community and nonprofit institutions as hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.”
The Knight Commission offers six suggestions to bring this role forward
- Create civic engagement programs across the curriculum that credit students for community projects that develop their civic knowledge.
- Encourage research aimed at describing, measuring, and comparing the quality of community news and information flow over time and across geographies.
- Expand free and low-cost adult digital and media literacy courses.
- Reward faculty research relevant to local issues that is shared through public outreach initiatives.
- Distribute as much research as possible clearly and openly online.
- Create teacher education courses on the integration of digital and media literacy into K–12 subject matters.
Over the years the Center has churned out a slew of projects, reports, and conferences that address their mission to “promote citizen engagement and effective participation in local, national, and global affairs.” In the past they have worked on documenting the history of the Seattle WTO Protest, helped organize the Northwest Social Forum, monitored the Internet’s role in the 2004 and 2008 elections, developed online civic learning curricula, and much more. While some of these projects now lay quietly dormant, others continue to thrive and play a prominent role in both the local and international digital arena.
Puget Sound Off
PSO exemplifies one of the Center’s notable practices, which is to partner with local government and community organizations. It emerged as a trifecta between the University of Washington, the Seattle YMCA, and the City of Seattle, and sought input from 180 teens and the Mayors Youth Council. All agreed that enhancing civic engagement amongst local youth was a top priority, and so the City decided to use money from their cable franchise agreement with Comcast to help finance the project. Other funders and collaborators are listed on their about page.
The website gets about 10,000 monthly visitors and is aimed to be used by teenagers and young adults ages 13-21. It is powered by Drupal and contains a full range of features to power online expression by allowing anyone to post a blog, start a group, add multimedia content, schedule events, and interact with peers who share similar interests. Teachers are also effectively using it for assignments and class projects, and it’s success has earned it a trophy from the Public Technology Institute for best web and e-government service.
One interesting aspect of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement is that it not only produces research, but drives forward projects that are based on that research. PSO is grounded by a series of reports, one of which Bennett published in the opening first chapter of the book Civic Life Online, (free downloadable PDF available from MIT Press)
Living Voters Guide
I wrote a more extensive review of the Living Voters Guide when it first debuted during election season. In one sentence, it’s a community driven guide to Washington State ballot initiatives where people can learn more about the initiatives on the ballot and contribute pros and cons to each one.
The beauty of the LVG is that it serves a dual function as both a civic tool to help state residents, as well as a research tool to get good data about the ballot initiative process and the level of civic participation and behavior.
Right now Bennett is fine tuning the details of his report on the LVG’s trial run for the 2010 state election, but he gave me one major nugget to share.
People were surprisingly considerate to the views of the other side, even on hotly contested issues such as the proposed state income tax. He didn’t go into the technical details, but they were able to measure participants’ opinions before and after they saw other viewpoints, and were able to see a trend in consideration toward opposing viewpoints when making their own decision. This suggests that when presented with clear sides to a debate that is absent of the flaming rhetoric that we are so used to in the media, people are more willing to consider alternatives to their initial position.
Like PSO, the Living Voters guide is a collaborative effort, where The Center partnered with Seattle CityClub to develop and promote the tool. I’m excited to see the full report on their findings, including their comparisons with the standard Voters Guide issued by the Secretary of State. I’m also keeping my eye out for new and innovative ways to use the open source Considerit platform that powered the project.
UW’s Center for Civic and Communication offers a valuable model for using the power of a higher education institution to increase the level of participation in civic activity. They step outside of the academic box to collaborate with other community organizations and use their research to build actual services, rather than just publish studies in a closed off academic journal.
As far as fulfilling all six recommendations set forth by the Knight Commission, there is still plenty of room, some of it being taken up by other UW departments such as the Digital Literacy Initiative spearheaded by the Common Language Project in partnership with the UW Department of Communication. You can also read CLP’s take on role they play in partnering with a University to provide civic journalism.