Published by Working Wikily on 30 Nov 2010 at 09:10 am
The Monitor Institute’s Diana Scearce recently wrote a piece inspired by ‘Switch’ a fantastic book by Chip and Dan Heath. We wanted to share it with you here on our blog. They are asking for your help in identifying civic engagement bright spots. Do you have something to share?
In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath write about bright spots—stories of success oftentimes against the odds. The classic example is Jerry Sternin’s work fighting childhood malnutrition in Vietnam. As Director of Save the Children in Vietnam, Sternin was charged with finding a new approach. So he looked to children living in poor communities who were not malnourished to find out what was working. He found that these children were eating more frequently and eating foods that weren’t customarily fed to children. Families were invited to try out these practices. The result: the rehabilitation of several hundred malnourished children.
As reported in previous blog posts (here and here), we’re working with the Knight Foundation to explore the role networks play in helping communities be informed and engaged. We want to identify the ‘bright spots’ that could transform citizen engagement.
Look at the rise of Ushahidi in recent years for crowdsourcing information critical to relief efforts in crisis situations; the near ubiquity of Craigslist for not only classifieds, but also for giving stuff away; and the growth of Facebook from zero to over half a billion users since 2004. This is a rapidly changing field. An experiment that may be have limited impact today could be transformative in just a few years.
We’d like your help in identifying the ‘brightest spots’ out there. To help spur your thinking, we’ve created three brief stories of future. We looked to the year 2015, and imagined three different futures that explore how communities may be well-informed or mis-informed, how communities are coming together or not. All of these futures could happen simultaneously and there are ways in which all of these futures are already playing out today. As you read the scenarios, ask yourself: What are stories of success today – perhaps small—that could make a big difference if this were the future?
In 2015 this is a world in which there is pushback against overwhelming information flows and privacy breaches. People are ‘digging foxholes.’ They’re retreating to protect themselves.
This world comes about as people are sharing more and more information online, oftentimes unintentionally. At the same time, Wikileaks and other efforts at democratization through radical transparency begin to create a culture of paranoia: How will my actions today be recorded and used in the future? Attempts to regulate and curb the drive for total openness and transparency are unsuccessful.
Eventually, there is a backlash. People begin to seek greater security and control. They see only what they want to see and fringe ideas quickly gain power. People are looking for opportunities to simplify and filter the massive amounts of information coming at them, relying on single or select sources of information.
Transformative change is led by people and initiatives that project authenticity and provide clarity of direction in these times of distrust and uncertainty. Civic engagement is fueled by conveners who can foster trust, a renewed comfort with openness, and new connections that help people dig out of their foxholes. ‘Bright spots’ are found in new tools that establish credibility of information and make meaning in this information saturated and complex world.
‘Know Your Neighbor’
In 2015 this is world in which people know their neighbors. Residents are connecting with one another a lot. They’re coordinating online in order to share used furniture, rides, and babysitting. They’re cleaning parks, reporting potholes, and mounting campaigns for improved social services together. The more they interact, the more residents come to trust one another. There is no central hub or single organizing force driving their activity. People from across the community are taking action and inspiring others to do the same.
This world comes about as federal and state governments become increasingly bankrupt and there is an upswing of grassroots activity to preserve basic services—schools, police, firefighters. As local infrastructure is starved, residents come together—connecting in-person and on-line—to fill the gaps.
Online connections help people self-organize to meet their personal and community needs. Information can be filtered so residents can match up with one another in new ways—bartering professional services, coordinating care for ailing neighbors, and raising money for street repairs. E-town halls make it easier to participate in local civic events.
There are downsides to all this togetherness. People who live in homogenous neighborhoods develop myopic worldviews, disconnected from broader global issues. Some communities become so tightly knit that it can be hard to bring in new ideas. Residents may highly engaged, but not well-informed.
Transformative social change is led by those who are helping people see beyond their immediate communities and connect across diverse groups and ideas. Neighborhood connections are being sustained with support for informal resident led efforts.
In 2015 this is world in which people are hyper connected and hyper mobile. Someone may have a home in Charlotte, but most of their exchanges are in New York and Los Angeles. Someone may be highly engaged with organizing to end mass atrocities abroad, but disconnected from the upcoming election for their local supervisor. Community is a mobile and fluid concept that is shaped more by personal preferences than geography.
This world comes about as personal portable devices continue to drop in cost and rise in popularity. They’re used for everything from coordinating shopping to forging new relationships.
It is less and less necessary to be grounded in a particular geography. Even citizenship becomes mobile as people cast their votes for the ‘mayor’ of their town(s) of interest, not necessarily their town of residence.
The economic downturn continues and local infrastructure further deteriorates. The response: do it yourself. Parents turn to home schooling, accessing world class curricula and instruction for their children online.
These trends toward mobility and self-sufficiency are elite trends. As the educated and wealthy class disengages at the local level and forges connections across geographies, a new class structure is beginning to emerge: The connected cosmopolitan elite and the disconnected place-bound.
The connected class is consuming (and producing) news through friends and friends of friends. As a result, knowledge is narrow and deep.
In this scenario social change leaders are making place and civic life relevant. They’re harnessing the energy of the DIY movement toward civic engagement. ‘Bright spots’ can also be seen in efforts to diversify sources of quality information and increase connectivity for those who have been cut out of the MobileME world.
What new ideas about ‘bright spots’ for the future of community engagement do these stories surface?
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