Earlier this semester, students in my Library School course on Community Engagement gathered tools for online engagement that I, along with Charles Knickerbocker and Silona Bonewald presented to the National Association of Planning Councils conference. I’m summarizing some of these tools here for the benefit of Patricia Wilson’s Commmunity Engagement Course at UT and anyone else who might be interested. (Also, I’ve thrown my back out and can’t present to her class in person so I hope this will suffice.) Since Patricia will be moving through this material in a one hour class, I’ve added a * after the web sites that should be opened and explored during the class. I’ve also set them to open in a new window which can be obnoxious, but is useful if you are clicking through web sites in front of a room full of students.
Before adopting any technology, it is important to think about what are you trying to accomplish. Keeping that in mind, my class created some scenarios, then recommended a tool and possible applications. These scenarios were inspired by a webinar we attended that was led by Steve Clift, an early adopter of technology for public engagement, founder of e-democracy and an Ashoka Fellow. We also used the IAP2 model to determine if the tool was best suited to 1) inform, 2) consult, 3) involve, 4) collaborate, and/or 5) empower. Read through the scenarios below. As you think about these scenarios, consider:
- What are some likely tools address the challenge posed by the scenario?
- What are some possible applications of the tool?
- Who might use the tool?
- What are the strengths?
- What are the weaknesses?
- What is the level of public engagement as defined by the IAP2 spectrum?
Scenario 1: New to the community
You have just moved to a new community. You are unfamiliar with every aspect of the community but, in your old community, you were an active member. You helped plan the annual fair each year, volunteered at the hospital, tutored school children, and taught Sunday school. It is only your first week in this new community but you’re itching to get involved. You grab your computer and start searching online for some ideas. Where might you start? What technology tools will you use?
Scenario 2: Combating vandalism
You enjoying jogging through the local park every morning but lately have noticed an increase in vandalism along the trails. You have already contacted several individuals in the local government…Nothing has been done. Weeks have past and the situation is getting worse. You seek a public arena in which to voice your deepening concern. You would like to reach as wide an audience as possible. How might you utilize different tools from the technology tools list to reach the large audience you seek?
Scenario 3: Environmental hazard
You live in a small industrial town whose main employer is a large factory. However, you’re concerned that the factory’s chemical runoff is endangering local wildlife and, potentially worse, affecting the local water supply. What tools can best assist you to gather support, document any evidence/effects and subsequently present your case to a governing body?
Scenario 4: Tolerance and enlightenment
A group of students in a conservative town wants to form a Gay/Straight Alliance at their local high school, but are afraid to go public without a plan for presenting relevant facts & figures, involving fellow students, and getting the administration on board to approve. What are some tools the students can utilize to achieve their aims?
The basics about possible technologies
There are two great resources for a snappy introduction to the various technologies that communities might use to collaborate and form connections. Tim Davies, a UK blogger about e-democracy has created some terrific one-pagers that he freely shares through scribd* and Common Craft* has a number of short, light and informative videos. I suggest that you print out the one-pager for the technology that interests you and then watch the companion video.
Here’s an example of one of Tim’s one-pagers on blogging with wordpress, the tool I’m using to write this post.
EXERCISE: While you’re checking out Tim’s one-pagers on Scribd, sign up for your own scribd account. Scribd lets you share documents online. You can add tags, invite others to view. Viewers can easily download the document, share it with others through e-mail or over a dozen social networking sites, or even embed the document in their web site. They can even add it as a favorite so that they can easily find it later. The site even recommends similar documents that might be of interest to you. When would this be a useful tool? How might you use this as a student?
And here’s the Common Craft video about Blogs.
EXERCISE: Break into pairs and each pair take a different tool to explore. Download the one-pager here and see if there is a Common Craft video that correlates with the tool by doing a search here. What are some potential applications of the tool?
Hyperlocal Blogging or Placeblogging
Speaking of blogging, here’s our first application of a technology – hyperlocal or placeblogging. Sometimes the things that we care about, the things that affect us most directly in our own home town and our own block are not reported in the newspaper, but they are still important to us. At my parent’s neighborhood meeting the other day, the Chief of our volunteer fire department explained how they would respond to a fire in the neighborhood and how the scant number of fire hydrants puts the neighborhood in a vulnerable position. That’s pretty important news if you’re more than 500′ from a hydrant as 90% of the neighborhood is. It wouldn’t be reported in the newspaper – even in a small town like Salado. But some industrious civic-minded soul could set up a blog for free that would only report on things that people in the neighborhood care about. But don’t just take it from me. Here’s a video by Placeblogger’s Lisa Williams who also blogs about her community at H2oTown.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Lisa Williams on placeblogging on Vimeo”, posted with vodpod
“A Zogby survey released in February 2008 foujnd that 70 percent of Americans say journalism is important to maintaining community quality of life, but that nearly as high a number – 67 percent – say the traditional media are out of touch with what citizens want out of their news.” (See Fanselow, Julie. “Community Blogging: The New Wave of Citizen Journalism.” National Civic Review Winter(2008): 24-29.)
So why not give ordinary citizens the opportunity to report on what’s happening in their community?
The NY Times has their reporters hyperlocal blogging about the communities where they live. Here’s one example from Maplewood.
Another interesting use of hyperlocal blogging is for communities and grantors to share information with each other. The Northwest Area Foundation uses blogs as a key component of its Horizons program*. The Foundation gets a front row seat learning about what is working and what the communities need help with, and the communities in the Horizon Project share information with each other. They provide a grid of ways that people in communities can report on the progress they are making in their community and about a dozen screencasts on how to blog, why to blog and wordpress basics. Here’s one on why to blog by Griff Wigley, the founder of a community blog called Locally Growh Northfield whose early foray into community blogging has landed him a career as a blog coach.
EXERCISE: Check out some of the local blogs. What kind of stories do you see? How are they organized – one or more authors, groundrules for comments? What territory do they cover?
Social Networks for Participation and Collaboration
What if you wanted to enable people to set up their own blog, have conversations, share videos and photos. Two easy to use sites are NING.com* and Wetpaint.com*. I’ve used wetpaint for Texas Forums* several years. I call it my sandbox. It’s where I can dump things that I am working on and easily share them with others without worrying about it looking nice. I use it as a “not ready for prime time” website.
A couple of years ago I set up a wet paint site for a group of people in the American Library Association to see if we could frame Privacy as an issue for public deliberation using the National Issues Forums model online. They used the Privacy Framing site* to upload materials on how to frame issues, developed core questions to ask stakeholders, posted the results of their interviews, clustered their results into three approaches and created a discussion map that they will be testing at ALA this summer. COOL!
Ning is another option with lots of bells and whistles, and is very easy to set up. In just a few minutes in one of my classes online, a student set up a Ning site for librarians interested in community engagement* as a demonstration.
EXERCISE: Divide the class into two groups. Have one group set up a wetpaint site and have the other group set up a Ning site. Populate the sites and explore the tools. What are the relative advantages and disadvantages to each?
Where else to go…
Since my back is giving out and it’s time to find food, I’ll send you to a couple of other resources (i.e., really smart people who really know this stuff).
The social media game:* This game was first developed for a workshop led by Beth Kanter and David Wilcox in the UK in 2007. As is the nature of social media gurus, they are very generous with their creations so the game has been remixed. Check out the non-profit game* – lots of how-to videos and links to additional resources that will probably fit your interests.
Beth Kanter is one to follow.
Ok, sorry to poop out on you, but most anything I’ve left out will be in the social media game. I’ve got more resources I didn’t have time to post, but I’ll be back.
Look back over the scenarios. What tools could you use to help address some of the concerns and interests expressed in those scenarios?
Hope you had a great class, sorry I couldn’t be with you, but I look forward to hearing from you.