eCitizenship and libraries: A few of my favorite things


One of the sessions at the recent eCitizenship conference brought together librarians with students and faculty interested in civic engagement.  The results demonstrate what learned several years ago: that librarians get web2.0 technology better than anybody else I know and are keen to make effective use of the technology to bring people together.  Thanks to Wayne State’s Next Generation Librarian, Mike Sensiba put the technology into action to record and post audio of the session.  The file is big but it streams nicely:

While I’m at it, thanks to the Director of Libraries at Macmaster University, Jeff Trzeciak for clueing me in to the technology in the first place, to the Louisville Free Public Library and MIT Design Laboratory for putting the future of libraries into ten memorable points, to the Director of the Ferndale Public Library, Doug Raber for indulging me in continued conversation on the topic and making it happen in my own community, and most recently to Darlene Hellenberg and Kelly Bennett of that same library for having had the brilliant idea to move library book discussions to the local bar.  Well done all.

Not anymore
Not anymore

Populism and Extremism in Foreign Policy

1177_titleI’ve recently prepared some thoughts on foreign policy of populist and extremist parties in postcommunist Europe and have uploaded an annotated presentation–see Populist foreign policy annotated.ppt or Populist foreign policy annotated.pdf–for those who are interested. It contains some thoughts on definitions of extremism and populism, makes reference to the excellent expert surveys by Hooghe and Marks et al and suggests that the two most important dynamics in assessing extremists foreign policy involve the tension between foreign and domestic policy (with domestic political needs usually prevailing) and the tension between extremist parties and their proximate “non-extreme” neighbors (and the more v. less extreme factions within those non-extreme parties).  An excerpt below:

When thinking about the broader patterns and how policy-makers should approach these, it is important to note that there are two important dynamics, areas of competition whose outcome has a critical impact on party positions and government policy. The first dynamic is the give and take between foreign and domestic policy arenas. While it may sometimes be the case that foreign-policy issues are highly salient and come first in the public mind, the evidence here and elsewhere (see Liang, Europe for the Europeans) that it is domestic policy questions—and quite often the quest for electoral advantage—that drives foreign policy positions. It is notable, however that extremism and populism have distinct patterns in this regard. In cases of purely extremism, the desire to exclude is often a genuine party goal, and parties may take foreign policy positions to reward those who dislike the same enemies or punish those who champion those enemies (as in the case of extremists increasing their opposition to the United States in response to US recognition of Kosovo, regarded as hurtful to Serbs and metaphorically as hurtful to those countries with large, regionally settled minority groups (Slovakia, Romania)

The populist dynamic can be the same as the extremist dynamic, though the populists may be more likely to employing the extremist cause for the sake of votes rather than out of genuine (this is an assumption and therefore likely to prove wrong on further investigation). The populist dynamic may also have another aspect, however that is relatively unique to populism: since populist parties (by the definition I have used) depend on attacks on a corrupt elite, they face difficulties once in power since they become elites themselves. Rather than seek alternative bases of support, the populist parties may seek instead to look for other “elites” above themselves toward whom they can allege corruption and against whom they can campaign. This may cause them to turn their attacks to major powers and supra-national organizations (the US, the EU) so that they can say, “yes we were elected, but now we’re fighting the real corrupt elite: them”

There is a second key dynamic at play here: the dance between extremists and those closest to the extremists on the “non-exclusionary” side of the boundary (a boundary whose location varies depending on the perspective of the observer and the context). The extremist parties themselves are rarely strong enough to shape policy directly, but they can do so in coalition or through their influence on vote-sensitive “flirt” parties. Parties such as Slovakia’s Smer and Poland’s PiS have demonstrated a willingness to enter into coalitions with parties with similar but more extreme positions on “exclusion” issues. The question, of course, is in which direction the influence runs, whether it is the extremist parties that shape the more moderate (but often much larger variant) or the other way around. Extremist parties can also shift the positions of moderate counterparts by forcing such parties into more extreme positions to avoid the loss of voters to the extremes, but only if they think they can do so without losing centrist voters. More work on such dynamics can be found in Przeworski and Sprague’s Paper Stones (1986) among many others).

Of course the interaction between extremists and moderates may also occur within individual parties and indeed most of the “flirt” parties and larger non-extremist populists have internal factions that represent a range of opinions from those near (or as extreme as) the extremist parties to those who hold rather moderate views on the same questions. The resulting policy positions depend on the complex interplay of coalition partners, intra-party organization and decision-making and voter preference. These are obviously highly contextual and so deciphering (much less predicting) these developments in particularly countries requires considerable local knowledge, even as broader, big-N research can help to identify relevant variables.

eCitizenship Conference: Streaming Video

ecitizenship_color_smallVideo of the main public events in the conference is now online thanks to fantastic work by the staff of Wayne State’s library and video departments.  You can find all of the links on their page here but for convience I reprint them below as well.

Archived Videos

  1. 11/12 – Welcome and Introductions: The Purpose of the Project: Ideas, Suggestions, Timelines, Expectations (Nancy S. Barrett, Marc W. Kruman, Kevin Deegan-Krause and George L. Mehaffy)
  2. 11/12 – iPolitics: The Rise of Participatory Democracy in Our Facebook, YouTube, Twitter Era (Jose Antonio Vargas)
  3. 11/12 – Engaging Citizen 2.0: From Obama to the “MyFaceTube” Revolution, How Social Media is Reshaping Civic Engagement (David B. Smith)
  4. 11/12 – Promising Practices in Online Engagement (Chris Haller)
  5. 11/12 – Brave New World of Journalism: A Citizen Media Symposium (Jose Antonis Vargas)

eCitizenship Conference: Liveblogging Wrap-Up Session


Student Forum:

Students suggest creating a student alliance, within universities and among universities at this conference and will start twittering each other to track each others’ progress

Students suggest educating teachers, getting them engaged in the community.  They need to understand the technology so that they can use it.  Get things started within community, encouraging professors and students to use technologies together.

“College is supposed to prepare us for the world.  Technology is such a big part of the world that our professors need to understand the technology.”

Social media, however, is the focus, not the main goal of the project.  The goal is to use social media to amplify civic engagement.  Link social networking to the overall problem.   Text messaging.  Here’s something that I can do right now to help, especially if it’s using technology.

How do you engage students, how do you engage the community.

What are key incentives:

  • These will help you prepare yourself for the workplace
  • These will give you a place to do things that they are passionate about, making the world a better place from their own perspective.

What should faculty do:

  • Workshops where students become the professors, teach faculty how to use this.

What tools should faculty use:

  • Faculty don’t even use blackboard, other things.  Inconvenience to students.  Students want to be able to find assignments, grades.  Distance delivered courses mean that they need other means of connecting.
  • Students were hesitant to engage faculty.  Students need to bring issues to faculty who really care so that they can bring it to the administration: “a student project backed by this university” or tell other faculty members, or tacit support through student organizations, lends an air of professionalism
  • Participants are concerned about where to start.  At Rhode Island they thought about starting an alliance among student groups (Amnesty, Habitat) to get the news out.

Campus Ideas:

  • Wayne State proposes a research project to study our own program of civic engagement to perform a network analysis to develop tools for cheaper and more extensive
  • Borrow the IUPUI idea of a democracy plaza—faculty write provocative questions and students respond—and go electronic.
  • Take video screens in studio center.  Post ideas, have them text responses onto the board.
  • Western Kentucky, website with interactive map that lets residents know about navigable waterways, tells about facilities, etc.
  • Spanish language students translated library materials into Spanish.
  • Use eCitizenship tools with regard to the census
  • Connect graduates to local communities.
  • University of Michigan-Flint, adding technology-based education to existing civic skills conference and export idea of civic skills conference.  Rather than start eCitizenship conference, how do we use the tools to do what we’re already doing.
  • Wave of the future is learning how to work together.  Civic skills are career skills and civic technology skills are some of the most important skills you could get.

Plans for follow-up:

ADP Conference will reconvene this group on Thurs. June 17 and have panels to discuss this throughout the conference.

Faculty students and everybody should feel free to get directly involved creating systems, setting up systems, working with systems to make this work.

eCitizenship Conference: Liveblogging Chris Haller


You can find a video of the presentation itself online here.

Chris Haller

Public Agenda

Promising Practices in Online Engagement

Allowing experts and citizens to collaborate.  Often dealt with under the heading of citizen journalism.  A formerly closed profession is now more often.  Citizens capture news as it happens, work with journalists to capture information.

Websites that generate bi-partisan buy-in.  In a polarized environment, how do we get people to talk together.  Techpresident is one example.  How do we get a new mechanism to observe elections, report on experiences, multichannel approach.

Connecting neighbors.  Communication mechanism on the smallest scale. use internet to connect neighborhoods.  Front Porch Forum in Vermont.  Neighborhoods where more than half the people are signed up.  Run on the most simple listservs you can imagine. Sometimes old tools are best.

Merge online and face-to-face engagement.  In the end we realize that both face-to-face and online have advantages and disadvantages.  All are part of a toolbox.

Often key is not technology but process.

Example: NAPA Health IT Online Dialogue (

Online brainstorming process.  Defines content type.  Concerns, stories, etc,

Key considerations:


  • Find a timespan that is long enough to allow participation Don’t want things to go on more than 2 weeks because it reaches a fatigue point. Will spike at the beginning, when there are reminders, and at the end. Endpoint. Challenging if no endpoint; forum that is open-ended, people lose interested.  No point in participating.  Lots of forums are open but die or become inactive.  Lack of activity contributes to lack of activity.  If no activity in a few days, people leave.  Pre-registration is useful.  Send email that says, “Now we’re starting.”


  • Seeding.  If you invite people to come, there should be something there.  During pre-registration add box asking for question or statement that can create initial content.  Reach out to colleagues friends to ask them to do this.

Avoiding early submission bias.

  • Those that pop up first tend to stay there.  One way to deal with it is to have various lists or various views of the same list: highest ranked or most recent, etc.  Or work with preregistration question
  • What is being rated.  How are they rating it?  What do ratings mean?

Example: KCEngage (

Social networking, using

Out-of-the-box miniature facebook.  Facebook only on a small scale.  Great for building communities of practice.

Community building is hard to do.  Harder than we thought even when people are committed to the topic. lets you build your own website.

Build groups/communities.  Member section, events calendar.

90-9-1 rule.  90% comes once, leaves.  9% come from time to time, are occasionally involved, 1% is the core group that keep it alive.  Simple discussion board,, experienced these phenomena.

Consultants find potential users who are enthusiastic about the online options but do not follow through, do not commit significant time/energy.  Need a core group of users before it will work.  Same thing is true of facebok groups, etc.

Need Community Manager.  Goes beyond claming flame wars or introducing new question but also reaching out to new people, getting them on board, making sure they know what goes where, checking web statistics to figure out where links come from, reaching out to blog communities.

Notifications.  Need to send out notifications to get 9% involved, re-attract some of the 90%.  When listserv is active, it can seem like spam.  If you get 20 or more you’ll begin to ignore.  If you don’t send any reminders, they give up.  Automatically subscribing commenters. Summary email to encourage people, tell them how to get back involved.

Activities.  Certain ways to engage users.  Contest, other mechanisms.  Goes across the board.  Will drop soon.  Facebook group have hard time keeping people involved unless they’re used for planning.

Incentives.  Contests, reasons to participate.  For theirs, with $500 reward, nobody just found it and did it.  All done through classes, students.  Extra credit was biggest incentives in those cases.

Submission Format.  Got 61 submissions for student essays, only 5 for video.  People tended to choose traditional methods.  Video takes more skills.

Other tools:


Q: What exactly does bi-partisan buy-in mean?  How do you measure that?

A: Outreach to bring in people from all sides of the aisle, get people to participate in the firstplace.  Measurement is important.  Can do some measurement after dialogues.

Q: Is it best to go to smaller venues to have these discussions, not the 300 million people in Facebook.

A: When you make a group you’re not immediately talking to 300 million people.  Facebook is a great way to start outreach.  Group or fanpage are a way to start.  You can’t go knocking on students’ doors but you need to reach them somehow.  Question becomes how compelling is this, how many students are willing to recommend to others.  Use it as a gateway.

Q: We want to get a widely spread group involved in a conversation.  How do we do that:

A: Use third party platform but use Facebook, Twitter etc. as portal, ways to get people to the platform, to one shared space that has a similar experience for everybody.  If topic is relevant, people will make the switch.

eCitizenship Conference: Liveblogging David Smith


You can find a video of the presentation itself online here.

David Smith

National Conference on Citizenship

Engaging  Citizen 2.0

Initial experience came with creation of

As part of it was creation of tools, the Youth Policy Action Center, started as a way to use the same technology as AARP, NRA and others, to help youth do the same kind of advocacy, from legislatures to city councils.  See:

One of the initial mobilization efforts was SOS: save our social networks, to stop the “Delete Online Predators Act” which would have limited social networks in schools and libraries.  They managed to freeze it by getting young people to contact members of congress.

Causes application on Facebook is another effort, used by 1 of ever 4 people who uses Facebook.

National Conference on Citizenship an old organization founded in 1946, chartered in 1953 in order to capture citizenship energy from WWII. Chartered “to build an active citizenry” especially through annual conference of organizations, look at best practices, develop tools.  Main tool is American civic health index.  Looks at 40 indicators of civic engagement.  Past 30 years suggests that we’re down: connectedness, trust in institutions, trust in one another, knowledge all down.  Recently starting to see upticks.  Biggest change in past had difference from college-educated and non-college educated.  Always looked like stepladder: more education=more engaged.  Netizen (people who engage in connection/citizenship activity online) population different.  Education not as significant a barrier.  Those who can get past initial barrier of digital access have more tools.

Millenials who use social networks online are also likely to engage online.  We don’t know about the causation but correlation is strong.

This year was tough year for civic health—people have pulled back. Economic recession is causing civic depression.  Almost ¾ have pulled back in civic engagement.  Three components serve as civic safetynet: God, friends and Facebook.  Religious institutions have re-emerged as pillars.  Over 40% of religious have increased civic engagement.  People who eat with friends, are connected with other have increased as well.  People who use online social networks are also increasing engagement.  Facebook, like friends and religion is about investing in relationships, spending time over time (sometimes too much time).  Of the 300 million members, 50% login weekly.  Those who use it regularly check it 8x per day.  Facebook and twitter are starting to become integrated into automatic life.

New tag for NCOC has been to “Defining Modern Citizenship”
Learning thorugh experimentation.
63rd Annual conference using social media.  This year 449 attendees
Many online viewers, tweet reach.
300 hours viewed by others. For example:

Micah Sifry on Engaging Citzen 2.0,

Joe Trippi (“you don’t want to be Goliath anymore.  You want to be giving out slingshots to the armies of Davids”)

Social media landscape:

Looks pretty daunting.  Where am I supposed to engage.  Which of these is the place to be effective.  MySpace pioneered this.  Facebook has surpassed it.  YouTube has exploded in terms of video, either found or created.

Uses Facebook, Twitter, Youtube.  Each provides something different but can be used in tandem.

Technology is not a tactic. It’s a set of values:

  • Democracy – opportunity for equal voice, opportunity to engage, from a few experts to many people with a bit of the truth
  • Collaboration
  • Interactive
  • Transparency.  Tech organizations leaning on government to get them to be more open.  You can release it yourself or it will appear on Google.
  • Engagement
  • Listening
  • Authenticity

Important for people to feel “ownership”?

Are we seeing the end of traditional organizations?

  • Hierarchical structure
  • “We are the experts” “We are the information gatekeepers”  When we tell you to call your representatives, you need to do it.  Obama, others are different.
  • Redefining membership.  This used to be a core mechanism.  When Common Cause started it quickly got hundreds of thousands of members.  That’s not the way people join things now.  Now it is “I’ll give you my email address if you give me useful information and something that allows me to engage.”
  • Shift from consumer to producer.  Our communities/economy has done this in reverse.  We’ve moved from producers toward consumers.  Internet, web2.0 has done this in reverse.  You must become a producer to be effective there.  If people say “nothing happens there” it’s because they’re not doing anything.  People will only follow you if you have something worth following.

NCOC—new, increased focus on civic data thanks to Kennedy Serve Act, some of that incorporated into Census and CNCS data gathering.  NCOC helps analyze and report it.

New indicator: how are people using electronic means? How are they being ecitizens.  Data will be so large that they can do state reports, city and local, regional reports.  Seeking local partners to look at this in communities.

Facebook Causes Research
Have great relationship with cause.  80 million users with 35 active users. People using it to start causes, donate causes, to invite friends, share media, create giving circles, service, contact elected officials.
Phase I is looking at dataset, how people do civic acts online
Phase II is longitudinal study, how does this change people over time

Civic Currency
With SplashLife.  Aggregate all validated civic actions.  Go to event, get validation code and gives points that can be redeemed.  Turns it into a gaming platform, creating alternate currency.  Can see realtime where people are engaging and what they are doing.


Q: What is the balance between consumer to marketer.  We become marketer of our own version.  Video that is unmarketed is less read.  Need sizzle with steak.

A: Tools now let people produce professional videos very quickly and effectively, lowering the gap.

Q: How do you quantify this?  How do you figure out whether it works?

A: Lots of talk out there about Slack-tivism.  These give us the tools to make the change.  We look at 40 different metrics of which only one is giving.  The others are engagement as well.  We’re sharpening our civic tool set.  Causes has that data but they haven’t mined it.  Things like how many people have you brought in? how many have you educated? How much media have you included?  Other metrics on trust and connectedness?  Are we building these?  This is an open question.  These have diminished over the last 30 years.  One way is to look at ourselves compared to the 1960’s.  Another way is to look what we want 2030 to look like.  We’re just starting to get into these indicators.

eCitizenship Conference: Liveblogging Jose Antonio Vargas


You can find a video of the presentation itself online here.
Find a video of Jose’s other presentation on Citizen Media (not liveblogged) here:

Jose Antonio Vargas

Huffington Post


He began research with Clinton “youtube” video.

“Did you know?” video ( by Karl Fisch has gone through

Facebook has expanded from its formation in 2004 to have 325 million users by November 2009, growth of about 400,000 per day.

Obama for President had facebook pages before even deciding to run for president.

Attended Iowa caucus.  Thanks to facebook/social networking, “it looked like a parent teacher conference in which the students have taken over.”  Transformative experience of watching a 13-year-old using the Barack Obama app on an iPhone, bringing politics into his pocket—local offices, fundraising totals, everything.

Statistics on Obama’s campaign:

  • Kerry’s campaign had 3 million emails; Obama had 13 million
  • Average donation was $80, 3 million donors made 6.5 million donations.
  • 1 million signed up for Obama’s text messaging (This is key; I don’t just text with anybody.  This is very personal.  One of the ten regular people I’m texting with is Obama.  At Obama rally, campaign asked individuals to send their phone numbers as a way to gather information and many did.)
  • My had 2 million individual profiles.  Individuals not only paid for the campaign but worked for the campaign.

And it’s just the beginning. Only 23 percent of the globe’s population is actually on the internet, according to the UN

Saw Google’s realtime map of searches: US and industrialized west were bright, India as well; Africa was not?

Does internet access become something akin to a fundamental right?

All Gore was on House Committee “for the future.”  He was right on two things: global warming and technology.

“Internet is perhaps the greatest source for reestablishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish.”—Gore

Key word is “Conversation”

Which brings us to “Citizenship”

Per: Merriam-Webster
1: the status of being a citizen
2a: membership in a community
2b: the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community

Tools that we have now mean that it is up to us to figure out what we can do

Students leading the teacher; linear education is disintegrating before our eyes.


Q: Getting away from the silo mentality and encouraging dialogues among groups.  Don’t these things just encourage dialogue among individuals who agree with one another?

A: Actually this is more open.  Not many subscribe to both; but people reading online may go to read documents from the other side.  They would not do this with print journalism.  All the internet does is reflect and amplify human behavior.  I didn’t know I was “liberal” until I moved to Washington; it was interesting to try and figure out where I fit.  People are starting to have conversations to figure out how to get out of these boxes.  Website “The Next Right” ( is the most interesting think tank for where the Republican Party is going.

Q: Is size important?  Will Facebook’s size be its demise?  Will the the LA freeway?

A: Myspace got too big, confusing—LA freeway-like.  Facebook has been successful in adapting, modifying.  Facebook Peace is there to encourage dialogue across, but do not have people engaged.

Q: People get wrapped up in electronic devices.

A: No such thing as online v. offline.  Same as with old and new media.  I am still figuring out what works for me and what does not work for me.  Not until 8 months ago did I figure out that twitter has value for what I do, but now I can use them to curate the information.  Technology is about connection.  Here we see it as communication.  In other countries—Russia, Iran, China—these are tools of rebellion.  What happens when more countries get this.

Q: Impact of For-Profit enterprises on engagement.  Does the internet let us challenge these things or is it potentially just a tool?

A: I think it is inherently democratic because of the low barriers to entry.  You used to be beholden to relying on corporate media, get in touch with you, read the press release, fit 30 minute thought into 30 second sound byte.  That’s not how the economy of the web works.

Q: Facebook, others seem so limited in what people are thinking; saying.  How do we have a meaningful conversation with such small limits:

A: It depends on what you are reading, doing online.  Has been emailing his father directly to show him what is possible.  Loves wikipedia to think about how people change wikipedia pages to think about .  Google Wave and video/text integration.

Q: When we’re talking about the digital divide and eCitizenship, aren’t we skewing our politics toward the middle class?

A: Yes. But I think that’s changing.  Went to a housing project in South Carolina to figure out how she could get online.  Clearly digital divide exists.  What we are seeing is schools, public places, especially libraries, make this a much more accessible thing.  Adoptive mom works at a community college and is fascinated about how individuals gather resources to buy computers.  Twitter is moving in broader direction.  Nonprofit groups are moving in that direction.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Challenges to Democracy in Slovakia

As part of the 20th anniversary commemorations in postcommunist Europe, (one of the U.S. State Department’s outreach websites) has been soliciting academics and journalists to write on “Challenges of Democracy” in the region (in 400 words or less!).  They were kind enough to publish my own thoughts (with no editorial intrusions) along with other comments about other countries from eminent commentators including Vladimir Tismaneanu, Janos Bugajski, Charles Ingrao and fellow Slovak Studies Association member Mark Stolarik.  My own take on the question (utterly predictable to those who read this blog on occasion) is below, but read it here instead so as to let the managers of demonstrate to their superiors that the idea was worthwhile.

Slovakia today faces several slow and subtle threats to meaningful democratic representation. These hardly seem dangerous when compared to the near-collapse of the Slovakia’s democracy in the mid-1990’s, but they are serious in their own right, especially because their subtlety makes them hard to see and even harder to correct.

Some current threats echo the problems of the 1990’s, particularly the growing politicization of the judiciary and other state functions and the sharpening of ethnic rhetoric. Questions of ethnicity in Slovakia are genuinely difficult, and it is no surprise that they remain at the center of political debate, but the shrillness of today’s exchanges risks long-term damage to relations between groups which have no choice but to live together. Although these problems are worrisome, Slovakia’s own recent history suggests that the cycle of alternating government and opposition tends to redress imbalances. Slovakia’s democracy survived worse periods of politicization and polarization, because Slovakia’s voters rejected extremes and opted for parties that offered more moderate alternatives.

But Slovakia’s political party system faces its own threats. Slovakia’s party system has become dominated by political parties which are less like classic European parties than like Internet startups: well-branded, CEO-driven organizations with a big-money investors, lots of consultants and short-term goals. They remain intact only as long as they continue to serve their function; otherwise they split or merge. Ordinary people become consumers, persuaded by flashy advertising campaigns to spend their vote on one product or another. These parties do not violate the formal rules of democracy, but the resulting interactions are thin and unsatisfying. In the worst case scenario, parties become vehicles for gaining office rather than for governing, and since they themselves do not expect to be around for more than one or two election cycles, they have little reason to pursue long-term and difficult policy changes. Faced with a parade of volatile new parties fighting for attention with famous faces and promises of renewal, voters become cynical about the political process and stop expecting that politics offers any solutions to public problems.

This problem is more akin to a chronic illness than a fatal disease. A sloppy, unresponsive, celebrity-driven democracy is still a democracy and can probably limp along indefinitely, but not without a huge cost in unsatisfied needs and wasted resources. Slovakia will not be alone in this—the same trends are emerging throughout the east and with only a slight lag in the west—but misfortune shared is still misfortune.

Reprinted from