Knowledge Management for Civic Engagement

May 18, 2009

Interrupted by luminous speakers, interactive surveys, and directed discussions at the Free Press Changing Media Summit, I managed to have a conversation with the woman sitting next to me, and that was the best part of the conference for me. Patricia Aufderheide has co-authored a white paper (with Jessica Clark) Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics which has some interesting insights. As you would expect from a tract by an outfit called the Center for Social Media, Aufderheide and Clark see participatory media as an entrenched trend that will march on with or without “public” support. However, in conversation — and somewhat buried in the paper – Aufderheide indicated that there are a few essential aspects of participatory media that do need public support and attention. While Aufderheide and Clarke use semantics that fit squarely with the media industry audience they are connected to, in my semantic landscape, I would describe those aspects needing the most help as “knowledge management for civic engagement.”

I think of public media as a somewhat smaller, more contained realm than Aufderheide and Clark conceive of it. So it will be particularly interesting to see if those involved in public media embrace and move forward on the Center for Social Media’s larger vision of public media. In any case, I believe that their assessment is spot on. It’s unlikely that the curation and cultivation of participatory content specifically for knowledge that inspires and activates engaged citizenry will happen without some serious nudging.

To get a sense of why nudging is necessary, look no further than Florence Millerand and Geoffrey Bowker’s saga-like account of the process of adopting metadata standards by a group of ecologists. In spite of the fact that all of the ecologists involved support the concept of making their data more widely useful and available to their peers, that extra bit of work to translate one person’s work into something more widely useful turns out to be an unfunded mandate with unexpected consequences that often involve more work that stretches beyond the bounds of anyone-in-particular’s job description.

With this sobering study in mind, I read another article this week that came to us by way of Laura Forlano. From the Center for Embedded Network Sensing and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is a white paper Participatory Sensing: A Citizenpowered Approach to Illuminating the Patterns that Shape our World which envisions civic engagement enabled by using mobile devices (mostly phones) to do participatory research. It seems that the technology is in place for game changing methods of data collection– and media layered on such data– that can inform and inspire *if* and *when* we can innovate supportive social structures to take advantage of them.

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Media, Policy, Social Impact, Systems