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Engaging Citizens and Building Social Capital: The Exceptional Civic Story of Portland Oregon and the Role of Information Technology. Steve Johnson, Ph.D.

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Presentation on theme: "Engaging Citizens and Building Social Capital: The Exceptional Civic Story of Portland Oregon and the Role of Information Technology. Steve Johnson, Ph.D."— Presentation transcript:

1 Engaging Citizens and Building Social Capital: The Exceptional Civic Story of Portland Oregon and the Role of Information Technology. Steve Johnson, Ph.D. Portland State University Portland, Oregon USA

2 Background  Experiments with online communications early 1970s  Social network project on Arpanet, 1978-  First NGO computer technical assistance network, late 1980s

3 Where is Portland Oregon? Portland Oregon Metropolitan population: 1.5 million State of Oregon: 3.5 million 98,000 square miles







10 Trends of Civic Engagement in America


12 What is social capital?  If physical capital is wholly tangible, being embodied in observable material form, and human capital is less tangible, being embodied in the skills and knowledge acquired by an individual, social capital is less tangible yet, for it exists in the relations among persons.  Example, a park that is safe in a neighborhood vs. having to secure it with police

13 Civic engagement and Trust  A society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society  Frequent interaction among a diverse set of people tends to produce a norm of generalized reciprocity.  Civic engagement and social capital entail mutual obligation and responsibility for action.

14 AVERAGE MEMBERSHIP RATE IN 32 NATIONAL CHAPTER-BASED VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATIONS 1900-1997 Mean membership rate for the 20th century


16 FAMILY DINNERS BECOME LESS COMMON 1977-1999 “ Our whole family usually eats dinner together.” (married respondents only)

17 FOUR DECADES OF DWINDLING TRUST-ADULTS AND TEENAGERS 1960-1999 Percent Who say “most people can be trusted” instead of you can’t be too careful in dealing with people.”

18 Putnam’s Assessment of social capital and civic engagement decline

19 Character of Today’s Civic Participation  The more that activities depend on the actions of others, the greater the drop-off in participation.  Cooperative forms of behavior have declined more rapidly than expressive forms of behavior (e.g. letter writing)  More citizens participate through issue focused groups, extreme views are overly represented

20 The Exceptional Civic Life of Portland, Oregon


22 Photo courtesy of Portland Oregon Visitors Association

23 Depth of Citizen Participation in Portland and Oregon  3000 civic organizations  1 out of 15 people significantly involved in civic life  Current neighborhood system, 60 paid staff, 600+ volunteer positions with neighborhood associations

24 Honors  Best Bicycling city (Bicycling magazine)  Best Walking City (Prevention magazine)  Most Sustainable Policies (SustainLane)  Most Vegan Friendly (Vegetarian magazine)  Most Enlightened (Utne Reader)  Best city for dogs (Dog Fancy magazine)  Most woman-owned businesses (SBA)  Second best city for disabled citizens  One of the most attractive for young creatives (Rise of Creative Class)

25 The Health of a Civic Infrastructure

26 Elements of a Healthy Civic Infrastructure  Opportunity  Effective actions  Civic Space  Global & Local  Facilitative leadership  Deliberative Democratic dialogue  Sustainable civic story  These Audiences Young Elder New comers Disadvantaged Challenging groups Diverse population

27 Wisdom of Crowds

28  Difficult choice facing American democracy predicted by De Tocqueville  Many social and environmental problems can’t be solved without participation (chart)  Government becomes facilitator of community problem solving  Citizens need new civic skills and knowledge to be effective citizens  The example of naming a candy bar

29 Hardware and Software Solutions

30 Civic Engagement and the Internet

31 Overview of Internet Use

32 Internet and Broadband 1996--2006

33 Internet Users X X X X

34 Growth of use of Internet by NGOs

35 Access to Political Information and Public Affairs

36 Americans Getting More News Online

37 News: the double edged sword  Internet features such as customization can narrow the information obtained online.  Latest surveys show that more people now only access standard news sources, just online now.

38 E Government

39 E Government--Use Profile  97 million or 77% of internet users have gone online to search for government information and to communicate with them.  More Americans contact government by telephone but the WWW is the second most popular means   Internet users accessing government information online are more successful in achieving their purpose (65% to 53% margin)

40 Digital Divides

41 Most Important Digital Divides--in terms of civic engagement   Age. Highest along young, lowest among older Americans   Educational Attainment. High among college graduates, low without high school diplomas   Income. Highest use with households with $75,000 or more   Disability Status—low with people with disabilities   Language Preference—low among people with language other than English   Race and ethnicity—Highest among Whites and Asian-Americans, lower among African Americans   Community type—Highest in urban and suburban areas, lowest in rural areas

42 Digital Divide: Education X X

43 Civic Engagement Gap  Internet does not appear to be increasing youth involved in civic life  The youngest and least educated remain the least involved  Older and well education the most involved

44 Local Places and Non-Local Places

45 Putnam on Importance of Place   “Technologies like the Internet mean that our connections with people around the country and around the world are getting closer, while our ties to our neighbors across the street are weakening.” (Putnam)

46 Loss of Local  Citizens access more national but not local news online  Some evidence suggests long distance social networks strengthened at expense of local social networks  Blogs, likewise tend to be about general news and information not local

47 Public Space and Deliberative Democracy

48 Public or Civic Space  Habermas linked the birth of the modern liberal democracy during the 18th century to the emergence of public spaces, such as coffeehouses, clubs, salons, societies, and voluntary associations, and the press where the public can organize itself as the bearer of public opinion.  He also noted the current trend to privatize public space which undermines the role of civic space.

49 Deliberative Democracy   The internet prompts more knee-jerk reactions than deliberative responses (Stephen Bates, Annenberg)   And when there is more interesting discourse, you can tell it's people who just love to hear the sound of their own voices. They're not really listening to other people.   It gives people a way to respond instantly and often angrily and aggressively without taking the time to mull something over.

50 The Blog World   30% (50 million) of all American Internet users visited a Blog site in first quarter of 2005   8% (12 million) adult users of the Internet have a blog   54% of bloggers say that they have never published their writing or media creations   More than half (54%) of bloggers are under the age of 30.   bloggers are less likely to be white than the general internet population.

51 Conclusion

52 Social and Political Characteristics of Online World--organizations   Organizational membership may be loose, drive by, quick to form and quick to dissolve   Increase in intra-organizational communication   Local groups can have more national and global ties and perspective   Social networks displacing traditional group membership, “networked individuals”   Strengthening affinity groups at expense of cross-differences

53 Social and Political characteristics-- Individual   May increase expressive forms of citizen participation   Individual actions may have more power   Fosters weak ties at a distance   Citizens may retreat to comfort zones   Community moves in doors may be hard to detect

54 Broadband Growth

55 Crowds of Wisdom Software  Wikipedia  RSS feeds   Facebook  Podcasts  Youtube  Bit Torrent  Flickr  Digg 

56 It’s a “Long Tail” world – Chris Anderson notion Traffic Content 20%-40% of traffic or sales in the “long tail”

57 NGOs and the Long Tail  The increasing willingness of individuals to make online transactions plus the significantly lower transaction costs of online giving has flipped this longstanding rule on its head. As a result, organizations and campaigns are experiencing an increase in the number of smaller contributions.  For example, Dean for America raised more money than any Democratic presidential primary campaign in history, all with donations averaging less than $100 each.

58 Civic Democracy--Innovations  Democracy Portal--Seattle  Open Politics, Canada   and Rock the Vote    Democracies online Blog  Advokit

59 ChangeEverything  Sponsored by large credit union/bank in Canada  People list their social and environmental goals  Others share theirs, support groups form to help individuals meet their goals

60 Civic Engagement and Internet Scorecard


62 The Digital Natives

63 NPO Computing  General support,  PACE, Philanthropy for new style of NPO  E-Volve Foundation, support for online civic engagement  Craig’s List Bay Area Boot Camp  Community Technology Center’s Network

64 What to Do in the Civil Society Sector  Design connective strategies  Push power to the edges  Meet them where they are  Learn from and with the grassroots  Membership alone is not enough  Need for organizational flexibility (like Dell Computer)  Develop New sets of civic skills  Take advantage of spontaneous intelligent mobs

65 Civic Engagement: Definition  Civic engagement refers to activities by which people participate in civic, community and political life and by doing so express their commitment to community  Such activities include volunteering, voting, community organizing, political advocacy

66 What Information Citizens Access

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