Panel: Critical Futures in Networking
Carolyn Lukensmeyer,

Executive Director, America Speaks, Washington, DC

Peter Miller,

Community Technology Centers Network (CTCNet), Somerville, MA

Richard Sclove,

Executive Director, The Loka Institute, Amherst, MA

 

 

Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director, America Speaks, Washington, DC

Notes for Presentation to  

"Community Space and Cyberspace: What’s the Connection?"

Introduction. Our nation has grown to the reaches of our frontiers: our population extends the width and breadth of the continent; our economic engine has reached the highest levels of production ever; our government enterprise has become an enormous network of agencies and offices which spread outward from Washington.

There is wide recognition today that this phenomenal growth in virtually every institution in America has resulted in a widening gap between individuals and institutions. A majority of us do not believe that our national institutions represent our views nor will they carry out our intentions. The General Social Survey, conducted since the 1960’s, show a remarkable decline in our "trust" in government to "do the right thing:" in the ‘60’s, 70 percent of Americans had trust in government while today, just barely 20 percent share that faith.

Authors from may different perspectives have called this a crisis in institutional credibility As I have traveled around the country I have been inspired by the number of self-initiating citizens who, gathering with their neighbors, take action to impact the complex sets of problems that impact the quality of life in our communities. A rise to action is occurring -- what some scholar activists have called a "quickening" -- in America and it is occurring from the ground up.

Given this crisis in the credibility of institutions, we can identify several macro questions that demand our attention: very immediate sociopolitical and socioeconomic obstacles including education, income, and racial division. Critical question we must ask are: will the influx of information technology enhance and enable democracy or work against it? Will the mediating force of technology "open" institutions and systems and enhance constructive social relationships or maintain the closed networks of institutional power?

Responding to any and all of these challenges requires systemic change of a radical nature. There are no quick fixes to repair the extraordinary tear in our social fabric. Reasserting the importance of community space and connection to communities of place -- not just "communities of interest" -- is at the core of the challenge expressed in the theme of this conference - the connection between community space and cyberspace. How do you use freedom, power, and equal access to virtual institutions and communities to enhance democratic power, freedom, and access to resources as experienced in physical communities in real time?

In America Speaks’ work, we are attempting to create mechanisms and processes which link citizens’ voices to the leaders of institutions that have the power to allocate resources. This work recognizes that the traditional jurisdictions of government -- local, state, and national -- may be barriers to the creation of mechanisms that citizens will hold as credible to deal with the issues most impacting their lives.

A community network -- creating networks of responsibility physically and electronically -- is one of the tools that holds great promise to ensure that citizens have voice in an ongoing way as we evolve the forums and mechanisms democracy in this country.

As we engage this effort through time, we must recognize the seriousness of our present situation of institutional failure without losing heart that we can impact "the system" as individuals and collectively by addressing root problems in a systemic and systematic way.

 

Carolyn Lukensmeyer: Building A Framework for Democratic Renewal

AMERICASPEAKS 

engaging citizen voices in national governance

Building A Framework for Democratic Renewal

A Working Paper on Governance

 

INTRODUCTION. Americans are demanding reform of government institutions, and we are right to be frustrated: elected government leaders are becoming less and less responsive to citizens’ most urgently felt concerns. The rallying cries of the popular political debates are suffused with "quick fix" solutions – term limits, third parties, campaign finance reform, proportional representation and congressional committee reforms – that are necessary but not sufficient. A systemic rethinking of the role of citizens and of government in our democracy is required.

Over the past fifty years, public trust in government has waned, voter participation has remained near 50 percent, and traditional institutions which used to tie neighbors together no longer play such a critical role in American society. Recent data indicates that, at the same time citizens are feeling anxious and insecure about the direction in which our nation is headed, this insecurity stems from a "disruption of connection to others and to a larger sense of mission."

For a democratic nation to remain healthy, citizens must invest their time, energy, and faith in the institutions of government and civil society. We see less and less of the necessary personal investment today, even as governmental institutions pour money at a myriad of problems. Citizens’ good faith has been usurped by distrust, strong energy has been supplanted by lackluster participation, and good practice displaced by discontent. One 74-year-old former public school teacher in Youngstown, Ohio recently observed that, "The political structure is so screwed up - I don’t think I’ve ever been so disillusioned about anything as I have been about the government in the last ten years."

While there are many explanations for these developments, there is no satisfying strategy to reverse these trends and to create a strong and effective democracy for the 21st century. Our notion of self-government must be accompanied by a new understanding of government as an enabler of citizen initiative rather than a provider of services to the citizen.

The relationship between the institutions of government and citizens must be redefined. This shift will restore public trust in the institutions of government, provide a meaningful arena for citizen participation in their own governance, and reinvigorate the health of democracy in America. A renewed commitment to strong leadership and to a new partnership between the government and citizens is required to move America in the direction of a revitalized democratic community in the next millennium.

America Speaks’ contribution to the revitalization of American democracy is a four step process to bring citizens and institutions of government together in governing partnership. The four steps we propose challenge government officials to redefine their role as leaders, to become facilitators of a new kind of democratic dialogue in America.

In a recent Washington Post interview, one presidential candidate observed that, "You have to be accessible to people, not let them feel that once they elect you they never see you again." Our proposal moves the concepts of accessible and "interdependency-based" leadership a step further by suggesting specific mechanisms which facilitate/enable effective interaction between elected officials and citizens. This process also requires that citizens actively utilize the new structures and participate in the processes, to ensure that their voices will have a direct impact on the policy decisions that affect them.

Our objective in submitting this whitepaper is to secure a commitment from government officials in the legislative and executive bodies of government to work with citizens within a collaborative framework to ensure a stronger and more effective democracy in the 21st century.

 

BACKGROUND. If we are to renew American democracy, government leaders need to consider citizens as visible and equal partners in the exercise of democratic rule, and citizens must renew their faith that public officials are working to improve the quality of our lives. To realize the vision of a healthier democracy, America Speaks proposes that government officials work with citizens to design partnerships and processes that open new avenues for authentic citizen participation in deciding public policy.

The process that we propose will be initiated at the local level. America Speaks believes that local governing bodies are more relevant to people’s daily lives, and therefore citizens are more willing and able to engage in governance locally. A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Foundation/Harvard University survey found that an overwhelming majority of Americans trusted local government to "do a better job running things." We anticipate that local – "from the ground up" – efforts are required to lay a new foundation for strong and effective 21st century democracy. As local partnerships and processes among institutions and citizens are developed community by community across the nation, we anticipate the healthy growth of new governance relationships and shared responsibilities.

As these networks for democratic decision-making grow in number and legitimacy, local and state governments will work synergistically and increasingly reflect the priorities of larger and larger numbers of citizens. In time, the structures for revitalization will work their way towards the regional and national level.

Our proposal therefore calls upon elected officials at all levels to encourage local and state partnerships, initiating the process of national capacity building for positive change. America Speaks invites national, state, and local leadership to adopt proactive and collaborative positions as a response to the widening public disaffection with government.

FRAMEWORK FOR RENEWAL. Computer and telecommunication technologies have been developed to level of sophistication at which they are capable of providing interactive platforms that allow large groups of people to participate in collaborative problem solving. Such tools include cutting-edge computer applications (e.g. groupware systems and networked databases), instantaneous vote counters, real time satellite hook-ups among several meetings across great distance, expanded interactive television, deliberative telephone polling, and a growing sophistication in the design of "electronic town hall" meetings.

Equally, journalists who now have greater audiences than ever before due to advances in technology focus their attention on issues local communities must address and involve readers in these issues. In this civic spirit, journalists educate many different audiences and thus serve an important role in supporting this framework for renewal.

At the same time, specialists in organizational development have demonstrated techniques and expanded the capacity of face-to-face, large group process designs so that large numbers of people can deliberate, find common ground, and make shared decisions in relatively short spans of time.

America Speaks believes that these various approaches can be combined in powerful ways to challenge and revitalize American democracy. We have taken the first steps toward creating this synergy by integrating the concepts of face-to-face participation with the strengths of interactive, computer assisted technologies.

Our vision promotes collectively owned electronic and group process technologies that reach throughout a community to serve as the groundwork for new governance mechanisms. Diverse partners will be able to collaborate across disciplines and utilize the facilitative aspects of these platforms to articulate shared priorities across special interest lines. Each partner within such a network of responsibility is thereby more accountable for the whole, while simultaneously benefiting from the participation of all.

For these structures and processes to work, government officials must adopt a collaborative leadership style that recognizes the outcomes of such meetings as legitimate. The resulting web of partnerships and shared responsibility form a new "civic infrastructure" which will complement and invigorate our traditional representative structures.

America Speaks' proposal provides a four step path to establish such new partnerships among stakeholders in a community -- citizens, business interests, government decision makers, civic organizations. Each step is premised on the following 6 principles of a healthy democracy, developed by America Speaks.

. Democracy occurs in communities. While the citizen is the fundamental unit of a democracy and the family is the core of our society, democracy exists and thrives only within the interactions among citizens. While individual expression is essential, democracy is not really about solitary processes such as voting – whether via the internet or within a curtained voting booth. Citizens in dialogue, articulating the values they share and understanding their differences, reaching conclusions which are acted upon – that is the core democratic image we must nurture.

. Shared responsibilities. Each community member must recognize the part he or she plays in the health of the community's democratic condition. Rather than becoming involved to fight a "not in my backyard" issue, participation can be motivated by an understanding that we sink or swim together. This awareness that our society is the sum of each of our actions moves the community beyond fractionary interest politics.

. Public trust. The only way a healthy democracy can be sustained is through public trust. Trust depends upon inclusive processes overseen by leaders acting as stewards, who articulate and deliberate citizen concerns and bring all views to the table. It is such processes – managed by leaders serving as stewards, not as career politicians – which evoke the public's trust and are the foundation of the true authority of leaders in a democratic polity.

. Healthy struggle. We believe that creative tensions are imbedded in society's most contentious issues. These tensions are the heart of democratic struggle and are the wellspring of a vibrant, vigorous society; they must be worked out in public, in direct processes that engage citizens and leaders in open dialogue.

. "Both-and" relationships. The capacity to find common ground amongst, and incorporation of, diverse solutions must be restored, sanctioned, and preserved. The processes that yield to accommodation and integration must be strengthened and pushed to meet the healthy challenges of diversity in America.

. Thoughtful deliberation. Supporting the five foregoing principles is the capacity for thoughtful deliberation. The necessary skills include listening, inclusion, mediation, dialogue, reflection, and closure, each of which is recognized as a fundamental tool for strong and effective governance.

When these principles are incorporated into community-, city-, or state-wide governance process, the result is a more invigorated democracy than that which derives from our nation's contemporary institutional practices.

Traditionally, our leadership has produced policies rooted in the cultural values of their constituents. However, the multicultural, economically diverse, and information-rich America in which we live today demands that public policy making processes reflect and benefit from diversity in thinking. Therefore, we must transform our institutions and processes of governance to reflect this rich diversity of needs and values. We can do that by creating a collaborative framework, with new partners and a strong civic infrastructure. If we succeed, America will be well positioned to nurture effective leadership and citizenship for the 21st century.

MECHANISMS FOR THE 21st CENTURY. The framework on which the partnerships can be built represents a ground-breaking blueprint for a new way to govern in America. By encouraging states and their residents to assume proactive roles in the development of governing partnerships, we challenge ourselves and our leaders to move our nation towards more energetic and participatory democracy. The new partnerships outlined in this proposal initiate multi-sector collaboration and represent the genesis of new governance mechanisms: enduring tools and structures that stakeholders – citizens and leaders – will utilize on a regular basis to plan action and attain common goals.

America Speaks does not offer one model to describe stakeholder functions and the allocation of resources to achieve specific ends. Community-specific solutions must be developed by stakeholders within the community. America Speaks offers the processes and criteria within which these partnerships can be formed, strengthening our democratic institutions by lacing together into a network of shared responsibility those forces which appear to some to be most fragmentary.

The partnerships we propose do not isolate groups and interests, consolidate power, or draw authority from one institution to another. We do not advocate dismantling the representative institutions that have governed the United States for over two centuries. Instead, those institutions and the others that have long stood at the center of our democratic experience will enjoy enhanced stature when citizens recognize that the leaders of these institutions have clearly heard their voices.

We offer government leaders a systemic approach to governance which recognizes the interconnectedness of all people, institutions, and activities in a community. The partnerships we propose -- and the tools which will make these partnerships effective governing bodies -- represent a major breakthrough in linking participation, decentralization, and decision-making into a framework for renewing strong and effective democracy.

 

FOUR STEPS TO CREATE A STRONG AND EFFECTIVE DEMOCRACY.

1. Commit. Key officials must commit to this initiative and play a strategic role in the design of an effective method to develop and respond to citizen input on issues.

Trustworthy, honest facilitation by those involved in setting up and running the participatory process is essential. We need elected officials who are willing to act as conveners, facilitators, and enablers with citizens, eager to listen to thoughtful input rather than proclaiming answers from talking points. By signaling readiness to listen and work from the ground up, leaders take the appropriate proactive stance towards partnership.

A clear statement must be made to the public that describes the agenda and efforts to engage with citizens. A broad publicity campaign to widen the visibility of the initiative and encourage citizen support/participation should be considered as a vital step in legitimizing the effort to develop authentic, participatory processes.

2. Deliberate.Convene face-to-face hearings throughout the community which promote informed reflection by a legitimate group of stakeholders. Government officials must have a clear voice in these hearings, but one that listens as a partner to citizen concerns.

Among the most tested methods for convening such meetings are:

.The Citizens Jury process;

.The Future Search Conference;

. Hearings held by such groups as the League of Women Voters and local

citizens’ leagues;

. Consensus Conferences of the Danish Board of Technology

. Citizen dialogue networks such as Study Circles, USA;

The process should be long enough to allow citizens to articulate their positions, listen to one another, and reach a shared understanding about each others’ positions and about the advantages and disadvantages of each option. In the cases of volatile and contentious issues, a variety of methods should be sought to bring a group at loggerheads to closure -- rather than consensus -- in a timely and constructive way.

3. Engage. The outcomes and recommendations from the face-to-face meetings must engage the community as a whole.

The shared understanding, courses of action, and decisions to be made must be shared with a larger, representative group of the community. For maximum effectiveness, these larger town meetings should take place several times throughout the process, rather than just at the end. This round of dialogue is more dependent on technological tools to enable citizens to provide substantive input. Officials should work with partners to choose a method of effective outreach to, and feedback from, representative groups of the community.

Among the most tested methods for outreach and citizen evaluation of an initiative are:

.The TeleVote process developed by Ted Becker and Christa Slaton);

. In depth telephone interview processes as developed by Dr. Alan F. Kay and the Americans Talk Issues Foundation

. Deliberative polling process developed by Dr. Jim Fishkin, most recently demonstrated at the National Issues Convention in Austin, TX, January 1996;

. Electronic Town Meetings (ETM’s) as designed and developed by Choosing Our Future, the pioneering work of Duane Elgin and Ann Niehaus;

. Large group meetings such as the Kettering Foundation’s National Issues Forums;

. Center for Communities of the Future. three phase consensus-building process.

4. Act. Elected officials should commit in advance to a follow-up process through which they will make decisions on the recommendations and choices posed by citizens, clearly indicating how citizen input and direction was taken into account in reaching their decision.

Although there is no requirement that the elected officials follow the recommendations of the citizens, our hope is that elected officials will listen and respond to citizens’ recommendations in a clear and respectful way.

As public officials move towards decision making, they should demonstrate their willingness to reach out to the public in new ways, to show that they want to get away from the game of politics where insider influence carries the day. These decisions -- and the explanations for how those decisions were reached by the elected leadership -- should be widely disseminated. America Speaks will help lay the foundation for the effective and timely transmission of the outcomes in a timely and effective way, through the following outlets:

The Internet/World Wide Web; Civic journalism efforts around the country; public media outlets such as talk radio, local news and cable programs; communication networks of local, state, and national civic organizations.

CONCLUSION. Citizens feel less connected to their leaders and institutions than ever before. Across the nation and at all levels of society, the public is losing interest in American governance. Citizens lack an authoritative voice in too many communities, have a deepening sense of insecurity in the face of the monumental changes afoot, and have disengaged from the political process at all levels.

This loss of citizen participation is occurring in part because ordinary citizens perceive that they are no longer wanted or needed in the political process, that they cannot have a significant impact on America's institutions. Responding to questions about why he voted for Ross Perot in 1992, one Las Vegas resident said that he felt "emasculated by the system - impotent. " This growing gap between individuals and institutions -- between citizens and leaders -- is anathema to a healthy future for America's democracy.

Fortunately, there is a surge of citizen activism developing across the country. This energy must be directed into effective processes, before the people who care enough about the issues their communities face give up again. The pool of participants must be expanded to include the minority, poor, socially powerless and unorganized citizens who too often remain outside the problem-solving process. All citizens need the opportunity to engage in public debate and to make their voice heard over time in their communities. More than ever, the national political arena needs a mechanism that can authentically represent citizens voices.

As citizens, as communities, and as a nation, we must increase our understanding of and appreciation for social capital and civil society. At the same time, a new civic infrastructure -- adaptable, sustainable, and enduring governance mechanisms which form the nexus of civil society -- is needed to encourage, nurture, and support citizens and elected leaders in deliberative, collaborative and consensus-building processes. In other words, "If American politics is to recover its civic voice, we must find a way to debate questions we have forgotten how to ask. " These processes in which authority is shared, visions created, and public priorities set, will determine shared action for community and national change.

The America Speaks outline for democratic renewal is premised upon partnership. We intend to help create networks of shared responsibility and collaborative decision-making among elected officials, business interests, non-profit leaders, and citizens to strengthen the civic infrastructure of communities across America. We encourage leaders in government to begin the search for new processes and enduring structures that engage citizens in the healthy, rewarding exercise of self-governance.

FIGURE I. Core concepts of America Speaks’ proposed framework for 21st century governance mechanisms

In this diagram, the core principles and values of the new mechanisms are described. The options available must be selected by citizens to ensure that the structures and processes reflect citizens’ priorities and visions for democratic engagement.

 

Richard Sclove: Telecommunications & the Future of Democracy

Feb. 7, 1997

TELECOMMUNICATIONS & THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY

Pilot Citizens' Panel Overview

Overview: Background and Objectives

The EPIIC Program (Education for Public Inquiry & International Citizenship) at Tufts University, The Loka Institute, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities & Public Policy, UMass Extension, and MIT's Technology Review magazine are co-sponsoring a Pilot Citizens’ Panel on "Telecommunications & the Future of Democracy" on April 2-4, 1997. Based on the "consensus conference" process pioneered in Europe, a Citizens' Panel provides a context for nonexpert citizens to deliberate effectively on issues of public policy that are both technically complex and socially controversial. The Pilot Citizen's Panel will be held at Tufts University near Boston, and will include a diverse lay panel drawn from residents of the greater Boston area.

Substantively, our goal is to offer nonexpert citizens an opportunity to develop and publicize informed judgments on emerging telecommunications technologies and policies that promise to profoundly affect the future character of American society and politics. Procedurally, our goal is to demonstrate that: (a) notwithstanding our nation's greater socioeconomic and cultural diversity, nonexpert Americans can deliberate as successfully as their European counterparts; (b) the process can be easily replicated and incorporated into the public policy process.

The basic process of a Citizens' Panel is as follows: (1) a controversial policy issue is chosen (in our case, involving telecommunications systems); (2) a steering committee comprising a balanced group of knowledgeable stakeholders is assembled; (3) a diverse panel of everyday citizens (i.e., nonexperts, nonstakeholders) is recruited; (4) the panel is briefed over the course of two weekends; (5) the lay panel cross-examines contending expert and stakeholder witnesses in a public forum; (6) the lay panel announces its findings at a press conference; (7) the panel's report is publicized through the media and discussed in follow-up local forums in order to raise general consciousness on the issue, stimulate debate, and thereby help raise the level of public policy deliberations. The general topic for a Citizens' Panel is chosen by the organizers, however the specific subsidiary questions that are addressed are chosen by the lay panel in the course of their preparatory weekend meetings [1].

Issue Discussion: Telecommunications & the Future of Democracy

Recent and impending advances in telecommunications services (reflected in the metaphor of an "information superhighway") promise sweeping transformations in economic organization, society, and politics. Important but relatively familiar issues include questions of industrial structure (e.g., the recent wave of corporate media megamergers), government regulation (e.g., of free speech in cyberspace and personal privacy), accessibility and affordability of new technologies, and whether or not they will be deployed in ways that support or erode civic functions (issues explored, for example, in Lawrence Grossman's 1995 book, The Electronic Republic ). But other issues, arguably at least as vital, have received much less public attention.

For instance, jobs will be created, eliminated, dramatically altered, and shift location (including transnationally). There are already many examples of jobs ranging from industrial manufacture, insurance claims processing, and software design being telexported to other nations. Within the U.S. individual workers can find their opportunity to flexibly adjust their own working conditions much enhanced (e.g., via the voluntary option to telecommute from home or from a neighborhood telecenter) or, alternatively, diminished as a result of computer pacing and monitoring and/or a nonvoluntary requirement that they telecommute from home. These developments will, among other things, have sigificicant implications for the future of labor organizing and the political influence of workers.

There will be direct and indirect repercussions for community and social organization. For instance, nonterritorial "virtual communities" may or may not prove a viable substitute for face-to-face social life. But will they tend to erode or complement traditional forms of social engagement; and will they tend to reinforce or break down current ethnic, racial, class and other social divisions? Electronically mediated commerce could prove a boon for small communities and businesses that find themselves suddenly able to compete in larger markets. Alternatively, a "cybernetic Wal-Mart effect" could sap economic and cultural vitality from existing neighborhood and downtown commercial centers.

Such economic and social transformations will, in turn, translate into changes in political structures and social power relations. For instance, small or georgraphically dispersed groups, or people with physical disabilities, may be able to communicate and coordinate in new, socially empowering ways. But it is also possible that the new technologies will make individuals more dependent on global market forces or large distant institutions that they cannot appreciably influence. And how will territorially based political jurisdictions cope if social relations become increasingly nonterritorial?

Thus, opinion differs widely regarding whether the coming changes will on balance be benign or socially detrimental. One can find responsible spokesmen for relatively Utopian/Messianic visions of a coming economic cornucopia and perfection of democratic communication and decisionmaking, juxtaposed with equally credible predictions of coming social dislocations and deepening social inequality (rooted in metaphors of an emerging society of "information haves" and "have nots"). Apart from these polar oppositions, there are a wide array of highly nuanced intermediate or alternative views.

Opinions even vary on whether the emerging telecommunications systems will indeed fundamentally change societies, merely extend social trends underway for other reasons, or simply reproduce prevailing social systems. In any case, technological determinists--who come in both optimistic (e.g., Newt Gingrich) and pessimistic (e.g., the Unabomber) variants--tend to view social outcomes as largely predetermined by socially autonomous technological imperatives. But others insist that the specific technologies that are adopted, and their ultimate social consequences, will depend crucially on social choices and policies governing their development, design and use.

This is a highly propitious historical moment to provide nonexpert citizens with an opportunity to formulate and publicize their own judgments on these issues. For instance, the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 mandates a series of important Federal Communications Commission and state public utility commission decisions during the next few years that will shape the future of telecommunications--and consequently of the economy, society and politics--for many years to come.

Moreover, the coming technological transformations will ultimately affect every member of our society, whether or not they ever use a computer. In this context, a Citizens' Panel can provide a mechanism for involving a range of affected people who are otherwise entirely unrepresented in current telecommunications policy deliberations.

Organizational Details

The proposed Citizens' Panel on "Telecommunications & the Future of Democracy" will take place at Tufts University in April 1997. Because this will be the first introduction of the European "consensus conference" process in the United States, we are choosing to limit the selection of the initial lay panel to residents of the greater Boston area. Relative to a nationwide or regional Citizens' Panel, this will reduce the logistical complexity and costs, while still encompassing an extremely diverse population. The process will be documented and evaluated to facilitate learning, improvement, and future U.S. replication of the methodology.

To help build media and public attention, the sponsoring organizations will will solicit the involvement, co-sponsorship and/or endorsements from Massachusetts elected and appointed officials.

As of Jan. 1997, the members of the project steering committee include: Paul Aaron (Benton Foundation and Brandeis University), Colin Crowell (Staff of U.S. Congressman Edward Markey), Sharon Gillette (Victory Research and Sloan School, MIT), Sandra Hackman (Technology Review magazine), Jarice Hanson ( Dept. of Communication, University of Massachusetts- Amherst), Charles Kravetz (New England Cable News), Alex Morrow (Lotus Development Corp.), Mariko Nakanishi (Student, Tufts University), Laura Reed (Project Manager, MIT), Richard Sclove (The Loka Institute), Sherman Teichman (EPPIC Program, Tufts University), Kristan Van Hook (National Telecommunications Information Administration), and Greg Watson (Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative).

NOTES

[1]. For further general information on citizens' panels and consensus conferences, see Richard E. Sclove, "Town Meetings on Technology," Technology Review, vol. 99, no. 5 (July 1996), pp. 24-31 (available on the World Wide Web at http://www.amherst.edu/~loka/panel/techrev.htm); and Simon Joss and John Durant, eds., Public Participation in Science: The Role of Consensus Conferences in Europe (London: Science Museum, 1995).

 

Richard Sclove: Building a Community Research Network (CRN)

Copyright 1996 by Madeleine Scammell & Richard Sclove

"I learned that there was a real thirst for collaborative research, a real need for the Community Research Network." --CRN conference participant

"A phrase popularized by community activists--`Think globally, act locally'--can serve equally well as a slogan for university-based scientists who want to use their knowledge to help their neighbors....Two weeks ago, [Richard] Sclove gathered together some 50 activists, scientists, and university officials who share his beliefs to lay down plans for a Community Research Network." --Science magazine, 2 Aug. 1996, pp. 572-573

Community research is rooted in the community, serves its interests, and encourages citizen participation at all levels. In the Netherlands a national network of 38 university-based community research centers, or "science shops," responds annually to 2,500 requests on such issues as analyzing the needs of disadvantaged minority groups, workplace safety, industrial pollutants, and all domains of public policy. Virtually every Dutch grassroots and nonprofit organization knows how to contact this network when research assistance is needed [1].

Although in the United States there are organizations and programs doing participatory research and other forms of community research, they are few and far between, and often they are invisible or inaccessible to those who could benefit most from their assistance. And in contrast with the Dutch network, U.S. community research practitioners have frequently been unaware of each other's work and have had little sense of themselves as part of something larger--e.g., a nationwide system or social movement.

The Loka Institute has been working during the past year to establish a Community Research Network (CRN) in the U.S. modeled partly on the Dutch national network [2]. We began by assembling a national board of advisors and establishing a community research discussion list on the internet. (To subscribe, send email to <listserv@ncsu.edu> with a blank subject line and "subscribe scishops [your name]" as the message text.) By February 1996, we were planning the first face-to-face meeting of members of the network.

THE CONFERENCE

Loka's work on the CRN caught the interest of John Gerber, director of UMass Extension (the Massachusetts cooperative extension system). Gerber saw in the CRN an opportunity to renew and revitalize the mission of U.S. land grant colleges. Last winter he and Loka director Dick Sclove enlisted the support of Paul Shuldiner in the UMass-Amherst Science, Technology & Society program to plan the CRN conference. The two UMass programs and Loka pooled ideas, funds, and staff energy.

We held the conference in Amherst, Massachusetts, the weekend of July 19, 1996. The four dozen participants from across the U.S. (plus one each from Canada and the Netherlands) included representatives of such grassroots, nonprofit, and university-based organizations as: the Southwest Organizing Project, Northeast Florida Community Action Agency, the University of Wisconsin School for Workers, Chicago's Policy Research Action Group and Southeast Asia Center, the Applied Research Center in Oakland, and the Science & Environmental Health Network. (See the Appendix at the bottom of this Alert for a complete list.)

As the conference progressed, conferees took control of the meeting, in the process building a strong sense of fellowship and terrific enthusiasm for creating a Community Research Network. Following are some questions posed during the conference by David Schecter of San Francisco, along with a few of the responses that resulted from small working group discussions:

* What is the purpose of a Community Research Network?

In promoting community research, the network can nurture new community groups looking for organizational models, and also advocate more funding for community research. It will serve a variety of community-based organizations and unaffiliated groups that have unmet research needs (reflecting inadequate resources, technical expertise, or tools for improving their lives). Ultimately, the network can alter universities by integrating social responsibility into knowledge creation.

* What can we do together (i.e., as a network) that we can't do separately?

Network members can keep one another from feeling isolated, as well as foster collaborative community-based projects (including transnational collaborations). Members can also coordinate their actions to promote community input into larger local, state, and national agendas. Together, network participants will be able to address *any* kind of issue and be accessible to *every* kind of grassroots, public-interest, worker, and local government organization.

* What benefits should the network provide?

By making existing community research programs more visible, and promoting new programs, the network will strive to provide all people with a safe place to ask questions, while bringing together those who share similar experiences or concerns. The network will aim to provide universal access to research processes and to the kind of information-sharing that leads to democratic decision making and, in turn, to empowered communities. Additionally, through the network academics will be able to locate examples of academics doing community research and share "how to" questions and methodologies. At a future time the network could possibly provide funding to community research centers.

* To what larger goals can the network contribute, beyond what we are capable of doing ourselves?

The network will help make science socially responsive to democratically decided popular concerns, while making public institutions more accountable to their communities. The network will help bridge the gap between universities and communities and integrate knowledge with practice on a large scale. The network should also give grassroots communities a larger voice in policy, and increase political interaction generally.

* * *

The group set a number of key priorities for the fledgling CRN. We accorded high priority to establishing an accessible communications infrastructure (both Internet-based and not), without which we won't have a network. A number of participants are presently beginning to develop a database through which, ideally, anyone will be able to find out who is doing community-based research, what they are studying, and how to contact them. This would perhaps be part of a larger "tool kit" for use by anyone interested in community-based research.

As the conference concluded, conferees signed up for three committees to continue working afterwards: Governance, Funding, and Program Development. The Governance committee volunteered to try to increase diversity within the network, in part through a second CRN planning meeting that will include only social, labor, and grassroots activists. The Loka Institute will serve as interim coordinating center and secretariat for the new network. Attendees agreed that participation in the network will not be restricted to the United States--a decision reflecting the fact that several conferees live or work in other nations, and that together we are in touch with many community research centers throughout the world.

If you are interested in finding out more, please subscribe to the scishops listserv (see instructions, above) or send an e- mail request for further information to <Loka@amherst.edu>. Madeleine Scammell (Loka Institute) and Will Snyder (UMass Extension) are in the process of completing a full conference report. A subsequent Loka Alert, as well as the Loka Web page <http://www.amherst.edu/~loka> will announce the report's availability.

NOTES

Will Snyder of UMass Extension assisted in assembling information for this essay.

[1]. Richard E. Sclove, "Putting Science to Work in Communities," _Chronicle of Higher Education_, Vol. 41, No. 29, 31 March 1995), pp. B1-B3. Available on the Loka Institute Web page <http://www.amherst.edu/~loka> or by e-mail request from <Loka@amherst.edu>.

[2] See Loka Alert 3:1, "Democratic Research." Available by World Wide Web or e-mail (same instructions as note [1], above).

APPENDIX

List of Participants in Loka's July 1996 Community Research Network Planning Conference:

Joanne Adams, Policy Research Action Group, Chicago.

David Anderson, Student Pugwash USA

Luis Aponte-Pares, Community Planning Center, UMass-Boston

Benjamin Barber, Whitman Center, Rutgers University

Cynthia Barstow, UMass Extension

Elizabeth Bird, Consortium for Sustainable Agricultural Research & Education

John W. Edwards, Jr., Northeast Florida Community Action Agency

Frank Emspak, School for Workers of the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Leonard Fiorilli, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Loka Institute

Brigit Fokkinga, Science Shop, University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Jeanne Gauna, Southwest Organizing Project, Albuquerque

John Gerber, UMass Extension

Susan Goetz, Applied Research Center, Oakland, CA

Robert Hackett, Bonner Foundation, Princeton, NJ

Lily Louie, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The Loka Institute

Frederique Apffel Marglin, Department of Anthropology, Smith College

Laurie Millman, The Loka Institute

Jeffrey J. Moore, Regional Development Finance Authority and Urban Universities Network, Ohio.

Michelle Murrain, School of Natural Science, Hampshire College

Michael Oden, Project on Regional & Industrial Economics, Rutgers University

Diane Palladino, Institute for Science & Interdisciplinary Studies, Amherst, MA

Carolyn Raffensperger, Science & Environmental Health Network, Windsor, North Dakota

Mirran Raphaely, UMass Extension

Joan Roelofs, Department of Political Science, Keene State College

Patricia Roman, Humanities & Social Science Federation of Canada

Cathy Roth, UMass Extension

Wade Roush, Science Magazine

Barbara R. Rusmore, environmental and agricultural activist, Helena, Montana

Dennis Sakurai, Southeast Asia Center and PRAG, Chicago

Madeleine Scammell, The Loka Institute

David Schecter, San Francisco

Marcie Abramson Sclove, The Loka Institute

Richard E. Sclove, The Loka Institute

David Scott, Chancellor, University of Massachusett, Amherst

J.C. Shaver, Cornell Cooperative Extension

Philip T. Shepard, Michigan State University

Paul Shuldiner, Science, Technology and Society Program, UMass- Amherst

Kim Slinski, UMass Extension

Marge Slinski, UMass Extension

Eff J. Smith, Antioch College and the Loka Institute

Deborah P. Snow, Community Technology Centers Network

Will Snyder, UMass Extension

Henry B. Thomas, Department of Public Administration, University of North Florida

Lee Lyle Williams, Community Partnerships Center, University of Tennessee at Knoxville

 

Richard Sclove: Democratic Research Toward a National Community Research Network

 

DEMOCRATIC RESEARCH:

TOWARD A NATIONAL COMMUNITY RESEARCH NETWORK

By Madeleine Scammell, Doug North, and Richard Sclove

The Loka Institute, P.O. Box 355

Amherst, MA 01004, USA

E-mail Loka@amherst.edu

World Wide Web http://www.amherst.edu/~loka

CONTENTS

"Epidemiology By the People" in Woburn

Community-Based Research: Making a Difference

Establishing a National Community Research Network

Four Mini-Cases and Their Practical Results

Next Steps

Contact Information & Sources

 

"I'd take a bath and break out, like chicken pox. Take another and there's the pox again. I took a water sample to the health department; they said nothing's wrong with it. I thought they was good people, smarter than I was. But they wasn't."

--Victim of toxic waste poisoning

(quoted in Brown and Mikkelsen 1990, p. 145)

Some readers of Loka Alerts may know the story of toxic waste in the town of Woburn, Massachusetts in the United States: Two decades ago children in Woburn were contracting leukemia at alarming rates. Other childhood disorders such as urinary tract and respiratory disease were also unusually common, as were mothers' miscarriages. The families of the leukemia victims were the first to discern a geographical pattern in the proliferation of disease.

Anne Anderson, whose son Jimmy had leukemia, began gathering information about other sick children based on chance meetings with other victims' families and word of mouth. She theorized that the proliferation had something to do with the town water supply and asked state officials to test the water. She was rebuffed.

The affected families responded by initiating their own epidemiological research. Eventually they were able to establish the existence of a cluster of leukemia cases and then relate it to industrial carcinogens leaked into the water supply. Their civil suit against the corporations responsible for the contamination resulted in an $8 million out-of-court settlement and provided major impetus for federal Superfund legislation that provides resources to cleanup the country's worst toxic waste sites.

Two key factors led to this outcome: (1) victims and their families organized and worked together; and (2) they were able to enlist the help of several scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health and at John Snow, Inc. (JSI), a nonprofit organization, who conducted crucial research both with and on behalf of the affected families. The Woburn case is an example of what community-based research can accomplish. (Brown and Mikkelsen 1990)

COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH: MAKING A DIFFERENCE

 

Presently, most research in the United States is conducted on behalf of private enterprise, the military, the federal government, or in pursuit of the scientific community's intellectual interests. Minority or lower income groups (such as the residents of Woburn) have little influence over the direction of research. Consequently, research agendas often favor elite groups and--wittingly or not--help them maintain privileged positions.

In contrast with this prevailing undemocratic model, "community- based research" is rooted in the community, serves a community's interests, and frequently encourages citizen participation at all levels. For instance, the Woburn case involved citizens collaborating with university experts as well as with an organization (JSI) that is dedicated to helping citizens conduct research. Community-based research aims not merely to advance understanding, but also to ensure that knowledge contributes to making a concrete and constructive difference in the world.

Despite the effectiveness and democratic nature of community-based research, it has yet to be widely adopted in the United States. However, some other nations have well established systems for conducting such research. In particular, in the Netherlands a national network of 50 university-based "science shops" provides answers each year to about 2,500 research requests submitted by community and public-interest groups, unions, and local governments. (See Sclove 1995, available by e-mail request from Loka@amherst.edu or by visiting World Wide Web page: http://www.amherst.edu/~loka/alerts/loka.2.5a.txt).

THE LOKA INSTITUTE'S INITIATIVE TO ESTABLISH A NATIONAL COMMUNITYRESEARCH NETWORK

The Loka Institute is a nonprofit organization concerned with making science and technology more attentive to social, political and environmental concerns, by encouraging the participation of citizens, grassroots, public-interest groups, and workers. As part of this effort, we have begun a project to establish a national community research network, based partly on the analogous Dutch "science shop" system. Our objectives are to:

As an initial step, The Loka Institute has assembled a national board of advisors possessing a wide range of pertinent knowledge and experience, as well as representing racial, gender, and geographic balance. We have also established a community research discussion list on the Internet. (To subscribe, send e-mail to <listserv@ncsu.edu> with a blank subject line and "subscribe scishops [your name]" as the message text). In July 1996 we organized a national meeting to plan a Community Research Network (a report on this meeting and its practical results is available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.amherst.edu/~loka/ncrn/ncrn.htm).

Many subscribers to the "scishops" listserv already perform community research in one guise or another, but were not previously aware of one another's work. Others wish to start new community research programs. Subscribers include leaders or staff members from public-interest organizations and community groups, university professors, students, workers, progressive business folk, government staff members, researchers from U.S. national laboratories, and others. About one-quarter are non-U.S.

Loka has recently begun compiling a set of case studies of community-based research in the U.S. and elsewhere. These will eventually go into a directory and resource manual on community-based research, as part of our broader effort to create a national community research network.

MINI-CASE STUDIES OF COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH AND ITS PRACTICAL RESULTS

We provide below four mini-case studies of community-based research and its practical results. We are interested in assembling additional examples representing a variety of institutional settings--especially those that can be replicated at low cost and that serve groups whose interests have historically been slighted by traditional research agendas. We hope that these examples will inspire more dialogue on this topic and help us all tap into the underdeveloped potential of community-based research:

(1) Jacksonville Community Council Inc., Jacksonville, Florida: Assessing the Fairness of Public Service Distribution

THE ORGANIZATION

The Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. (JCCI) is a broad-based civic organization that performs research intended to create positive changes in the quality of life in Northeast Florida. Study topics are selected by a committee of JCCI members--which includes all citizens who express an interest--after soliciting input from public officials, nonprofit organizations, human service agencies, labor leaders, minority community leaders, and the public at large. Members of JCCI and the community study the selected topics, reach consensus on key findings, and compile a list of recommended solutions.

CASE STUDY

A 1994 JCCI study examined public services in Jacksonville, Florida--including streets and drainage, parks and recreation, and police and fire services--to determine their geographic distribution. Based on its research, JCCI recommended more citizen involvement in decision making on the distribution of public services, improved monitoring of public service distribution, better adherence to standards concerned with achieving distributional fairness, and better communication between city functionaries and the public. These recommendations resulted in implementing an annual "Equity Index" that assesses how evenly public services are distributed in six districts comprising the Jacksonville area. Although this program is just getting off the ground, it has already prompted the Sheriff's Office to implement a new system for more equitable patrol services (JCCI 1994).

2) Policy Research Action Group, Chicago, Illinois: Determining Health Care Needs of Refugee Women

 

THE ORGANIZATION

The Policy Research Action Group (PRAG), a group of Chicago-based academics and community activists, has built a collaborative research network to connect research with grassroots activism. PRAG sponsors a Community Studies Internship program, which supports students who conduct research for community organizations. An Apprenticeship Program enables individuals from community-based organizations to develop their research skills by working on community research projects with mentors outside of their organization. PRAG also offers graduate student stipends at local universities for community-based policy research projects, and awards research grants to community-based organizations, independent researchers, and university researchers. In addition, PRAG sponsors workshops to present its research findings to community groups and policy makers.

 

CASE STUDY

For example, PRAG connected a student intern from Northeastern Illinois University with the community-based Mutual Aid Associations of Chicago Collaborative (MAACC). MAACC sought data on the health care needs of refugee women--including women from Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Laos, and Vietnam--in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. In cooperation with MAACC, the intern conducted a literature review and designed a questionnaire about health needs that was given to 85 refugee women. The study found that the women had a low rate of involvement with the American health care system, were frustrated with the overcrowded conditions at the community health clinic, and were concerned with domestic violence. As a result of the research, the Mutual Aid Associations started a women's health program that is giving refugee women greater access to the health services they need (PRAG 1995).

3) The Northern Ireland Science Shop, West Belfast: Surveying Adolescent Alcohol Abuse

THE ORGANIZATION

The aim of the Northern Ireland Science Shop is to make the knowledge and skills of the two area universities accessible to community and voluntary groups throughout the province who do not have the means to pay for this information.

CASE STUDY

Two volunteer citizen groups formed based on their concern about alcohol abuse among young people in West Belfast. When these groups approached the pertinent government agencies, officials said they needed documented proof of underage drinking before they could become involved. The citizens went to the Northern Ireland Science Shop, which helped them design and implement a research project. The Shop suggested reading materials; identified a Queen's University professor and graduate student who assisted in drawing up a sampling frame and questionnaire; and involved a group of University of Ulster students, who needed to conduct research as part of their course work. Finally, the Shop helped process and disseminate the results.

The study confirmed that there were indeed problematic levels of alcohol abuse among young people in West Belfast. As a result, adolescent alcohol abuse is now on the agenda of the statutory agencies in West and North Belfast, and the citizen groups have been invited to sit on a social services working group that is devising a strategy for tackling the problem (Martin 1991).

4) The Group de Recherche-action en Biologie du Travail, Montreal, Canada: Studying Occupational Hazards in Poultry Slaughterhouses.

 

THE ORGANIZATION

The University of Quebec-affiliated Group de Recherche-action en Biologie du Travail undertakes research projects for unions in an effort to improve the working conditions, health, and well-being of workers. A committee made up of union and university representatives receives project requests from the unions, and chooses which projects to pursue. Workers are encouraged to "participate actively in all stages of the research-- selection and identification of the problem, choice of hypotheses and methods, analysis and interpretation of data--contributing to their knowledge of the situation and assuring that the research corresponds to their needs."

CASE STUDY

In one case, researchers were contacted by poultry slaughterhouse workers who complained of many health problems--including backaches, articular pain, menstrual pain, and warts. After discovering that little research existed on occupational hazards in the poultry industry, the researchers initiated a new study. Workers participated in designing, distributing and collecting questionnaires; taking measurements of the workplace environment; analyzing and interpreting data; and reporting the results. Thanks to the study, the employer agreed to raise the slaughterhouse temperature, install benches to sit on while working, sharpen instruments, allow more toilet breaks, and provide workers with gloves that fit. The participatory research methodology had an additional benefit: in slaughterhouses where worker involvement in the research had been high, conditions improved more than in slaughterhouses that had participated less (Mergler 1987).

NEXT STEPS

Citizens and community members invariably understand many aspects of their own life-circumstances better than any outside observer or "objective" evidence can tell. Yet when something is wrong and in need of improvement, often people don't know where to seek help. Lower income and minority groups, who traditionally have little influence over the kinds of research that are conducted, often find that researchers are either unwilling or lack the means to help.

Community-based research programs provide community members with resources to empower and help themselves. The preceding examples attest to citizens' ability to organize, learn, and act in positive and meaningful ways. Community-based research offers a tested and relatively economical means for addressing a wide variety of social, political, economic and environmental problems. It can also begin to counterbalance the undemocratic processes that currently determine most national research agendas.

The Loka Institute will continue to collect examples of community- based research, working toward creating a national community research network in the United States. We are also quite open to the idea of helping to facilitate community research collaborations transnationally.

We would very much appreciate your feedback on these studies, documentation of other cases, or suggestions of additional community research programs or networks that we should be aware of. (We are aware now of dozens of other community research programs in the U.S.--and more elsewhere--but we are continually on the look out for more.) Your advice on the kinds of information that would help people initiate and evaluate community-based research activities is also most welcome. We can do this together! You can e-mail us at <Loka@amherst.edu>, or write to the Loka Institute, P.O. Box 355, Amherst, MA 01004, USA.

CONTACT INFORMATION

To contact the groups mentioned in the preceding cases:

Groupe de Recherche-Action en Biologie du Travail, Departement des Sciences

Biologiques, Universite du Quebec a Montreal, C.P. 8888 Succ.

Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3P8, Canada. Tel. +(514) 987-3334

E-mail: messing.karen@uqam.ca

 

Jacksonville Community Council Inc.: JCCI, 2434 Atlantic Blvd., Suite

100, Jacksonville, FL 32207, USA. Phone: +(904)-396-3052

E-mail: dswain@osprey.unf.edu

 

John Snow, Inc., 210 Lincoln St., Boston, MA 02111, USA.

Tel. +(617) 482-9485. E-mail: rclapp@acs.bu.edu

 

The Northern Ireland Science Shop, 111 Botanic Garden, Belfast, BT7

1JP, Ireland. Phone (353) (0232) 332620

E-mail: science.shop@v2.qub.ac.uk

 

Policy Research Action Group (PRAG): Prof. Phil Nyden, PRAG Program

Director, Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology, Loyola University, 6525

North Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60626, USA. E-mail: pnyden@luc.edu

World Wide Web: http://www.luc.edu/depts/sociology/prag

 

SOURCES

Brown, Phil and Edwin J. Mikkelsen. 1990. _No Safe Place: Toxic Waste

Leukemia, and Community Action_ (Berkeley: University of California

Press).

 

[JCCI]. Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. 1994. Annual Report

1993-1994.

 

Martin, Eileen and Mike Tomlinson. 1991. _The Northern Ireland Science

Shop: Report of a Seminar. 8 November.

 

Mergler, Donna. 1987. "Worker Participation in Occupational Health

Research: Theory and Practice," _International Journal of Health

Services_, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 151-167.

 

[PRAG]. Policy Research Action Group. 1995. PRAG Report of Projects,

1991-1995.

 

Sclove, Richard E. 1995. "Putting Science to Work in Communities"

_Chronicle of Higher Education_, Vol. 41, No. 29 (March 31),

pp. B1-B3.

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