two reviews of We are the Ones

(Salt Lake City) Ego-surfing in the airport, I came across two reviews of We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For in Goodreads. Both reviewers (who happen to be friends of mine) end on the same note. Russell Fox says, “Levine doesn’t provide any easy solutions for putting together winning coalitions, but he makes about as good a case for trying as I’ve ever read.” And Micah Sifry says, “What remains to be seen is whether the nascent civic renewal movement, which Peter argues has more than a million participants, can take a more self-conscious and self-sustaining role on the national stage–a lot of this work is currently either too local or too dependent on foundation support to be that assertive. But we need it.”

The post two reviews of We are the Ones appeared first on Peter Levine. – The Greek Open Government Initiative has been designed to serve the principles of transparency, deliberation, collaboration and accountability and includes three initiatives: Οpen calls for the recruitment of public administration officials. Top level and mid-level openings in the public sector are available on the Internet. Applications are submitted on-line using a platform available on...

I’m Too Snarky…

I’m too snarky for my life my life my life
Yeah baby
So snarky I might be sick
I shouldn’t be let out in public
I’m too snarky for my shirt
Too snarky for even for snarky shirts
So snarky it hurts
And I’m too snarky for the webs
Too snarky for webs
Snarkier than all the Interwebz (Is that even possible?)
And I’m too snarky for your party
Too snarky for your party
No really I’ll laugh inappropriately at your party
I’m a total snark you know what I mean
And I can’t keep my snarky comments inside
Yeah inside, yeah, inside
I just can’t keep the snarky comments inside
I’m too snarky for my bike
Too snarky for my car
Too snarky by far
And I’m too snarky for my hat
Too snarky for my hat
What do you think about that? (What’s that even mean?)
I’m a total snark you know what I mean
And I can’t keep snarky comments inside
Yeah inside, yeah, inside
I just can’t keep the snarky comments inside
I’m too snarky for my
Too snarky for my too snarky for my
‘Cos I’m a total snark you know what I mean
And I’m always getting myself in trouble
Yeah in trouble in trouble, yeah
Because I can’t keep snarky comments inside
I’m too snarky for my cat
Too snarky for my cat
Good thing there’s no sexual metaphors about pussy cats
I’m too snarky for your pride
Too snarky for your pride
I’ve got to share the snark inside
And I’m too snarky for this song


“Temperature Check” survey for all NCDD members!

Though we’re all neck-deep in conference prep right now, it’s important to us to serve our members effectively during non-conference time as well.  About 50 of you have completed our “temperature check” survey so far, but we’d love many more of our 2,100 members to provide your input and ideas.

As you may have noticed, NCDD has really ramped things up over the last year or two, with new features like the member map and the dialogue storytelling tool, our collaborative efforts with the Creating Community Solutions alliance and the CommunityMatters partnership, and regular activities like the Confabs and Tech Tuesdays — as well as our longer-term offerings like the listservs, news blog and web resources.

It’s really important to us to get a good sense of how you think we’re doing, whether you find these new efforts useful, what you have and haven’t gotten involved with (and why), and what ideas you might have for improvement.

Please do us a huge favor and by completing the 19-question “temperature check” survey at this link:

Your responses will provide NCDD’s staff, Board members, and partners with valuable data that will shape how we move forward with all of our activities and offerings.

at BYU

(Provo, UT) I am at Brigham Young University to speak in three classes and to meet with faculty, all under the aegis of the university’s Office of Civic Engagement and its minor in Civic Engagement Leadership. I’m certainly an outsider to this particular place, which is also a central node in a global faith community. I did read Richard Bushman’s A Very Short Introduction to Mormonism (Oxford UP, 2008) before I came, as a quick orientation to the historical and theological fundamentals, but I know that I know very little. I will be speaking about my usual themes of civic renewal, and it will be interesting to see how they go over.

Last time I was in Utah was 11 years ago. I went from there to pre-Katrina New Orleans and blogged about how Salt Lake City and NOLA were like two elementary aspects of the American character, usually mixed together but here distilled into their pure forms.

The post at BYU appeared first on Peter Levine.

NCDD 2014 Feature: “What’s Equity Have to Do with It?” Workshop

As we get closer and closer to NCDD 2014, we have asked our workshop presenters to share a bit more info about their sessions with you. So we are pleased to start by featuring “What’s equity have to do with it? Ensuring inclusive participation”, a great session being offered by Carrie Boron, Susan McCormack, and Valeriano Ramos. Read more about their workshop below and find out more about read about all of our NCDD 2014 sessions by clicking hereStill not registered for NCDD 2014? Make sure to register today

NCDD2014-blogimageNext month, my colleagues and I are co-presenting a session at the NCDD conference on the role of equity in public participation. Creating Community Solutions’ Susan McCormack and Everyday Democracy’s Valeriano Ramos, and me, Carrie Boron, and will join together with conference attendees to help answer the question, “What’s equity have to do with it?”

Taking on the topic of equity is challenging, confusing and conflicted, and requires much more time, knowledge and resources than are usually available. This is especially true given our limited session time at the conference. So, we thought we would give more “air time” to the subject here on the NCDD blog.

Those who work to bring people together in their communities to talk and find ways to make progress on various public issues often use the word “inclusive” to describe diverse participation. The aim is to have people from different ethnic, gender, age, sexual orientation, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds join the effort. Although such work is well-intentioned, organizers often miss the mark because they have not considered the societal structures and policies that perpetuate inequities.

Understanding the structures that support inequity (with a particular emphasis on structural racism) is essential for effective dialogue and long-term change on every issue. For instance, there are still many public and private institutions that exclude people of color. Schools in poor neighborhoods lack resources. Many police departments protecting and serving mostly people of color often lack ethnic diversity on their own force. Ferguson, MO, is the latest example of this scenario. We need to consider these structures and policies as we work to engage people in decisions that affect their lives.

Val, Sue, and I will be offering a tutorial on concepts related to equity, power and privilege; interactive discussions; and hands-on activities as well as best practices to use in engaging all kinds of people in your community. So, join us on Sunday, Oct.19, at 9 a.m. (bring your coffee!) for “What’s equity have to do with it? Ensuring inclusive participation” and dig into how we can ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to take part in civic life.

In the mean time, here are a handful of resources to help you create opportunities for equitable public engagement:

  • Race Forward’s “Racial Equity Impact Assessment Toolkit
  •, a website featuring tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for those working to achieve racial equity
  • Everyday Democracy’s “Racial Dynamics to Watch For” – This handout provides a sampling of scenarios of power, privilege and inequity at play in organizing, facilitation and action planning, and asks organizers how they might avoid such situations.
  • Everyday Democracy’s “Focusing on Racial Equity as We Work” – This handout offers a set of questions for community organizing coalitions working to ensure that they’re working together in an equitable manner.
  • Everyday Democracy’s “Facilitators’ Racial Equity Checklist” – This handout outlines a set of debrief questions for small-group dialogue co-facilitators to use in debriefing and assessing their work together and in ensuring an equitable dialogue experience for participants.

Over 40 Papers on Crowdsourcing for Politics & Policy

pic by James Cridland (flickr)

Today saw the beginning of the biennial conference on Internet, Politics and Policy, convened by the Oxford Internet Institute (University of Oxford) and OII-edited academic journal Policy and Internet. This year’s conference theme is Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy. Skimming over some papers and abstracts,  here are some of my first (and rather superficial) impressions:

  • Despite the focus of the conference, there are few papers looking at an essential issue of crowdsourcing, namely its potential epistemic attributes. That is, when, why and how “the many are smarter than the few” and the role that technology plays in this.
  • In methodological terms, it seems that very little of the research presented takes advantage of the potential offered by ICT mediated processes when it comes to i) quantitative work with “administrative” data and ii) experimental research design.
  • On the issue of deliberation, it is good to see that more people are starting to look at design issues, slowly moving away from the traditional fixation on the Habermasian ideal (I’ve talked about this in a presentation here).
  • It seems that the majority of the papers focus on European experiences or those from other developed countries. At first, this is not surprising given the location of the conference and the resources that researchers from these countries have (e.g. travel budget). Yet, it may also suggest limited integration between North/South networks of researchers.

With regard to the last point above, it appears that there is a bridge yet to be built between the community of researchers represented by those attending this conference and the emerging community from the tech4accountability space. There’s lots of potential gain for both sides in engaging in a dialogue and, as importantly, a common language. The “Internet & Politics” community would benefit from the tech4accountability’s focus – although sometimes fuzzy – on development outcomes and experiences that emerge from the “South”. Conversely, the tech4accountability community would benefit a great deal by connecting with the existing (and clearly more mature) knowledge when it comes to the intersection of ICT, politics and citizen engagement.

Needless to say, all of the above are initial impressions and broad generalizations, and as such, may be unfair. The OII biennial conference remains, without a doubt, one of the major conferences in its field. You can view the full program of the conference here. I have also listed below in a simplified manner the links to the available papers of the conference according to their respective tracks.

Track A: Harnessing the Crowd

Experiments on Crowdsourcing Policy Assessmen

A Case Study in Modelling Government-Citizen Interaction in Facebook

The potential of Participedia as a crowdsourcing tool for comparative analysis of democratic innovations

Crowd Capital in Governance Contexts

Analyzing Crowd Discussion Towards a more complete model to measure and explain online deliberation

Predicting Events Using Learning Algorithms on Micro Blog Data

A Crowdsourcing Approach to Identify Common Method Bias and Self-Representation

Hate Speech, Machine Classification and Statistical Modelling of Information Flows on Twitter

Internet-mediated cooperative norm setting in the university

Monopsony and the Crowd: Labor for Lemons?

Online labour markets – leveling the playing field for international service markets?

TRACK B: Policy and Government

The Neo-Humanitarians: Assessing the Credibility of Organized Volunteer Crisis Mappers

Let The Users Be The Filter? Crowdsourced Filtering To Avoid Online Intermediary Liability

Regulating Distributed Peer-Production Infrastructures

Population as Auditor of an Election Process in Honduras: VotoSocial

Crowd-sourcing corruption: some challenges, some possible futures

Vertical crowdsourcing: The discourses of activity and the governance of crowds in emergency situations

TRACK C: Engaging the Crowd

What does crowdsourcing legislation entail for the participants? The Finnish case of Avoin Ministeriö

Let the crowd decide? Crowdsourcing ideas as an emerging form of multistakeholder participation

The question of technologically mediated civic political participation reformulated

Discussing Germany’s Future: The Evaluation of Federal Online Citizen Participation

Reprogramming power through crowdsourcing: time, space and citizenship in crowdsourcing for law in Finland

Crowdsourcing as Reflective Political Practice: Building a Location-based Tool for Civic Learning and Engagement

Civic crowdfunding as a marketplace for participation in urban development

Voices in the Noise: Crowdsourcing Public Opinion using Urban Pervasive Technologies

The Right Message vs Effective Narrative

I was struck today by a feminist article pushing back on Emma Watson’s recent UN speech on feminism.

In case you missed it, Watson’s talk has been extremely well received as a powerful and moving declaration of the need to push past old stereotypes. Her speech was so powerful, in fact, that certain anti-feminism vigilantes have threatened retribution, presumably in the hopes of silencing her.

The feminist complaints from renown blogger Mia McKenzie continue an ongoing debate in the feminist world. For example, Watson’s line, “I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice,” arguably implies that women are only definable insofar as their relationship to men. This male-centric approach ultimately does little to bring about the real change that is needed.

I was struck by this push back – in a sea of praise – in part because it feels like a debate over narrative and style rather than over ultimate substance.

I don’t mean that to demean the debate in any way – I work in communications because I believe that narrative and style are essential. But what I mean is – I suspect that if you put Emma Watson and Mia McKenzie in a room together (which would be amazing) they would generally agree about many things.

They might disagree on tactics and approach, but I suspect they would agree on outcomes.

Perhaps I am seeing something which is not there, but reading McKenzie’s response reminded me of the work of Nina Eliasoph, a sociologist who has done extensive field research with activist groups.

In private, activists would speak passionately about an issue, but in public, they would change their narrative. No longer passionate about the issue, they’d frame their concern as pure self-interest. Suddenly they were “just a mom protecting their kids.”

The reason behind this change in narrative is unclear, but Eliasoph observes this divergence again and again.

I am fascinated by this change in narrative. Whether it was an intentional media strategy or a subconscious shift, it seems to indicate a dissonance between their internal feelings and they way they feel the ought to articulate those beliefs.

In Eliasoph’s case studies, the change seemed to hurt the activists, as their passionate narratives were lost. But, of course, a carefully crafted media message can be beneficial as well.

McKenzie’s arguments are the inner voice of feminism. The voice that speaks with passion about the real abuse, the real trauma, that all women have suffered at the hands of men. The voice that proudly proclaims that the dominant narrative is not the only narrative, that fights back against the idea that women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, and more can only be perceived through this dominant narrative.

Watson’s voice is the public dialogue. The voice that raises critical issues and fights for a cause, but frames it in a way they think they can win.

If Emma Watson had given the speech Mia McKenzie wanted her to give, I’m not sure it would be so well praised. It would be, I think, too radical. Even if it would be right.

As it is, those at the outskirts are horrified to hear a woman share her voice at all. Watson gave a powerful speech, written to embrace the middle, written to welcome every self-respecting person to take arms in this fight.

So, perhaps it is reasonable to think that – even if McKenzie is ultimately right – Watson’s tactic is the right approach.

But Eliasoph’s research gives me pause. The activists who she saw play to the dominant narrative lost something in this shift. Their message was blunted, their passion obscure.

Watson certainly had plenty of passion in her speech, but I can’t but help wonder if she took the right approach in framing feminist in terms of men’s self interest. It feels like the right approach, it feels like the tactical approach.

But it sells humanity short.

And I’m not sure that is the right message to share.


Now the paper: Evidence of Social Accountability Initiatives


A little while ago I wrote about Jonathan Fox’s work on the evidence of social accountability initiatives. Initially in the format of a PDF slide presentation, it has now been turned into a magnificent paper, the first of the GPSA working paper series. Below is the abstract:

Policy discussion of social accountability initiatives has increasingly has increasingly focused on questions about their tangible development impacts. The empirical evidence is mixed. This meta-analysis rethinks some of the most influential evaluations through a new lens: the distinction between tactical and strategic approaches to the promotion of citizen voice to contribute to improved public sector performance. Field experiments tend to study bounded, tactical interventions that rely on optimistic assumptions about the power of information alone both to motivate collective action and to influence public sector performance. More promising results emerge from studies of multi-pronged strategies that encourage enabling environments for collective action and bolster state capacity to actually respond to citizen voice. This reinterpretation of the empirical evidence leads to a proposed new series of grounded propositions that focus on state-society synergy and sandwich strategies through which ‘voice’ and ‘teeth’ can become mutually empowering.

You can download the paper here: Social Accountability: What does the Evidence Really Say [PDF]. You can also read my take on the main lessons from Jonathan’s work here. Enjoy the reading.


PS: I have been away for a while doing field work, but hope to start posting (more or less) regularly soon.

the Supreme Court reflects the “degeneracy of the times”

In 1870, Linus Child of Boston, MA hired an attorney to lobby Congress for personal financial relief and promised to pay the attorney one quarter of the value of the award if it came to pass. The attorney was successful, but Child died and his son refused to pay. The Supreme Court ruled in the son’s favor on the ground that the original agreement–”for the sale of the influence and exertions of the lobby agent to bring about the passage of a law for the payment of a private claim, without reference to its merits”–was null and void. The Court cited Roman law: “a promise made to effect a base purpose, as to commit homicide or sacrilege, is not binding.” Likewise, to hire a lobbyist to pursue legislation for money would be “illegal and void because it is contrary to a … sound policy and good morals.”

The Court was eloquent about why lobbying was so immoral as to merit comparison to homicide or sacrilege in Roman law:

The foundation of a republic is the virtue of its citizens. They are at once sovereigns and subjects. As the foundation is undermined, the structure is weakened. When it is destroyed, the fabric must fall. Such is the voice of universal history. The theory of our government is that all public stations are trusts, and that those clothed with them are to be animated in the discharge of their duties solely by considerations of right, justice, and the public good. They are never to descend to a lower plane. But there is a correlative duty resting upon the citizen. In his intercourse with those in authority, whether executive or legislative, touching the performance of their functions, he is bound to exhibit truth, frankness, and integrity. Any departure from the line of rectitude in such cases is not only bad in morals, but involves a public wrong. No people can have any higher public interest, except the preservation of their liberties, than integrity in the administration of their government in all its departments.

The agreement in the present case was for the sale of the influence and exertions of the lobby agent to bring about the passage of a law for the payment of a private claim, without reference to its merits, by means which, if not corrupt, were illegitimate, and considered in connection with the pecuniary interest of the agent at stake, contrary to the plainest principles of public policy. No one has a right in such circumstances to put himself in a position of temptation to do what is regarded as so pernicious in its character. The law forbids the inchoate step, and puts the seal of its reprobation upon the undertaking.

If any of the great corporations of the country were to hire adventurers who make market of themselves in this way, to procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their private interests, the moral sense of every right-minded man would instinctively denounce the employer and employed as steeped in corruption and the employment as infamous.

If the instances were numerous, open, and tolerated, they would be regarded as measuring the decay of the public morals and the degeneracy of the times. No prophetic spirit would be needed to foretell the consequences near at hand.

In 2013, despite very weak disclosure laws, we know that $3.24 billion was spent to influence the federal government, and 12,353 people registered as federal lobbyists. The Court that decided Trist v Child would conclude that our public morals have decayed to the point that we no longer deserve the name “republic.”

Contrast the majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which views corporate donations to favored candidates as protected speech and doesn’t even hint at the threat to “public morals”:

Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people—political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence. Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.” … Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. … There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers. Both history and logic lead to this conclusion.

I came upon Trist v Child in David Cole’s review of Zephyr Teachout’s new book on corruption. I agree with Cole that lobbying and campaign finance raise First Amendment as well as anti-corruption concerns. It would be possible to over-regulate money in politics and thereby violate individual rights. I would not endorse the Court’s ruling in Trist that made lobbying illegal: individuals should be able to petition Congress. I was a registered federal lobbyist in 1991-3. I lobbied on behalf of Common Cause and believed that our goals were patriotic and idealistic, but Common Cause is a corporation, and it paid my salary. Thus I do not favor a ban on money in politics or a blanket law against political speech by corporations.

But we used to have a social norm that it was basically ignoble in a republic to hire someone to lobby or to influence the government for money, especially if cash were the primary motive for the petitioner or his agent. That social norm has decayed in popular opinion and vanished in jurisprudence. As I write in We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (p. 115)

The Court [in Citizens United] meant that it was entirely appropriate for corporations to exercise power in their own interests by spending money to influence elections. This decision capped a century-long process in which special interests became “civil society,” Madison’s factions became “constituencies” or “stakeholders,” propaganda became “public relations” and “communications,” corporate pressure became “government relations,” and lobbying morphed from a disreputable matter of hanging around hotel lobbies and button-holing politicians into a white-collar profession.

However we reform the laws that govern money in politics, we must also recover the moral intuitions that the Court found self-evident in 1874. People who seek money to influence Congress, regardless of the merits of the case, are “adventurers” abhorrent to the “moral sense of every right-minded man,” “steeped in corruption,” whose proliferation would mark “the decay of the public morals and the degeneracy of the times.”

The post the Supreme Court reflects the “degeneracy of the times” appeared first on Peter Levine.