This post is inspired by the brand new venture, Bridges Global, by my friend Elizabeth Soltis. Her organization provides workshops and other kinds of training regarding empowerment, leadership, and collaboration, including:
- Partnership Negotiation: Practicing Nonviolent Communication
- Service Excellence: Exceeding Client Expectations
- Trust and Innovation: Developing Accountability and Creativity
- Complaints: Transforming Breakdowns into Inspired Action
In terms of media and development, social-media induced collaboration and participation have become crucial aspects, in many regards, as the below graph shows: [Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oscarberg/ under Creative Commons license.]
Doing Good Together Online
In this field, we need much more research and education to harness the potential of participation fully. While collaboration is more possible than ever, it also causes challenges. Clay Shirky, in Cognitive Surplus, outlines three important aspects of online participation for common good:
- Motive (think of, e.g., passionate fans — how to create that kind of motivation?);
- Opportunity (This does not only mean access to technologies that allow participation. Shirky writes: “While treating one another well…we can create environments where the group can do more than the individuals could do on their own”); and
- Culture (for Shirky, this means the trend dominating online communities: The opening up of knowledge, bypassing old definitions of who is an expert, the collaborative spirit).
But not so fast. As Shirky also notes, there are different values of participation: Some forms of participation are motivated by mere joy and fun, some participate to engage with friends, some participate to make the world a better place. One question is, what kind of participation value due we want to and need to create? This may be very different for a brand of sneakers and a non-profit fundraising for micro-loans. Also, we should perhaps not expect the creation of ‘Cognitive Surplus’ from everyone, in every situation. There are questions of access, skills, even (self)censorship as to how we can and do participate. For instance, Henry Jenkins et al. (a team of famous scholars of fan and online participation) argue in their new book titled Spreadable Media (pg. 194) that:
[T]he nature of participation in the digital age is a complicated matter. For even those groups who have greater access to digital technologies and have mastered the skills to deploy them effectively…our capacity to participate can be complicated by issues of who owns the platforms through which communication occurs and how their agendas shape how those tools can be deployed. And, even if we get our messages through, there is often the question of whether anyone is listening.
Scholar-Activist Collaborations The other aspect is: How do we collaborate to support (democratic) media development in today’s comlex media environment? The past decade has seen a notable increase in public interest–oriented civil society activism and advocacy around media-related change. These activities represent a distinctive, developing social movement. These efforts have become a developing point of intersection between scholars and activists. And there are numerous examples, some of them known world-wide: Robert McChesney is the co-founder of Free Press. Lawrence Lessig is the co-founder of Creative Commons. Until lately, the practices of engaged research by academic researchers in collaboration with movement actors has been sparse, and such collaborations have been subjected to relatively little attention. Communications Research in Action: Scholar-Activist Collaborations for a Democratic Public Sphere (a volume is a collection edited by Phil Napoli and myself) highlights the multitude of ways in which scholars can participate as members of the MR movement/s. This (latter) kind of collaboration is needed to promote (the former) opportunities for collaboration and participation to everyone.
[More about participation, collaboration, media development, and governance to follow!]