Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Civic engagement, access and free speech: blogging the MIT symposium.

Last evening, I had the opportunity to attend a symposium at MIT about broadband access and civic engagement. We’re pretty interested in the implications of broadband access for free speech – and always proponents of civic engagement (it’s your right to participate in our government, after all!), so it’s safe to say that we generally perk up when there’s a chance to talk about it all.

The folks at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Engagement put together a fantastic program – first up was keynote speaker Eugene Huang of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan (which is a proposal for increasing broadband access for all Americans), specifically, he is the Director of Government Performance and Civic Engagement for the National Broadband Plan. That’s a lot of proper nouns and acronyms, so let me break it down – basically, Eugene was in charge of the team that figured out the best ways to get citizens engaged in the democratic process, using the internet.

He explained the genesis of the project – Congress tasked the FCC to develop the broadband plan as part of the recovery act. The general idea being that the use of broadband communication tools (the use of the internet and things like social media tools) is how we do much of our communicating about government and about our world here in the 21st century – and we need to engage all of our people.

He made the following points during the course of his speech:

- The use of social media (think blogs, facebook, twitter, podcasts) and crowdsourcing was very important to the strategy. These tools are – and will continue to be – very important in fostering civic engagement.

- Civic engagement is the lifeblood of our democracy.

- Broadband can strengthen the reach and influence of mediated and unmediated information.

- It can enable citizens to engage in the democracy to make our democracy more participatory and more representative.

- Transparent, open government is a goal. He proposed free access to public documents, court documents and the like. Public meetings (like town hall meetings) should be streamed online, with closed captioned for accessibility, so more people can be a part of the process.

- The use of public media is important to a democracy – journalism is important! We need accurate information and good reporting. We must transition from 20th century broadcast based communication to a 21st century broadband-based model. We also need to update copyright rules.

- The government should use social media not as add-on’s but as core to the mission. The CDC is a great example of a government organization that has taken social media tools and used them to inform the public. They used social media (including podcasts and internet video) to inform public of H1NI.

- We need to use broadband to strengthen the democratic process – voter registration challenges could be mitigated w. modernization. Some states allow voters to register online.

- Broadband has potential to transform civic engagement, but we need to all embrace it!

It was a fantastic talk – and certainly inspired me to take a look at the FCC’s materials on the subject, which you can find here.

Stay tuned for more impressions – including thoughts on the panel discussions.

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