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Featured Catalyst Awards Proposal: Digital Citizen

New NCDD member Evelyn Messinger of Digital Citizen is looking to build a team of NCDD members for her Catalyst Awards proposal. Please read over this post by Evelyn and let her know if and how you’d like to be involved!  You can add a comment here on the blog, or help develop the proposal at CivicEvolution at www.ncdd.civicevolution.org/proposal/10113.  See all the proposals that are being developed at http://ncdd.civicevolution.org.

Digital Citizen: A Multi-Media Project to Unite Us

We at Digital Citizen have proposed a project for the Catalyst Award on Bridge Building because we are NOT deliberation professionals – but you are. We are media folks who believe that there is role for mediation in media, as well as a role for citizens in the policy discourse that shapes our nation. If you also think that media could work in support of deliberation and vice versa, then it’s probably because you know that media coverage can deliver more than an audience. It can inform and activate people, while giving them tools to make action happen.

As recent posts on the NCDD discussion list reveal, we share a frustration with the quality and efficacy of the national discourse, especially when events like the Newtown school shooting make clear how deeply your facilitation skills are needed, and how difficult it is to serve this need in a timely and impactful way. Perhaps this recent tragedy can be a frame through which you can consider working with us, to create a platform through which a larger portion of the population can be taken through the healing processes that you have developed.

We’ve been building online tools and bridging them with mass media formats, aiming to help people gain more leverage over policy discussions. In the past we carried out experimental projects ranging from TV programs that allowed Minnesotans to question gubernatorial candidates via videoconferencing; to an online forum that matched conservatives and liberals who spoke about politics with the help of a “virtual facilitator;” to attempts to find accord among Tea Party and Occupy activists.

Yet, as we often discovered, using media is challenging: TV call-in programs lack a facilitation mechanism, so argumentative callers can ruin the vibe; online-only processes don’t offer a big enough reward to attract many people; and tying efforts to specific groups (like Occupy) can fail if those groups falter.

If you’ve also tried to use media in support of deliberative work, you may already know that:

  • You can’t just “make a video” of people deliberating, because watching someone else deliberating isn’t very interesting.
  • The mass media are deeply invested in exploiting conflict as a means to attract audiences, so even when opportunities arise to find agreement, standard media outlets will home in on the areas where disagreement festers.
  • Internet dialogue has allowed people to exchange views at unprecedented levels, but it is difficult to attract viewers to websites, big media walls off those who speak online, and Internet dialogues are infested with “trolls,” who seek to foil any conversation that moves towards accord.

Most recently, we found a way to integrate social media and mass media that successfully attracted participants and overcame many of these limitations. We built an online app that lets people post their own video commentaries, and lets community members rate and share the videos. The most voted-up posts appear higher on the page, burying spam and trolls at the bottom. The app was embeddable, and appeared on a well-promoted website with hundreds of thousands of followers. And we offered a big incentive to participate, or to vote for the competing participants: an all-expense-paid reporting trip to the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions. With over 70,000 page views, 2,200 votes and tens of thousands of shares on Facebook and Twitter, we found two citizen reporters who spoke for thousands of people concerned about money in politics. We trained them in the rudiments of civil discourse and journalism, and sent them to cover the conventions for the national satellite channel, Link TV.

Now that the election is over, we feel that our app, our expertise, our contacts and our experience could be used to support deeper understanding.

I suggested above that these tools could help facilitate national dialogue on short notice when terrible (or wonderful) things happen that people need to process. One scenario would be to create an ongoing online platform that people learn they can come to as the need appears, with an on-call team of facilitators willing to step in when the conversations start to take off. This could be paired with an easily revved-up TV format and outlet, that can provide programs when the occasion demands it. In this way, both the dialogue and the broadcasts would be driven through a bottom-up process.

But this is only one idea. We are more interested in beginning a process in which you, the professionals, find ways to help us deploy our resources for the larger good.

Andy Fluke
Andy Fluke is the co-founder of NCDD and currently provides creative support to many of NCDD's publications and events. He also works with a handful of other NCDD members on a variety of projects as consultant and designer. More about his work can be found at www.andyfluke.com.

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We always encourage a lively exchange of ideas, whether online or off. Questions? Please feel free to contact us directly.

  1. Great post, Evelyn! There are so many situations in which an app like this would be invaluable. Can you say a little more about the technical side of the app? From NCDD’s perspective, for example, I wonder if the app works with WordPress (and as a plug-in, or would we need to work with you to make it work)? In general, I’m curious about what level of technical know-how people need in order to use the app.

    • Evelyn says:


      You wrote:
      “I wonder if the app works with WordPress (and as a plug-in, or would we need to work with you to make it work)? In general, I’m curious about what level of technical know-how people need in order to use the app.”

      Thanks for this excellent question!

      The Digital Citizen app is hosted on an Amazon server and is embeddable on any website as a “widget.” If your site can embed a widget it can embed Digital Citizen. We ask our partner website to dedicate a page to the app (eg: ncdd.org/talkhere), as United Republic did in the image above (unitedrepublic.org/2012conventions), and the Maynard Institute did (mije.org/gunforum).

      Technical knowhow on the embedder’s side is just standard web skills.

      You asked about how much we need to be involved, and that answer is longer, since it depends:

      UR generated their website page template to frame the widget, and used it for titles and text – so they did the work on that. Alternatively, we can add the titles and text to the widget header on our end, and we would do the work.

      As for the widget functionality – posting videos, user sharing and voting – it is all self-contained. Once it gets rolling, it runs by itself – we need to monitor it a bit, and posters have occasional questions that either of us can answer.

      I hope this is clear – Im happy to talk more! My email is:

      emessinger (AT) citizenschannel (DOT) org

      Thanks so much, Evelyn

      • Thank you so much for this detailed reply, Evelyn. I wonder if we could test this on the NCDD site, both to give NCDDers a better idea of what the app actually does and let them play with it, and to of course add some really neat functionality to the NCDD site! Would this be possible, do you think?

        And generally, do you charge for this service? Or do you have funding that allows you to work with websites to embed this functionality? If you charge, is there a pricing page on your site that people can look at?

  2. Jon Denn says:


    Congrats. Can we talk?

    Jon Denn
    860.930.0264 Eastern

  3. I won’t comment on the app stuff, as I am more on the people end of things… I do think it might be possible to facilitate TV call-in folks, but it would probably need to be a person rather than a mechanism…. along with a simple basic format where each caller would be asked to pause from time to time, so the facilitator could offer a reflection. As far as “You can’t just “make a video” of people deliberating, because watching someone else deliberating isn’t very interesting,” I have a different perspective on this… I worked once upon a time for an educational reform organization that made very cool videos of kids engaged in classroom meetings, working out classroom issues, etc. The videos were very “naturalistic” and at the same time, highly edited to capture the conversational highlights. Happy to talk with you more about this at some point.

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