"Thick and Impactful": two words which resonated strongly throughout Ethan
Zuckerman's keynote at March's Digital Media and Learning Conference here in Chicago. It's a concept that sounds a little off, but which has great resonance for non-profits, NGOs, and other social good agents working both here and in other places around the world.
In discussing civic engagement (focusing specifically around youth), Zuckerman posits two axes along which civic engagement lies, determining how effectively people drive social change. One axis is superficial vs. impactful - whether an engagement really has an influence on changing conditions or behavior, or whether it's merely a simple feel-good intervention. (Motivation plays a key factor in this.) The other axis is "thick" versus "thin" - is the engagement a deep, considered action, or merely a quick reflexive action. (This axis examines the individual's involvement in the process)
One example of the difference cited by the The Civic Commons Blog is voting, which is would be "thin" (making one choice out of a limited list) and "impactful" (one person's vote can have a greater impact on the common good. Online petitions are thin and symbolic - there really is no involvement other than filling out a few lines on a form, and there is no further impact other than a momentary "me, too" agreement. Zuckerman proposes that the ideal engagement is thick and impactful, providing a great opportunity for not just internal change, but significant external action.
How does this impact tech? Many non-profits and social change agents look to social media as a way of engaging a large number around a mission....but in many ways, the non-profit community embraces a very thin and superficial effort towards engagement. Focusing on "tech for its own sake" or "every non-profit must use social media" can be potentially self-limiting, since the overall impact would be more thin and symbolic. For any agents of social change, although integrating technology and web-based tools are necessary for reaching key audiences, relying on those tools solely for long-term engagement - or even thinking that civic engagement ends of that point - is not the wisest course of action.
But thinking more in terms of thick and impactful engagement....is always the wisest course.
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