Flexing Facebook's Civic Muscles


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Governments and non-profits around the world are experimenting with social media as a site of civic engagement. Online public participation is a young field however, and little is known about the benefits or limitations of these projects. This Net Tuesday (Net Squared) presentation looks at the use of social media for activism and participation in government. Recently in Vancouver, Canada, hundreds of residents and commuters participated in a July 2011 Facebook conversation about the City of Vancouver’s Transportation Plan.


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  • We use Facebook, a lot. 750M accounts. In Canada, 50% penetration. That’s 16.7 million user.In US, 38% of population
  • Activism is intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change. includes radical and non-radical behaviours
  • Chile student protests
  • List building
  • Also recruitment
  • Heather Mansfield
  • Gov 2.0 is a governing method that utilizes online, mobile and Internet-enhanced face-to-face techniques to offer communication between government, citizens and stakeholders. The intent is to increase transparency of operations, improve public participation, and inspire collaboration and innovation through better government openness, accountability, and effectiveness. These changes are fundamentally transforming the way government works, both internally and externally
  • That’s a lot of residents who’ve got valuable on the ground experience, expertise and willingness to help shape more responsive policy
  • Governments around the world are using interactive Internet technology to engage citizens in the design and execution of government services, an effort known as Gov 2.0City of Vancouver taking some bold approaches to engagement, this is one of a number of experiments that is part of the Greenest City process
  • Problem: but the rapidly changing nature of digital media together with limited research on online public participation means that little is known about the benefits or limitations of social media-based public engagement.
  • I partnered with the city to explore the use of Facebook as a site of civic engagement. Facebook-based public discussion about the City of Vancouver’s Transportation Plan, This study applied best practices of in-person public participation methods to online small group discussions hosted with a specially developed Facebook application.  
  • Explore the viability (from citizen and government perspectives) of social media as a site of government-led public deliberation on sustainability policyAffordances of the tool / how does the Facebook deliberation application encourage or discourage participation?Does participation impact participant’s views of sustainability?Is it possible to host ‘serious’ thoughtful dialogue and deliberation in a social media context where there is a norm of ‘light’ engagement
  • 500+ participants Vancouver area-residents and commutersVoluntary, targeted selection
  • Three simple tasks
  • Technology challenges are inevitable!
  • High levels of interest and satisfaction with the overall approach and location within FacebookParticipants’ views on benefits: at your own pace, wherever you areDrawbacks: too little time for complex discussions
  • Flexing Facebook's Civic Muscles

    1. 1. Image: EddSowden Susanna Haas Lyons Public Engagement Specialist Researcher, University of British Columbia susanna.haas.lyons@gmail.com @zannalyonsNet Tuesday| Vancouver | Nov 2011 http://Engaging.ly
    2. 2. Can Facebook help us build astronger society? Activism Participation in Government
    3. 3. Idealware 2011 Facebook Survey500 non-profits’ view on benefits of their Facebook presence
    4. 4. What’s one example ofactivism on Facebook thatstands out to you, and why? Mobilize Organize Recruit Fundraise
    5. 5. Mobilize
    6. 6. Organize
    7. 7. Image: New York Times
    8. 8. Recruit
    9. 9. Fundraise
    10. 10. Essential ResourcesFor Non-Profits and Activists Using Facebook
    11. 11. www.facebook.com/nonprofits
    12. 12. www.bethkanter.org
    13. 13. nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com
    14. 14. http://www.movements.org/how-to/entry/organize-on-facebook-securely/
    15. 15. Building a Stronger Society,using Facebook Activism Participation in Government
    16. 16. Image: Mark Drapeau
    17. 17. Image: AmericaSpeaks
    18. 18. EventsOver 3,700 peopleat in person events
    19. 19. Talk Green to Us On-line Forum
    20. 20. 535+ participants
    21. 21. Registration Group assignment Story telling Learning Generate ideas Select top ideas Public sharing Closing survey
    22. 22. Registration Groups Stories Learning Ideas Voting Public Closing
    23. 23. Phase One Discussion Page
    24. 24. Registration Groups Stories Learning Ideas Voting Public Closing
    25. 25. 19 Recommendations Written response from the City
    26. 26. # Posts Per Registered Participant Nielsen’s Participation Pyramid (2006) 2.1% 10+ 1% heavy contributors 4.3% 4-9 11.5% 9% intermittent 2-3 9.3% contributors 1 0 73.3% 90% Lurkers
    27. 27. How often do you normally use Facebook? 3.0% 11.3% Several times a day Several times a week 51.1% Several times a month34.6% Several times a year
    28. 28. Have used the Internet, your mobile phone or both to do any of the following in the past 12 months?Post on a social networking website US Internet Users, PewEmail someone about a government n=1676 policy or public issue City of Vancouver Internet Users, Mustell Join a group online that tries to n=428 influence government EVTF Participants, n=1 36 Post online about a government policy or public issue 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
    29. 29. Participant Age City of Vancouver Public Meetings 19-24(written respondents) n=120 25-34 Facebook 35-44 Participants n=537 45-54 55-64 2006 Census, Vancouver 65+ 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
    30. 30. Participant Gender70%60%50%40%30% Male Female20%10%0% Facebook COV Public Meetings COV Website Participants, n=537 (written respondents, n=239 resp.s), n=129
    31. 31. Digital Democracy: Benefits + Tradeoffs depth scale geography privacy inclusion cost Image: CiviCore
    32. 32. • This is all experimental • Take risks • Plan to learn from our #failsImage: Denn
    33. 33. 5 Must-Dos for DigitalEngagement1. Ensure a value exchange2. Focus the discussion on a clear and compelling question3. Make it easy to participate at all levels of skill, time and interest4. Find and encourage early adopters5. Plan to learn from your #fails and #wins
    34. 34. Thank you!Susanna Haas LyonsPublic Engagement SpecialistResearcher, UBC, Sustainabilityhttp://Engaging.lysusanna.haas.lyons@gmail.com@zannalyons