Archives for the month of: January, 2009

Through my friend Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, I discovered a great way to put together a vision to guide oneself.

Just in time, too! Most years I spend New Year’s Day writing out my goals for the coming year. This year, for some reason, I did not do that and I have been hankering to get to it. However, I have felt for some time now that my efforts in this regard have been too clever and cerebral — I would create these interlocking systems that, come April, were unworkable.

But my friend pointed me to Cindy Ronzoni’s “vision board” idea. This is really just a posterboard with a bunch of photos or drawings on it, a lot like the collages my daughter often makes. The images are meant to evoke things you want to do in the coming year.

This is obviously not rocket science, but it’s a useful way of looking at the task. Even more useful, though, is a set of questions to ask myself in order to generate the vision board.

Here they are:

  • Where would you like to vacation this year?
  • What inspires you?
  • What would you like to learn this year?
  • If you want to change jobs this year, where would you like to work?
  • What are some of your passions?
  • What have you always wanted to do?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What “words” reflect who you are?
  • Do you want to exercise more or change your diet?
  • What goals do you have for work?
  • What financial goals do you have?
  • Do you want to volunteer and if so where?
  • What colors depict you or designs?
  • What kind of relationships would you like?
  • Is there an item you’d like to buy yourself?
  • Are there any fears that you would like to overcome?
  • Any groups you want to join?
  • Any events to attend this year?

I love these, because they are so concrete and not airy-fairy.

Now I just have to answer them!

Thanks, Cindy.

Yesterday, on his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum (one of just three that day) that is required reading for people in the civic participation field. Thanks to Joe Goldman and Sandy Heierbacher for pointing it out.

Notwithstanding some of my earlier concerns with government involvement having the potential to distort civic engagement, this is a very positive step in comparison to previous administrations’ understanding of the public’s role in our American experiment in self-rule.
See especially the third and fourth paragraphs.

Here it is in its entirety:


SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.


Through one of my Twitter contacts, I ran across an interesting article by Jyri Engeström about why some social networks work and others don’t. It has to do with the presence — or lack — of an “object.” In this case, that means a reason to connect with others.

One example is Flickr, which has made photographs a reason to interact.

The fancy name for this is “object-centered sociality.” It provides a good way to think about what new social network applications might look like, and what might enable them.

For instance, Engeström says:

Take the notion of place, for example. Annotating places is a new practice for which there is clearly a need, but for which there is no successful service at the moment because the technology for capturing one’s location is not quite yet cheap enough, reliable enough, and easy enough to use. In other words, to get a ‘Flickr for maps‘ we first need a ‘digital camera for location.’ Approaching sociality as object-centered is to suggest that when it becomes easy to create digital instances of the object, the online services for networking on, through, and around that object will emerge too.

My new Blackberry Storm has GPS, and I would be very interested in a social networking service that uses location to identify nearby friends. But GPS is too much of a battery-suck and too few of my actual friends use it on a routine basis.

Notwithstanding that, I am definitely not alone in watching location as a possible Next Big Thing.

It is interesting to note that the article dates from 2005 — yet is still current.

My friend John Creighton and I have been thinking together about what it might mean for education to become far more “student centered – a trend that has already begun. Education is one of those areas that so far has been sheltered from some of the more turbulent changes taking place in society. But we think that may soon change.

It will be important, in that context, for people who care about civic life to have an understanding of what these changes will mean for public life in general. What civic norms will be created? What expectations? How might public life benefit? How might it be made more difficult? What unforeseen side effects might there be?

Here is a brief piece we wrote (John did most of the writing) recently setting up this question:

The 25-year debate about the quality of public education in the United States has brought about marginal changes in how we deliver education in this country:

  • Families have a few more choices about where to send their children to school
  • We pay more attention to education standards than we have in the past
  • Most schools and school districts are working to maximize instruction quality and time

However, the way the nation’s schools are organized has remained largely the same for the last half century. This is true both for public and private schools. American schools continue to be mostly institution-centric, place-based hierarchies. Indeed, public education has been one of the few areas that has remained immune to the new realities emerging across the globe.

The lack of change is about to change and it is important to try to understand the civic consequences of it.

There are three forces at work that make a deep change in public education a distinct possibility:

First, demographic shifts have brought new expectations for all institutions. Post-GenXer’s (incoming parents of school age children) have very different expectations for how they relate to organizations, both public and private — they expect deeply personalized products, action-oriented or participatory experiences, and an explicit role in the relationship. They expect their experiences with organizations to focus on them, not on the needs of the institution. This is most clear in the private sphere but it is driving even more powerful change in the public sphere. Personal choice is becoming non-negotiable. Research suggests that there is a growing political consensus to support personalized education, too.

Second, the physical world is enabling and driving change. The infrastructure is taking shape and increasingly in use to support these new expectations – cheap mobile communications devices, individual citizens with easy and deep access to technology (across the economic spectrum) and growing networks of people and organizations that span time and geography. It is now possible for students and educators to be connected in ways previously unimagined.

Third, educational policy is already responding to the new reality. Curricula are housed online and delivered electronically. Educators are increasingly digitally fluent and have coalesced into robust social networks. Liberalization of charter school laws makes personalized instruction and “designer” schools feasible. State laws are already facilitating online public education (in Florida, in fact, the laws require it).

It is not hard to imagine that the future of public education will be dominated by personalized learning and student-centric (rather than institution-centric) schools that are neither entirely place-based nor time-fixed.

This is not a story about “the new economy” or “advanced technology.” It is a story about an already-changed world that is dragging all institutions along with it.

Of critical importance, in this landscape, is to develop an understanding of what effects this transformation of a central civic institution will have for civic, community and democratic life. Those interested in self-rule in communities will need to try to understand the types of questions and challenges communities (and the nation) will confront as public education adapts to a new generation of Americans.

Ever since I was quoted as saying something along the lines of “there’s a lot of stuff out there” in an interview with the Toledo Blade, I have been aware of the usual policy of cleaning up quotations from interviews to best represent what the subject was saying. We all pepper our speech with ums and uhs, employ false starts at the beginnings of sentences, and speak in comma splices. (That’s a photo of me during the interview, I believe.)

Typically, journalists will clean up such things to make sentences coherent.One consequence is that you can usually tell when an editor or reporter does not like someone: their quotes are verbatim. While he does indeed use many malapropisms, I believe President Bush was on the receiving end of this. The glee with which people portrayed him as dumb seemed matched only by the enthusiasm newspapers had for printing verbatim remarks.

Another person who has recently been on the receiving end of this is Caroline Kennedy, who has unfairly been portrayed as the Queen Of You Know. While she may indeed use the phrase a bit often, her newspaper quotes are clearly unvarnished. Here is an interesting discussion of this, comparing Kennedy’s treatment with treatment of then-president-elect Obama.

Ends the piece:

Why the apparent double standard? During the interview, it seems, Kennedy annoyed the reporters by dismissing one of their questions: “Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” Perhaps, like, the verbatim transcription was, you know, uh, payback.