Civic Tech Assessment Resources 6: More Resources from the Field

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6. More Resources from the Field on the following topics:


Building Place Based Social Capital:

  • Three dozen community foundations, other funders, and the Saguaro Seminar of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University joined together to create the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. The survey examines how connected Americans are to family, friends, neighbors and civic institutions on a local and national level. These connections – known collectively as Social Capital – are the glue that hold communities together and enables people to build bridges to others.
  • The Online Neighborhood Networks Study provides insights into how online platforms stimulate social capital and strengthen cohesion, contribute to citizen empowerment and engagement, and build citizens’ capacity and willingness to work alongside services.
  • Hosted by E-Democracy, Locals Online is a discussion forum for over 340 hosts of neighborhood e-lists, placeblogs, and community social networks working to connect local people online.

Civic Tech Evaluations and Case Studies:

  • Action Brokering for Civic Engagement: A Case Study of ACTion Alexandria – This first phase of a full evaluation used a mixed methods approach with multiple data collection methods to chart the platform’s impact. Research showed that through the combination of a novel website, social media, a community manager, and institutional support, ACTion Alexandria serves as an “action brokering platform” to connect residents, nonprofits and local government.
  • The Online Networked Neighborhoods StudyThis research study examines three online neighborhood platforms in or around London, with a lens toward exploring their ability to raise levels of awareness of local issues, strengthen local identity, stimulate local democracy and contribute to the co-production of public services. Research – which relies on a variety of methods including focus groups, interviews, content analysis and surveys — provides insights into how they stimulate social capital and strengthen cohesion, contribute to citizen empowerment and engagement, and build citizens’ capacity and willingness to work alongside services.
  • Inclusive Social Media Project- Participatory EvaluationThis evaluation of E-Democracy’s work uses a participatory approach that relies on the insights and wisdom of outreach staff, volunteer forum managers, and numerous participants in several Neighborhood Forums, supplemented with simple data analyses of forum posts and posters. The report focuses on outreach, content and participant diversity, and forum structure and leadership.
  • Exploring New Modalities of Public Engagement Public Agenda’s evaluation of CommunityPlanIT’s work in Boston’s public schools examines the deliberative quality of the game from the perspective of game players, developers, and school administrators in order to identify which aspects of the platform work well and which need improvement in future applications. Through qualitative research methods, they sought to gain knowledge about whether and how a digital platform impacted the quality of deliberation in face-to-face meetings. Findings include that Community PlanIt represents a marked shift in best practice around digital engagement insofar as it enables Boston Public Schools to reach beyond the forum of the Town Hall to engage stakeholders on important and controversial issues that currently characterize the state of K–12 education in America’s urban centers.
    • Community PlanIT also regularly creates an interactive data visualization website of its games. The site filters game activity results by user characteristics such as gender, age, and stake in the community, and is open to anyone, including users who play the game.
  • MTV Fantasy Election 2012: Summary and Key FindingsMTV assessed the impact of Fantasy Election on users through two means: 1) an extensive user behavior study conducted by researchers at NYU, and 2) an in-depth social media analysis conducted by analytics agency Networked Insights.
  • Micro-participation: The Role of Microblogging in Planning – This evaluation report examines the Social Networking and Planning Project (SNAPP) as a case study in using social media in a public planning process. The SlideShare presentation overview can be found here, and the full report us available here. Researchers used a mixed methods approach to determine extent of engagement and impact on the decision-making process.
  • The Communications Architect: Enabling Public Dialog to Advance Democracy – This case study of Parliament Watch analyses key informant interviews, a user survey, media coverage and other relevant materials. The study found that 40% of users had never previously contacted their representatives, and that barriers to both information and active civic participation were diminished.
  • Community PlanIT’s planning game in Philadelphia (Philadelphia2035) concluded with data visualization and allowed anyone to create maps using the data from the games. Using the tool, responses to a specific challenge from the game can be viewed by role in community, gender, age, income and other demographic characteristics.

Civic Tech Field General:

Evaluation Methods and Tools:

Promoting Deliberative Democracy:

  • A SeeClickFix for Public Participation? Assessing the feasibility of an online platform for evaluating public participation activities examines online platforms designed to gather, track, and analyze data on public participation activities.The report, which was produced for the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC), includes a literature review of online platforms, current methods of public participation evaluation, commonly used metrics, use of online tools in similar evaluative functions, and tools currently serving similar or related functions to the proposed platform.
  • Online Forums and Deliberative Democracy: Hypotheses, Variables and Methodologies takes a broad view of the possibility of measuring the potential for online forums to be spaces for deliberation. The report considers factors such as reciprocity, justification, reflexivity, sincerity, inclusion and discursive equity, tractability (the degree to which the volume or size of a public sphere zone changes on a day to day basis) autonomy from state or economic power.
  • Deliberation by the numbers – a sampling of statistics from large-scale deliberative projects –details actual measures used in various projects, including sample metrics in categories that include: People taking action; More inclusive, collaborative decision-making – and smarter decisions; Costs of public deliberation; and People learning, and in some cases changing their minds.
  • Building a Deliberation Measurement Toolbox is an academic review of ways to evaluate deliberation, and of how to improve methods for evaluating deliberation. The report includes: tested questions for evaluating deliberations; a theoretical framework and directions for further examining deliberation effects; and practical advice on how to go about rigorously establishing the effectiveness of deliberation and guidelines for how to construct your own survey questions.

Social Media Monitoring & Analysis
There are a variety of tools and services available to assist in monitoring and analyzing social media that range from free and full service including Sprout Social, HootSuite, En.Mention, RowFeeder, Wildfire, Thrive, Chart Beat, MAP by Sysomos to name a few suggested by our field readers.

Supporting Open Governance

  • The Code for America Commons Community is a resource on open data, open source software, and open government, including a curated legal guide on navigating the procurement processes for open source software. There is also a growing network of open government advocates both within and outside government that you can engage through active network and discussion forums.
  • The Civic Commons Wiki provides infrastructure, knowledge, and toolsets to government entities, and encourages the development of shared “civic technologies” and protocols as well as supplies optional technical infrastructure (such as data and project hosting) as needed.
  • Engaging the Public in Open Government: Social Media Technology and Policy for Government Transparency examines ways in which governments are using social media to create transparency, potential benefits of these efforts, challenges such efforts encounter, and expectations of what these efforts can accomplish. The paper looks at democratic participation and engagement, co-production (government and the public jointly develop services, etc.), crowdsourcing solutions; and transparency and accountability.

Sources for Proxy and Comparative Data for Analysis:

  • The U.S. Census publishes a wide range of demographic information about residents in different geographic areas around the country.
  • The Civic Health Index and voter rolls include information about direct civic participation.
  • The Sunlight Foundation offers an application programming interfaces (API) for a variety of their data services, including data on Congress, which includes information about legislators, districts, committees, bills, votes, as well as real-time notice of hearings, floor activity and upcoming bills. They also offer information on the legislators and activities of all 50 state legislatures, and products like capitolwords, that track words used by legislators.
  • OpenCongress offers an open-source Ruby on Rails application for aggregating and managing open government data focused on the US Congress.

User-Centric Data:

  • Both KISS Metrics and Mixpanel offer free versions of their analytics software, which track user-centric data. They also both offer regular webinars about their products, which give useful overviews of the types of analysis that are possible when you track user-centric data.
  • This blog post from Intlock explains why a user-centric data approach is increasingly becoming the norm, and why tracking depth of engagement is more important than monitoring aggregate levels of basic activity.
  • In this guest post on Vanity Metrics vs. Actionable Metrics, Eric Ries makes a strong case for why tracking users and user cohorts, and analyzing their behavior, is a more powerful way to strategically make data driven decisions.

User Participation:

  • Social Technologies Ladder — Digital platforms have been thinking about how to move different types of users up a ladder of engagement for some time. Forrester Research has a useful description of the Social Technographics Ladderthat includes user categories based on different “personalities:” Creators, Conversationalists, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators and Inactives.
  • You are much better than I am at figuring out what actions we should take – This blog post by the Senior Media Campaign Director at Daily Kos reflects on what happened when Daily Kos moved to a process that used user activity across the main site and social media to determine which issues were likely to generate action.
  • Online Communities: Metrics and ReportingThis slide presentation highlights research by Autodesk on what online community metrics organizations are tracking and how they report on the value of their online community initiatives.
  • Community Health Index for Online CommunitiesThis white paper by Lithium, an SaaS and marketing firm, reports on their results from analyzing hundreds of metrics from communities of varying types, sizes, and ages, to identify the diagnostic and predictive metrics that most accurately represent key attributes of a healthy community: growth, useful content, popularity, responsiveness, interactivity, and liveliness .


Network Tool: Network Health Scorecard

Regular check ups can help network builders track progress and decide what the network needs next. The Network Health Scorecard provides a quick series of questions that can yield a useful assessment of the health of your network - diagnosing strengths and areas for growth.

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