- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
We’ve spent a great deal of time here at the Case Foundation trying to convince institutions and individuals alike to embrace citizen-centered solutions. We’ve supported citizen-centered initiatives ranging from community building to nonprofit fundraising, and the explosion of online charitable contests shows a growing movement towards engaging people in solving the problems that affect them.
And now as we face a historic national crisis of petroleum polluting our precious Gulf coast shores, we are watching with great interest several efforts attempting to introduce citizen-voice and innovation to the serious conversations about where we go from here.
On Monday, June 28 the producers of the renowned TED gatherings are hosting a daylong symposium in Washington, DC called TEDxOilSpill, an attempt to explore ideas on immediate response and future energy policy. Following the standard TED format, some of the biggest and brightest thinkers and doers will have 18 minutes to share their big –never-before-heard ideas and then engage with the audience on testing and building support for their concepts. TEDxOilSpill will feature luminaries like oceanographer Sylvia Earle, environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and even Leroy Stick, the pseudonymous humorist behind @BPGlobalPR, the Twitter account that has satirized BP’s statements to the public. At the time of this blog post, there are a few seats left in the room but if you can’t make it you can also watch the live video stream, join a MeetUp or follow the discussion on Twitter and Facebook.
TED is not the only organization trying to get citizens involved in the seemingly insurmountable challenge. BP and the US government have received tens of thousands of ideas for stemming the flow through their joint online and phone-based suggestion box – I was surprised that an actual person answered the phone with no hold time when I called to see if it was still working (sorry, ma’am for wasting your time by saying that I had called the wrong number). A Businessweek article reports that the ideas “range from soaking the oil up with human hair to oil-eating microbes.” If I had to guess, I would have thought the “junking” plan to throw tires, golf balls and mud into the gusher would have certainly had to come from some kids making a prank call to the line.
The OpenGov community is also hosting an integrated online and offline discussion with federal, state and local government officials and private/non-profit sector partners in mid-July to discuss and determine how open government efforts can play a role. And, the online idea generation community InnoCentive is currently in a rethinking mode after BP reneged its offer to create an online challenge to source innovative solutions.
As you can see there is no shortage of opportunities trying to tap into citizen voice – and new social media technologies and online conversation tools make this process all the more easy. But, I do find myself hoping that institutions are serious when they seek involvement from citizens. For instance, companies and scientists submitting ideas to the BP suggestion box have been outraged that their serious ideas are not being heard or responded to – while celebrities seem to get an audience. Discussions and conversations are wonderful but they have to be conducted in a manner so that people really feel heard and there are thoughtful procedures to move ideas to action. As the roots of our democracy thrive on an active and engaged citizenry, I believe the foundation of serious problem solving in the future lies in finding new ideas and passionate support from untapped audiences.