It's Finally Summer: Time to Heat Up Civic Engagement
Posted by Katie James on June 21, 2012 at 02:52 PM CDT
Yesterday’s solstice marked the official start of summer, and it sure felt like it here in Chicago. We’ve been feeling the heat in the city for awhile now, and we’re happy to finally have the season match the temperatures. We’re even more excited for the opportunities and free time that summer can bring.
Here at the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), we are committed to helping citizens find ways to engage with the policymaking process and current social trends. We believe that an informed citizenry increases engagement in our democratic system and creates a more responsive government. That said, it’s not always easy to find information that is relevant, accessible, and, let’s face it, interesting. Sometimes it’s difficult to relate a cause to our personal well-being and find meaning in an issue that doesn’t directly affect us. It can also be hard to decode the encrypted language that makes up so much of our government documents and data; even harder is finding and accessing this information, which is not always open to the public. Probably most common, however, is the pervading sense of boredom that has latched on to anything government- or policy-related. But how is our government benefitting you if you remain detached and uninvolved?
CivicSource is dedicated to combating these three issues of disengagement by motivating you to become an informed, participating citizen. By visiting our web portal regularly and following us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll have access to the latest news regarding community and government efforts to increase civic engagement. You’ll see success stories, bold ideas and initiatives, and even matters of concern that might rile you up and instigate reaction. And see, just by READING these stories, you are a concerned citizen who is using the coupled power of knowledge and information to participate in our democracy. Engagement doesn’t always have to be active, outward shows of involvement. Simply sitting down to learn what’s happening in our government and across the country in local communities is a great way to stay up-to-date on policy and community issues.
I’m pretty sure, however, that it won’t be long before you run across that one story that hits close to home and challenges you to take the next step and lend your efforts to a cause. For those ready for action, CivicSource has plenty of ways for you to engage locally or nationally with issues that inspire you to help create a more equitable democracy. When you get involved, you’re creating a two-way flow of communication that is telling our governing institutions you matter and you want to be heard. And that is the best outcome of civic engagement efforts: creating a responsive government that is held accountable for its actions.
One of the biggest challenges to overcoming disengagement is simply finding the time to participate. Work, school, and family life can easily get in the way of extending our interest into and beyond our communities. Summer, however, is a great time to begin building our capacities as engaged citizens. The sunshine makes us feel more energized and longer days can mean more time. Some may have summer vacations that allow even more room for an active role. This is great and you should definitely take the opportunity to volunteer your time and effort to an issue that inspires you. Yet time off during these hot days is not the reality for many. This is why CivicSource is a great resource. It only takes five minutes to read a post and share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. You can do it at work on your lunch break, on your phone when you’re on the go, or right before bed when you have settled in for the night. Reading, learning, and communicating with others are all great tools for building an informed citizenry, so let this summer inspire you to start.
IPCE staff member
Welcome to CivicSource-A New Tool for Civic Engagement
Posted by Administrator on September 13, 2010 at 11:27 AM CDT
CivicSource is born! This wonderful new web resource created by the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), offers useful information for concerned citizens, community leaders, academics, or students seeking to learn more about civic engagement or connect with civic engagement efforts. I invite you to take CivicSource for spin – browse through all it has to offer.
As the Director of IPCE, I see this moment as a great opportunity to write a few words about our motivation behind creating this resource. CivicSource brings individuals, organizations, and institutions together with information they need to understand, deliberate, and take action on policy issues. We believe a more effective democracy is one in which all citizens are fully informed and engaged in the democratic process and we believe CivicSource can help make that happen.
The term civic engagement is used many different ways, so it is important for us to explain what we mean when we use it on this Web site. Civic engagement includes exercising our rights and responsibilities as citizens, but CivicSource represents a concept of civic engagement that goes well beyond voting and jury duty. Generally we define civic engagement as any action by an individual or group that contributes to a more effective democracy. This may include participating in a town hall forum, or becoming better informed about a particular policy issue. Civic engagement also includes expressing one’s opinion on policy issues, such as writing a letter, posting something online or joining a group of others with similar opinions. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg of our broad definition of civic engagement. For more on our thoughts regarding civic engagement, click here http://www.uic.edu/cuppa/ipce/civicengagement.shtml to read more about our definition and to learn about examples of what we call civic engagement in action.
Why is civic engagement important? There is currently a 'deficit of trust' between citizens and government in the US. Many individuals have lost faith in government and are becoming disengaged from the democratic process or are not engaging in it in the first place. We believe that taking steps to keep citizens informed and create a more responsive government can help to improve trust in our democratic system and re-engage (or newly engage) citizens both as participants in the democratic system as individual agents of change in their communities. Engagement has the potential not only to improve the democratic process, but to also improve lives and communities through either policy change or direct community development efforts. CivicSource offers tools for such engagement, including stories about innovative civic engagement leaders who have done this kind of work and how they used their passion for engagement to bring about real change in their communities.
We spend a lot of time thinking about how technology makes a difference in civic engagement. Technology is completely transforming what is possible in a democracy. In 2011, we need to be thinking about civic engagement as a 'space,' a virtual space where people, government, and institutions come together to share information, learn, plan, or take action to address key issues of the day. When the US was mostly small towns this physical space may have been the 'Town Square', but it was also the church basement or the kitchen table where neighbors chatted on the day's events over a cup of coffee after dinner. To share information or do anything collectively people had to physically be in the same place at the same time.
Today thanks to technology and the Internet, the space for civic engagement is not limited by where you are or when you are trying to engage. People with common interests, people with different interests, government, corporations, and neighborhood organizations can be anywhere and gather to share, learn, and take action at any time through the web. In this new space and in the old, new forms of interaction are possible and old forms are enhanced. The movement toward deliberative democracy, where citizens deliberate policy alternatives themselves and rank their preferred choice and share the results directly with their elected representatives has been enabled partially due to changes in technology.
Government is an important player in this new space, but governments at all levels must also become better consumers and users of technology. This new space for civic engagement allows government to be more responsive and effective. There are more ways for citizens to reach government directly and government can provide some services more efficiently through the Internet. One of the primary goals for CivicSource is to house research and data on how governments are using technology.
We believe CivicSource has the potential to make difference in civic engagement. Though it is important to remember like any other web-based resource, it is just a tool. It is a great tool for learning more about policy issues , an important tool for discovering policy research, a useful tool for engaging like-minded (or even not so like-minded individuals) in dialogue, and ultimately a tool for improving how government works for all citizens. We have also made efforts to integrate this resource with social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, so that you can easily access CivicSource through whatever mechanism you primarily use for connecting and sharing with others. Please make it one of your spaces for engagement. If nothing else we will all feel just a little bit more connected with each other in some meaningful way.
Joseph K. Hoereth, PhD