In the bribery case against embattled Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, the allegations revolve around gift cards. The prosecution says she misused “dozens” of gift cards originally meant for needy families. She says she thought the cards were meant for her all along.
Gift cards are becoming a shadow economy, not quite credit but not as liquid as cash, where the anonymity provided by the arm’s-length nature of the deal makes it easy to create deniability. Gift cards are a popular method to pay for illicit transactions ranging from prostitution to drugs to graft.
It’s unlikely that gift cards – which are really just hyper-convenient gift certificates or traveler’s checks – will go away. Indeed, as the recession-lengthened holiday gift giving season begins and retailers are pinning some of their hopes on the continued popularity of the plastic ducats. Consumers spent $24.9 billion with them last year.
This is an example of new technologies outstripping society’s rules. In public life, we too often watch idly as this happens. Instead of playing catch-up, public leaders need to be thinking around the next corner and imagining what kinds of new rules we will need to deal with the new ideas bombarding society’s fabric. New ways of banking, new ways of communication, new meanings for the word “community” – we know all these things are happening. Yet there are few serious efforts to predict, understand, or take into account what these changes will mean for the way public life ought to look.
We each covered a different aspect of what it means for public-facing institutions to engage using new technologies. I kicked it off with an overview of what the new, citizen-centric world looks like (based on work that I have been doing with John Creighton) and went through a few very basic examples to get people’s ideas flowing.
I purposefully did not go into social media, as that was being covered by Joe. David led a lively discussion about the use of keypad technology in face-to-face meetings.
In the first-ever study of its kind, a new report released today by the public policy research firm Civic Enterprises shows that the new generation of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are eager to serve their communities and offer their leadership to the home front.
However, according to the report, the nation’s returning veterans face a number of obstacles including a lack of information about how to connect to such service, and a majority says no local organization has reached out to them to seek their involvement upon their return. The report was underwritten by Target and by the Case Foundation.
“Our young troops and their families have done everything their country has asked of them,” writes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen in a foreword to the report, which is the first representative survey of this generation of veterans. “Their lives have been changed forever by war, but their dreams haven’t changed at all. They want to raise their children, own a home, go to school, find work and even find new ways to contribute. Most of all, they want to be good citizens. They want to reconnect and renew their relationship to their local communities.”
In fact, according to the survey, almost 9 in 10 veterans said Americans could learn something from their example of service. And 92 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) veterans say that serving their community is important to them. But just half considered themselves leaders in their communities as a result of their military service. And almost seven in ten say they have not been contacted by any community institution.
At an online community I co-manage, there’s a conflict.
The community in question is a forum for people to discuss local issues, and we’ve set it up intentionally so there are a few hoops people need to jump through before we allow comments. It’s supposed to be an antidote to some of the uglier things that go on in the public square these days — the kind of place where you don’t say what you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
Recently we discovered sock-puppetry among some of the commenters. That’s when you create an alter-ego and post as both yourself and the fake person. The sock puppets were, as you would imagine, fairly uncivil customers. But, by and large, they stayed just on this side of the line, so we allowed some of their comments even though we wished they would not have been made.
Things were a little more heated than usual because there were municipal elections going on and one of the races was hotly contested, with a bitter division between candidates.
Once we discovered the deception going on, we put a stop to it by banning those individuals from any commenting, and we tightened up our comment policy. But there are those who are now curious as to who these sock-puppet trolls might be. They want us to out them so they can be known. . . .
I am proud to announce the launch of a major new initiative that I have been working on with a few partners. The formal announcement will come later this week, but I wanted to give a preview to my readers because I am so excited about it.
Along with partners Jacquie Kubinand Joe Szadkowski, we have been working furiously for the past months to get this in shape.
My role was to help design the management structure for this new network and to add in what I know about social networking and blogging from my experience with various other initiatives. I am also taking part in the day-to-day management of the Communities.
What It Is
We think that we have developed something that is somewhat unique among these kinds of things. Many newspapers have “community blog” sections. (In fact, the The Washington Times had one, which this new initiative replaces.) These can have widely varying content quality, widely varying updating schedules, and are typically hidden from view and separate from the rest of the newspaper’s online space.
The fundamental problem for many news organizations is that these things are hard to manage and it’s hard to know what kind of quality you’re getting.
We have created a structure which we think makes the Washington Times Communities “manageable” from an organizational perspective while at the same time open enough to make it a real blog network. At the same time, we’ve organized it so that, from a reader’s perspective, it should be easy to find what you are looking for.
Each of these communities is led by a “mayor” who essentially curates the content for each community. Within each Community, there are between five and ten (for now) “neighborhoods.” Each of these Neighborhoods is a blog, with one author responsible for the content.
So we’ve created a hierarchy, where each of the community “mayors” is acting like the editor of a newspaper section or magazine, with each author having a specific “neighborhood” beat.
It’s all volunteer, we are not staff for the paper.
While we don’t claim that this is a revolutionary idea (after all, it’s a blog network, nothing earth-shaking), we do think it’s an innovation in how to approach something like this. There are a few things that make this different, in my view:
There is direct involvement with senior management at the paper. The paper’s senior managers take a personal interest in this, all the way to the top.
There is a direct tie to the regular online space of the paper. Content from the Communities will be featured on the main page of the Times. This means that there is a greater chance for the community content to be seen by the many millions of unique visitors to the Times’ front page per day.
The writers are handpicked. People have to be invited to take part as an author. We chose participants keeping in mind both quality of their work, potential for growth, and willingness to devote the energy it takes to promote the Communities through social networks.
There is support at every level. Individual authors are supported, mayors are supported by management. Authors support one another.
There is ongoing innovation. The initiative is committed to iterating and learning at a rapid pace so we can best improve it.
There is a constant stream of content. Every author is committing to a certain number of posts per week, so there will always be something new coming from the Communities.
I sincerely hope you will take a look, poke around, comment on a few articles, and give your feedback.
Like other blog networks, viral word of mouth will be key. You can help this initiative out immensely by sharing any articles you find interesting and by spreading the word. The Times management will be watching this closely and we want it to succeed!
Public Good, A New Online Space
There’s another aspect of this new initiative that I am very excited about. You might have noticed above that there’s a Community called “Public Good.” I am in charge of that, and it’s an online space devoted to examining various takes on public life and community today.
I have brought together a terrific portfolio of authors, each who is writing their own blog that takes a different perspective.
I know that many of my readers are deeply concerned with public life and thought leaders when it comes to many different aspects of it. I hope that you will get in touch to talk about ways that I might include your perspectives, perhaps by showcasing some of your work or through an interview or podcast, or through a guest post.