Advocates Make an Impact in Civic Participation
A voice, not just
By James Lau
National, state, and local elections
offer a valuable opportunity to raise the public's and policy makers'
awareness about pressing social issues. In California's November election,
community technology advocates made an impact through activities that
involved polling candidates on where they stand on community technology
issues and implementing an e-government demonstration project. (These
activities were described in the November 2002 issue of Technicity
Times; see http://www.technicitytimes.com/Nov02/yourvoice_nov_02.html.)
As a result of these activities, elected officials committed themselves
to policies and stances important to community technology and community
technology programs positioned themselves as viable e-government service
To learn where candidates stood on issues, The Children's Partnership,
in conjunction with the California Community Technology Policy Group
and Policy Link, issued a survey to all candidates running for elective
state or federal office from California. The survey queried candidates
on many issues relevant to community technology. The responses to
the survey were posted on Web sites so voters could learn where
candidates stand. In addition, the survey responses will be used
to hold elected officials accountable to their campaign responses
over the months ahead.
The responses by the candidates were extremely rich. All respondents
agreed that technology literacy is extremely important for youth
and a skilled workforce; how to achieve this goal widely varied.
Proposals included dedicating funding for community technology or
increasing funding to schools; changing the educational system to
require teachers to be trained in technology, schools to offer computer
courses, or youth to pass a technology literacy test as part of
graduation; and distributing laptops to youth or building out the
telecommunications infrastructure to make Internet connections possible.
Just as important as the responses is who responded. The respondents
included candidates from all parties and candidates running for
different levels of offices, from Governor to the state Assembly
to Congress. Many who responded were eventually elected to office.
In addition, the survey revealed who supports community technology.
Community technology advocates can use this valuable survey information
to pursue community technology policies and remind elected officials
of their campaign commitments. (See http://www.techpolicybank.org/candidateresponses.html
for responses, the candidate survey, and other information tools
used in this education campaign.)
E-Government Demonstration Project
Complementing this activity was an e-government demonstration project
carried out by about a dozen community technology programs across
California. More specifically, These programs used the state's on-line
voter registration Web site to help residents register to vote.
They also provided links, including links to the survey responses,
for users to learn about candidates and issues. Although the programs
lacked a system to monitor how many people participated in this
project, anecdotally, program staff felt it was a worthwhile endeavor.
This project demonstrated that community technology programs have
the potential to offer e-government services. Community technology
programs already have the infrastructure and capacity in place,
- mainly computers, and Internet access and staff trained to help
users. Moreover, the programs witnessed an interest by the community
in wanting to use these services. With a little outreach, programs
could provide e-government services to an even larger audience.
Furthermore, the project demonstrated community technology's long-term
potential for civic involvement. With community technology programs
helping residents participate in the electoral process, both users
and candidates can begin to view community technology as critical
civic institutions. Also, programs began to demystify civic participation
through on-line tools, guiding residents through the process of
registering to vote and casting a vote. Finally, programs are perceived
as trusted institutions where residents can seek information, which
can also include civic participation.
This demonstration, combined with other efforts, such as the upcoming
Advocacy Day (slated for March 25th in Sacramento) and voter outreach,
can build even greater awareness among policy makers about community
technology. In the meantime, community technology centers and advocates
should continue to find ways to offer e-government services and
increase its visibility with candidates and elected officials. Moreover,
community technology advocates can build on the experiences of this
recent effort and make a bigger impact in the next election.
Lau is technology program manager for The Children's Partnership.