12562 EF: ’Keeping Up’ and ‘Keeping It Real’: An Analysis of the Social Life of Civic Media
Organizers: Eric Gordon, Rogelio Lopez
What is often called “civic technology” is a field of practice focused on the design and implementation of ICTs for government and NGOs. The emphasis is usually placed on some form of “disruptive innovation,” where the technology is meant to shift the organizational systems in which it operates. But in reality, civic tech can be disruptive simply because of clashes in organizational cultures and logics of governance. When organizations attempt to do things with technology, the values and assumptions of the technology challenge the values and assumptions of mission and process. For example, organizations that employ grassroots organizing techniques are often troubled by the seemingly impersonal and scaled systems of social media. We introduce the term civic media to better capture how tools generate interest, get deployed, and get used in practice both intra- and extra- organizationally. Civic media are objects in the world that mediate function and representation—where the meaning of the technology and its impact is always a coupling between actual outcomes and the representation of those outcomes. Our analysis of civic media is based on data from a qualitative study with community NGOs in the United States collected over a period of nine months. Based on participant observations and over 40 interviews, we ask how the desired functions of civic media within organizational settings are impacted by internal and external representations and how civic media are reshaping conceptions of audience, public and constituents.