Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Coalitionist dictionary

For our mutual convenience, here’s a link dictionary of networking, public engagement and coalition building terms used in entries throughout The Coalitionist. I’ll periodically update and expand it as new terms and new definitions are used in this blog.

civic engagement


coalition building





public engagement

public involvement

public involvement 


25 things the President (maybe) and I hate about Facebook

Here you go – – just because I’m dragging my heels about Facebook over privacy concerns (an ongoing problem that is a multi-faceted issue) and the continuous headache that is social media inundation.

And now there’s this:

The official White House site used to rely on YouTube for video hosting, but now they’ve apparently switched to a generic video player, delivered by Akamai’s content delivery network.

While there’s no official explanation of this move on the site, Cnet’s Chris Soghoian speculates that it might have something to do with YouTube’s privacy policy.

Except that:
…”[T]oday the New York Time reports that the White House did not give up on YouTube; they were merely “experimenting” with a new video player. As White House spokesman Nick Shapiro put it: “As the president continues his goal of making government more accessible and transparent, this week we tested a new way of presenting the president’s weekly address by using a player developed in-house. This decision is more about better understanding our internal capabilities than it is a position on third-party solutions or a policy. The weekly address was also published in third-party video hosting communities and we will likely continue to embed videos from these services on in the future.”

Chris Soghoian, who did a good job researching the subject the first time, still maintains his position: that the White House shunned YouTube because of privacy concerns.

Death Of the “Influentials”?

Traditional coalition building or public engagement has always been more than a little hierarchical, driven in great part by the theory and the benefit of using influentials as an organizing and driving principle.

But in the flat world of Web communication networks, where theoretically everyone can be equally informed or engaged – is the old communication strategy of seeking out influential opinion-leaders really dead?

How ’bout if you’re trying to assemble a network or coalition focused on a specific goal?

Beats me, but here’s some (marketedly marketing-centric) food for thought from digital guru Guy Kawasaki that you can read in full here or in the excerpt below:

“Forget the “influentials.” You must buy into the theory that products and services reach critical mass because mere mortals spread the word for you. This defies the common wisdom that a handful of “influentials” shape what the rest of us try and what we adopt. In the online world, these influentials include Mike “I can go a week without Twitter” Arrington, Robert Scoble, Seth Godin, and to some extent me.

Reliance on influentials is flawed because the Internet has flattened and democratized information. Influentials don’t have as much special access, special knowledge, and distribution as you might think because of the growth of websites, blogs, and, of course, Twitter.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about influentials—if nothing else they can help you get to what some consider “nobodies.” But mark my words: (a) Nobodies are the new somebodies, and (b) it’s better to have army of committed nobodies and than a few drive-by somebodies. The most somebodies can usually do for you is a one day bump in traffic.

One more point: if enough nobodies like what you do, the somebodies will have no choice but to write about you. In this way, the buzz of nobodies begets the attention of somebodies and not vice versa.”

Quick Tip: Making sure we speak the same language

If you feel that you and your coalition or network members are talking past one another, you might try mediating the conversation through (Another take on this concept with richer features can be found at

Wordle describes itself as a tool “for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes” to emphasize differences in frequency of use.

Wordle’s real beauty is that it gives you an easily understood quantitative visual analysis of whether you and your audiences are using the same language to talk about common issues and concerns.

It’s not just text responses that you can run through Wordle.  Some use it to analyze how people are tagging content (see to see if the language they use is the same as that of their audiences. (This visual example of a Wordle chart may take some time to load.)

All in all, it’s a good, fast way to mid-course reality check whether you and those you’re trying to motivate are talking about the same things in the same way.

Are phone surveys dead?

We can no longer expect representative samples to accrue from random digit dial phone surveys, according to The Metrics Insider.

That’s a problem for those of us who rely on phone surveys to help define the audiences, issues and messages that are most likely to compel our coalitions members to coalesce and take action.

The full article is here; an excerpt follows:

“The CDC’s National Health Interview Survey has become a highly visible source in the research community for tracking the incidence of what they call wireless-only, and what media researchers generally call cell phone-only, households.

On Dec. 17, their latest findings were released, covering the first six months of 2008. According to the NHIS, 17.5% of US households were wireless only. To put that into perspective, just three years prior, in the same study, only 7.3% of US households were wireless-only.

When we look at target demographics, the cell-only situation becomes even more dramatic. Fully 21.6% of US Hispanics live in cell-only households. And consider this: 31.4% of 18-24 year-olds live in cell-only households, as do 35.7%– over a third!-of 25-29 year-olds…

Why is this a research issue? Well, most RDD is done at calling centers, using auto-dial systems that automatically place hundreds of calls, handing off the call to a live interviewer when someone answers. But it is against the law to auto-dial cell phones. So RDD sampling systematically and by design excludes cell phone exchanges. In order to sample cell phones, a human has to manually dial the number, rendering the process several times more costly than RDD dialing of land lines…

…we recruit our panelists exclusively online (save for our “Calibration sample,” a control sample that is recruited randomly and offline, but not via RDD.). This has many benefits, but for today’s purposes, it allows us to assure that we represent persons from all phone-status households.

A year ago we did a study of our U.S. panel, in order to understand both phone status composition of the panel, and how Web usage might vary by phone status. We found that 19% of our panelists were cell-only, and that another 23% were cell-primary; in other words, if we’d relied on RDD we would have totally excluded 19% of the panel, and dramatically under-represented another 23%.

Open source public engagement

I’ve been pondering the typical state of public involvement and civic engagement processes since reading a great article in Business Week that compares and contrasts Detroit automakers with Google.

The negative comparison the article draws between Google and Detroit is one that could be drawn with in relation to PI (assuming Google really is or should be the paradigm). 

How PI is implemented often has more to due with bad law, bad precedent and bad habits than with effective consideration of stakeholder information needs, communications preferences, learning styles or participation preferences/barriers.

Sounds positively SUVish, doesn’t it?

(And yet, ironically, get two or more PI practitioners in a room together and that’s all they’re focused on – trying to figure out how to brings stakeholders into developing and participating in the process despite habit, budget and discomfort of higher ups.)

So let me propose a thought experiment based on the interesting sidebar to the Google car article: “A Management Tip Sheet.”

I’d like to use its framework to ask some questions about what we as PI practitioners might keep or toss if we did our work using the Google model – at least to the extent allowed by law, money and daring.

So, with apologies to Business Week, how would our discipline change if we used the following Google principles: 


Much of public involvement is focused on narrowing the range of information stakeholders get. 

Partly it’s a rational allocation of project team resources.  Partly it’s because we want to get information just right so as to minimize confusion and demand on busy stakeholders’ time.  

But if we’re being honest, it’s also driven by concerns that stakeholders will gain access to information or perspectives that we think are wrong, incomplete or “fringe.”

But what would happen if – like Google – we broadened stakeholder access to all kinds of information via outbound and reciprocal links (even or especially with critics), suggested key word searches, and the like?

What if we ranked the information based on our assessment of the validity just as Google does with its rankings?

Holding on tightly to information may actually defeat our goal of more participation.  Research that shows the most engaged individuals are those who know very little – or a whole lot – on a topic.  So a case can be made that we build participation – and trust – by loading the bejeebers out of stakeholders with access to info of varying types and quality


PI practitioners spend a lot of time making it perfect – plans, processes, messages, content – from an organizational perspective.

But is there room – and even value – for “good enough” in PI as there is in software, where the idea or product is given to the users to respond to, criticize and improve upon from their own perspective of understanding, usability,  etc.

What if we started communicating with the public and stakeholders when information wasn’t completely available, plans not totally formulated, even when the engagement plan itself wasn’t drafted? 

Would we discover that the information we provided, the tools we used, would differ greatly if we asked the targets how they wanted to be aimed at and with what?

If we were trying to build internal support for our ideas and actions, we would involve our colleagues and associates from the beginning; yet we don’t know the same when dealing with external audiences. We come to them having made very fundamental decisions about need, communication, etc.


Some of the questions posed earlier really lead to a more global thought experiment.  What if you gave complete control of a public involvement process over to the public you’re trying to involve? 

Through wikis, social sharing sites and communities, the technology exists to ask a group of stakeholders to think about, draft, edit, consult and agree on at least the communication plan for a project.  Heck, we might even be able to enlist some of them to carry out the implementation. 

And if you think that’s crazy – some would claim that approach just played a key role in electing our new president.


PI isn’t free; we exact a significant time price from people we ask to be and stay involved.  When people judge the cost to be too high, we’re frustrated when they don’t participate or worry about the effectiveness of what we do.

So what would be the impact – or the benefit – if our communication efforts were focused only on sketching the outlines of what we think the project solution is going to be? If we came up with a preliminary idea for a solution and then asked people to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on it before deciding whether or how we’re going to proceed with a project or its engagement process?


We ask stakeholders a lot of questions and seek a a bunch of feedback within the boundaries of what we deem to be objective criteria. 

But many times we fail to listen to, or denigrate, non-technical responses from stakeholders.

However, what would happen if we gave greater weight to those subjective assessments.  What if every project came with its own “Evil/Not Evil” gauge driven by the subjective, ineffable sense of stakeholders for what they want their community to be? 

Is there – should there be – room in public decision-making for acknowledging that sometimes things that are logical just don’t feel right – and thus should be put on hold or abandoned?

Delete all: Seven reasons to use blogs instead of email

As we try to muster an informed, engaged group of groups and individuals in developing successful projects or policies (let alone manage the whole effort), isn’t it time that we delete all email?

There’s a real case to be made that blogs are a far superior tool for administering, managing, cajoling and empowering any group of people united in pursuit of a common goal because they:

  1. Highlight truly engaged, productive participants by shifting communication and education responsibilities to individual members.
  2. Give equal and open access to all available information, feedback and decision documentation.
  3. Provide a permanent, easily searchable archive of every topic relating to the project.
  4. Organize content chronologically (posts and comments) so there is no uncertain about what is the latest and greatest information or decision.
  5. Can force project to individuals’ top priority by having them set the blog as their browsers‘ home page.
  6. Eliminate lost messages by cutting email clutter and avoiding spam filter hang-ups.
  7. Heighten urgency and sensitivity of information that is conveyed by email when email is only used to communicate politically sensitive information to “need-to-know” individuals.

Bottom line, using a blog can provide a great opportunity for introducing openness and efficiency into an organization and a project when used properly.