These are strange and different times

Returning to form or so it goes takes a bit of effort. Any return to form without effort would inherently discount the journey. Shifting back without a bit of effort might just be acceptable right now. These are strange and different times. This will be the 9th day in a row of posting something to the weblog. That streak is starting to feel a little bit more normal. Every day my thoughts have started to get back into a more orderly form that can be turned quickly into prose. That is the key element in turning the corner and engaging in a bit of writing. Not only is clearing your mind enough to not do anything is a skill, but also allowing your stream of consciousness to spill out onto the screen as prose is also a skill. Transforming thoughts almost directly into keystrokes in an effortless way is the hallmark of being in the writing pocket and that feels like something that happens from practice. 

This weekend I have spent a lot of time thinking about what exactly election data can tell us about the state of civil society and the general degree of civility at large. Within the world of an election the universe being examined could be all voters or it could be all people that could vote. Some of the best insights available could be about the people who take no action and choose to sit out of the election process. My first response to that investigation into that phenomenon was a simple series of thoughts about how maybe they did not know it was election day. It is entirely possible for a lot of people that government is a thing that stands separate from the routines of daily life and voting by proxy stands separately from everyday life. Certainly some places have moved to mail in ballots and have made it much easier to vote. Other places have gone the other way and made it much harder to participate in the voting process. Now we are starting to get somewhere in the analysis. Three potential reasons have jumped out: 1) being unaware, 2) easily ignored, or 3) it was very hard. That set of thoughts certainly expresses a continuum of sorts that could be expressed as some kind of Likert scale.   

My initial analysis has started at the congressional district level. My assumption is that I can reasonably roll up my congressional based model to the state level and use a bit of a convoluted transform to get to a national outcome. Within a national election model just using the general sentiment would express a popular vote based outcome and that would not work all the time. Sometimes it would yield the correct result, but other times it might yield a false positive within a condition where having the most votes at a national level is not aligned to the outcome. That is a scenario that political scientists will be writing about for years to come. Social scientists in general will be studying that and how it influences both civility and civil society for decades. Seriously, that is not an understatement. Our beliefs in how democracy functions are a very important part of how we engage in a social contract to participate in the normative routines that allow daily life to function as well as it does. Maybe this watershed event that is occurring now will create some type of shared experience that will help people better relate to each other, strengthening the very social fabric that protects democracy. 

I’m really starting to think that these are truly strange and different times. The lens in which we see the world and how we interact with things is changing every day as we experience a new normal way to interact with people. A new normal way to visit stores to go about the routines that allow daily life to occur. We all have to figure out how to make meals on a daily basis. Eating is a shared and common experience across all of humanity. It is one of those things that should be a commonly shared experience like voting for those that have reached a certain age. Outside of politics people generally do a lot of similar things every day. All those things could be modeled and sentiment analysis could be produced to figure out preferences based on those things. Somewhere inside of that universe of possible analysis a small slice of things exist that my research is focusing on right now. That is where my research is dialing into understanding voter sentiment and preference within elections. At this point, I’m very focused on the key factor of participation and the sentiment around why a large portion of voters are opting out of the process that literally guarantees the stability of our daily routines. 

Given that I’m on my 9th day in a row of posting it might be a good time to mention that most of my writing is created and posted without any real editing or revision. My routine is generally to sit down and write until the writing is done and then post it online before starting a new session of writing. My time is not normally spent on the same passage of prose engaging in rework and editing to produce a perfect product. What you are reading right now is really just how the thoughts translated from my head to the keyboard. For better or worse that is generally how this weblog works and how prose is created to be published here. Some of it is grammatically correct and free of atrocious typos and some of it is very clearly not clear at all and free of errors. One of the things that I do a lot is leave out a word that otherwise brings the flow of a sentence together. Some of that is just a weird thinking and typing problem where a word gets left out of a sentence. If you want back and read it, then you would immediately notice it and fill in the missing word. Most of the time that does not impact the meaning of what is being presented it just creates a less than ideal situation for the reader who is wondering why proofreading was set aside or ignored. Please don’t wonder about it. I just elected not to spend my time editing the prose being created. Yeah —- that is questionable. 

Sometimes I wonder if maybe every Sunday I should swing back and edit the last 7 days of work and just leave a note at the end of the post that it was edited. Most of the time that thought occurs and is discarded. You can tell that analysis about discarding editing is accurate based on scrolling back a day, a week, or even a month to see it was not implemented. For the most part that type of effort is probably not going to be an active part of my routines. If it has not taken root in the last 20 years, then it is unlikely to start happening without some real effort to change my routine. As an analog to that lack of action on the editing front, trying to figure out why citizen participation in elections has been gradually declining is probably similar. It is something I could do with a little time and effort, but I just elect not to do it over and over again. You can kind of get a feel for where my head is at the moment and what is at the forefront of my considerations as I dive into this area of analysis. 

The one with a call to jury duty

We have very few civic duties to perform. One of them that comes around from time to time is jury duty. Today was my day to fulfil my civic duty and show up for jury duty. Fortunately, the courthouse is not very far from my home. Getting to the courthouse was easy enough. Arriving about 20 minutes early meant that parking was pretty easy. They have a lot of parking at the courthouse. People seemed to be a little stressed and every time somebody coughed people looked around. It felt a little bit dramatic, but the fear in the room was real enough. This room might be large enough to hold about 50 people. Assembling the jury is the first order of adventure for the day. We all filled out paper forms and signed them by hand. Nothing that occurred during the assembly process was digital.

Just a few minutes after the start time on the card the first person was dismissed from jury service. Only one of the people that attended was very vocal about not wanting to serve on the jury today. Everybody else in the room just seemed to be keeping to themselves and preparing for the day. Last time I went in for jury duty they dismissed me without any explanation. I just figured it was due to my education level or something. Right now I’m writing and thinking about how hard it is not to touch my face or rub my eyes in this room. It is strange to sit in a room with so many people where nobody is trying to talk or really make eye contact. I’m normally very outgoing and willing to talk to pretty much anybody at any time. That time of social interaction was not occuring at all today. Maybe it is due to the heightened stress people are feeling.

My shirt has a nice large sticker on it right now that says juror in capital letters. All I can think about is about getting things done. My mind was racing with the question, “If today was the only day left, then what should that time be spent doing?” The answer would probably be finishing the audiobook version of Graduation with Civic Honors. That is something that will take a few hours and would probably be net beneficial vs. the effort. One of the big problems with my do the most impactful thing you can every day to drive things forward philosophy is when things take more than one day to complete. Sure you can try to break things down into smaller parts, but some things just do not work out that way. Creating something new or coding something might take a lot of time. Well understood things can be broken down and understanding it helps make defying it easier. Tackling the big things takes a lot of dedication.

It is much easier to sit around and watch television than to sit around and write, create, or build something. Yes —- some people are capable of doing more than one thing at a time and that is fine. Doing something and doing nothing at the same time sounds interesting. I typically write and listen to music at the same time. The music part of it is just something that happens in the background; it does not hold my attention. Sometimes that distracts from purposeful writing. Really engaging at 100% and putting everything you have into creating prose is sometimes a different type of artistic expression. It can be completely and utterly exhausting. This exercise of writing while waiting in the jury duty room has produced 600 words of prose. None of it was exhausting. However, this is more an exercise in commentary mixed with stream of consciousness than a critical exploration of modernity. This is just a look at my thoughts and my reactions to the things happening around me.

After about an hour or so of waiting the judge dropped by the juror assembly room to advise us both trials for the day had been postponed and everyone was free to go home. It was super anticlimactic, but that is how it goes sometimes.

Forgotten platforms and political attention

Yesterday, I watched part of the 7 hours of testimony from Robert Mueller in front of two different congressional committees. It made me wonder about the amount of attention that is being paid to politics in general at all levels of government. My thoughts wandered to ponder if more people were watching and enjoying ESPN than the hearinings. The attention of people rated in viewership is typically evaluated in terms of how passionate those viewers happen to be at the time. Fans of sporting teams that watch ESPN are typically reasonably passionate about something. That might be one specific team or maybe everything related to an entire city or maybe even a region. Politics are complex and getting even more complex every day. Trying to divide that complexity into two main voting categories that has no index for passion remains deflating.

That is the point in this thought exercise that seems to stand out to me. Maybe it is an inflection point that snuck up slowly or maybe it is just suddenly ours and very real. The example under consideration is a comparison between what it takes to become a sports fan of typical team vs. what it takes to really become active in a political party. My guess is that throughout the United States more people are actively supporting sporting teams on a daily basis than a specific political party. That is a line of inquiry that is really driving me toward some research questions around local government engagement levels. Understanding civil society has been a passion of mine since before I started to reflect on the intersection of technology and modernity. For better or worse the social fabric that binds us together and informs how we relate is built on the foundation of civil society.

One of the things that I have spent some time reading over the years are party platforms. Maybe the one that caught my attention the most was the 1960 party platform of JFK. It is pretty easy to figure out the trajectory of your local sports team. They are actively winning or losing and you can get a sense for how close they are to contending for a championship. Trying to figure out the trajectory of a political party and what exactly that party is trying to accomplish is really hard in a world full of very short soundbites that lack context or any real degree of directionality in terms of where the argument is going. Sitting down and reading an entire party platform is a real commitment. Figuring out where all 20 candidates that are running for president stand within the context of that platform would be a daunting task. My honest assessment would be that they all probably do not have defined positions or have throughout out exactly where they stand on the entire platform.

On influencing the public mind

Stories can be glimpses into American history. Town hall meetings in the United States of America are part of the American story. Each story both reflects on and celebrates the development and evolution of civic participation as a part of the democratic process. Arguments exist about the importance of finding ways to communicate complex ideas. I’m going to be spending the next few weeks digging into the topics of citizen participation and communicating with the public at large.

Crowds have gathered in congregations and town halls, and town squares throughout the history of America. Those venues for communication have been the living representation of the commons. The printing press changed just how far and how fast a thought could travel. Even the best printed material at the time the printing press came into existence only made it to a small part of what could be considered the commons (in the true grand and global view of the word). Consider for a moment the reality, that even the best shared utterance in our very modern and diverse world of interconnected social networks only captures a small part that commons. People have been talking about the commons long enough that those problems could be considered classic thought cases. Perhaps we could open a new chapter of thought. A new chapter dedicated to understanding what it takes for an utterance to influence the public mind in a lasting way. It might be worthwhile to capture a series of examples where an utterance has become timeless in the public mind. It might be worthwhile to capture 10 of the best examples. Those 10 examples might provide enough insights into the problem. Those insights might provide enough content to fill up an article.

During the formation of the United States of America democratic processes developed or at very least crystalized. Hundreds of years later, scholars now argue that declining citizen participation in democratic processes puts the very foundation of representative democracy at risk (e.g., Barber, 1984; Skocpol, 2003; Macedo, 2005). Those arguments could be extended to evaluate our fundamental breakdowns in communication. A newspapers or the nightly news used to be mediums to share things with the public mind. Those mediums cover smaller and smaller amounts of the commons. It has been argued, that citizen participation in government was necessary during the formational period. Inherent within the initial functionality of government citizen participation brought together various democratic processes. The large body of research available on the topic suggests that scholars believe even the possibility of citizen participation in government deserves consideration (Putnam, 2000; Skocpol, 2003).

At the most basic level of consideration or study, citizen participation in government describes the initial first step in the process. It describes the spark that started it. The spark that caused it to form. Essential to democracy and the very basis of civil society is citizen participation in the community, business, and government (Dionne, 1998). Scholars generally adopt a perspective that values citizen participation (Van Til, 2000). In order to understand citizen participation, now is the time to consider the historical influence of technological change on participatory democracy in terms of necessity, sustainability, and preference. As the intersection of technology and modernity brings a larger and larger disconnect between people and the commons, society has started to fragment in unexpected ways. Technology should have increased our ability to communication to society as a whole. Fragmentation of the commons into a multitude of public spaces seems to be occurring a very rapid pace.

Citizen participation is an important part of the democratic process (Skocpol, 2003). Understanding citizen participation requires understanding the history of how participation developed, why people wanted to participate, and what if anything sustains interest in participation. If citizen participation is an important part of the democratic process, then the historical influences surrounding participation require definition and consideration.

Considering the concept of civil society requires scholars to be careful in upholding a consistent presentation and definition. Jon Van Til correctly argued that conceptually theorists have to avoid using the concept of civil society as a type of social science ‘play-dough’ that can be molded into almost any shape (Van Til, 2000, p. 15). Reducing potentially problematic bias will involve keeping this conceptual issue in mind while addressing the issue of civil society. Introducing concepts and ideas without providing detailed explanations or basic definitions creates a scenario where a lack of clear intent potentially clouds perception. Clear straightforward analysis and explanations can illustrate intent and add a degree of clarity about the subject under consideration.

For example, a historical narrative looking at how town hall meetings influence society can explain changes in the way people work together, communicate political issues, and form communities. Not only can that analysis explain the influences of town hall meetings on society, but also that discussion can clearly define the ways people work together, how people communicate political issues, and the basic tenets of community formation. Ensuring comprehensive coverage of issues provides the necessary clarity and depth.

Part of the challenge of understanding town hall meetings involves identifying the relationship between technology and changes in citizen participation in government. Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, has observed that living alone and working late combined with television and the internet have rendered society less trusting and less civic (Putnam, 2005, p. 7). The current trajectory of citizen participation in the democratic process is calling into question the future of democratic governance in the United States of America. People are making very real decisions about how to spend their time. Those decisions are including less and less time being focused on politics in general.

Modern discussions increasingly focus on how technology influences the most basic government functions of society instead of focusing on value choices. Questioning the influence of technology on society in general requires an understanding of both historical changes in technology and society. At some point during the course of history, the United States of America moved from being a nation of problem solving communities to a nation of communities waiting for problem solvers. In other words, throughout the development of the United States of America, the function of the participatory part of participatory democracy has changed. It could be argued that democratic processes in the United States of America from 1776 to 2006 involve three waves of citizen participation including necessity, sustainability, and preference. That might be an argument that I’m gearing up to present this year.

The dialogue would begin by reflecting on the necessity of citizen participation in terms of development and evolution of civic participation as a part of the democratic process from 1776 to 1965. After reflecting on the necessity of citizen participation, the next part of the framework analyzes the factors contributing to the breakdown of civic participation as a part of the democratic process from 1965 to 1996. Building on the foundation of both the necessity and sustainability questions the last part of the framework analyzes the development of preference based citizen participation including government facilitated online alternatives to the traditional town hall meeting on civic participation as a part of the democratic process from 1996 to 2006.

Dialogue can create a degree of perspective on citizen participation in the democratic process. Changes in the way dialogue occurs within the commons can be very informative about the influence of technology. Citizen participation can occur when people begin to gather in a public forum. Initially the dialogue in this modern public forum focuses on the history of town hall meetings in America from 1776 to 2006. Arguments about town hall meetings surround changes that occurred during the founding of the nation, industrialization, and the digital age.

Out of a very public dialogue, the distinct voice of a critic could begin to emerge. Distinct from the initial dialogue about democratic formation, the voice of a social critic might advocate that the potential of citizen participation should receive consideration before evaluating the values of efficiency, economy, and social equity. Within the context of general dialogue, a response originates from an even almost thoughtful tone, the practical voice of the trained public administrator. A practical public administrator would argue that efficiency, economy, and social equity are necessary to create the possibility of citizen participation. Together the voice of the social critic and the practical voice of the trained public administrator represent the aggregation of various arguments that are sometimes insightful or interesting. Both perspectives are necessary to challenge the nature of citizen participation in government. The discussion develops into three distinct parts representing the necessity of citizen participation, sustaining citizen participation, and preference based citizen participation.

The common or shared history of the people is at some levels a public conversation that does not require recognition or acknowledgment to influence society. The influence should be apparent. It is an influence that will continue to occur. Perspective on citizen participation is necessary to define the historical context of how town hall meetings illustrate one form of citizen participation in the democratic process.

Town hall meetings represent one mechanism for triggering public dialogue, discourse, and information dissemination in the form of a very public conversation. At every level of community, the dynamics of communication are different. Technology will continue to develop. Now is the time for individuals who share a common belief in the value of democracy to consider the history of what brought citizens together in the United States of America. The technologies we use to communicate are not architected to facilitate mass communication. Most of them have been focused on building user bases and keeping those users contained.

Understanding representative democracy requires recognizing the relationship between the people and their representatives before and after elections. From the perspective of the social critic representatives need to find ways of communicating with the people. At the same time, the social critic might suggest that people have to find ways of communicating with representatives. In response to the ideas represented in the questions raised by the social critic, the practical public administrators might argue the very nature of representative democracy requires a degree of active not just cyclical preference based citizen participation in the democratic process. Throughout the history of representative democracy in the United States of America, the cyclical nature of town hall meetings defined the essence of active participation in the process.

Scholars, philosophers, and critics often turn to the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville who during the course of writing the 1835 classic Democracy in America described the relationship between representative democracy, civil society, and individualism. At some level, democracy lives and breathes beyond abstract or ideal definitions. Consider the value Tocqueville placed on town meetings comparing them to the relationship between primary schools and science curriculums empowering the people to be able to participate (Sirianni & Friedland, 2001, p. 23-24). At the most basic level democracy involves the communication of opinion within a society. Town hall meetings represent one part of the democratic process. Throughout the necessary development of democratic institutions in the United States of America town hall meetings provided a proven and accepted method for gathering a community together.

Contemporary public administration scholar H. George Frederickson in the Spirit of Public Administration argued that citizens previously functioned by taking direct collective action in the form of town meetings, militias, and community activities like barn raising (Frederickson, 1997, p. 12.). H. George Frederickson went as far as to draw the conclusion that the tradition of citizens choosing to engage in direct collective action has been lost (Frederickson, 1997, p. 13). Representative democracy requires a mechanism for citizens to share ideas within a community. Town hall meetings are a way to facilitate citizen participation in the democratic process. I’m not sure that modern town hall meetings are very informative or engaging.

Large nations like the United States of America require the maintenance and availability of numerous methods of communication for participatory democracy to function. Not only can a society not forget the past, but also a society cannot ignore the future. E.J. Dionne in Community Works: the Revival of Civil Society in America argued that society has to recognize individuals and organizations that work toward building civil society (Dionne, 1998, p. 3). Public meetings, town meetings, or town hall meetings all represent a method of public assembly for the purpose of discourse within the community. Before the formalization of democratic institutions in the United States of America, the primary methods of political discourse involved informal communication. Communication is a necessary element of community.

Publicly disseminating knowledge about politics is the best way to ensure political dialogue and communication occur within the community. Looking at how town hall meetings have provided a forum for community dialogue from 1776 to 1965 provides a degree of perspective about the nature of citizen participation.

The next topics I will be writing about include 1) my 2015 Disneyworld experience, 2) the power of investing in people, 3) the importance of pracademics, 4) the intersection of technology and modernity, 5) omnichannel contact strategies, 6) runbooks, 7) strategic planning, 8) irregular operations management, 9) building quality executive presentations, and 10) citizen participation essays