Given the unpredictable course of new technology and markets -- not to mention the political culture -- it may seem quixotic to chase after a goal that is so complex, intangible and long term: reinventing democratic culture. Yet, when seen in concrete particulars, it becomes clear that there is much to protect and defend as well as many fertile opportunities to exploit.
I see four key areas that need significant support and interconnection:
Part II explores each of these areas in depth.
Currently, these fields of endeavor are grossly underdeveloped relative to the burgeoning needs. Furthermore, each is relatively isolated from each other, which means that the synergies of cross-fertilization never emerge: Policy advocacy is not well-informed by what is occurring "in the field" nor given greater political clout by organized constituencies. The technologies are not being sufficiently used to organize grassroots constituencies, nor to build new linkages between them and policy advocates. And very little original, imaginative thinking is being done, which means that new strategic opportunities are never even identified, let alone pursued in any serious way. Moreover, such thinking, when it is conducted (and especially when conducted by academics), tends to be isolated from timely empirical realities and not coordinated with policy advocacy. What we need is a public interest equivalent of industry market research: rigorous empirical research that can inform larger strategic priorities, particularly policy development.
So, apart from bolstering activity in the four areas, I see a great need for process- oriented innovations. The challenges subsist in what I call the "meta-realm" -- the normative, taken-for-granted processes by which the public interest/nonprofit community has pursued its interests (a theme explored in depth in Section D). To change the meta-realm means to invent new places for telecom leadership to meet and collaborate, new kinds of "ambassadors" and meta-institutions to cross-fertilize and consult among the four domains, and new kinds of aggressive organizational outreach by nonprofits themselves. To say that the real challenges are meta-challenges means that these processes (advocacy, constituency-organizing, intellectual discourse, etc.) themselves need to be re-invented. But this requires a broader field of vision than we have customarily brought to the table. With that introduction, let us consider the four areas that I believe need much greater support.
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