what’s going on at the office

(From Greenville, SC): Periodically, I get the urge to download what I’m doing onto my blog. These posts usually lead people to email me with questions or concerns, which is why I allow myself to write them now and then. (I believe that a high proportion of the readers of this blog are somehow professionally associated with one of the organizations that I work for.)

First, we are trying to set up and fund a series of randomized field experiments connected to this year’s election. For each experiment, we must connect a funder, a researcher, and a political group that is doing actual fieldwork–and they must all agree on the details of project. The researcher always takes a list of registered voters (or residents) and randomly selects a subset of them. The political group contacts that subset in a particular way or with a particular message. Finally, the researcher consults voter rolls to see how many of those who were contacted actually voted, compared to those who were not contacted. The difference is a very reliable measure of the effect of the canvassing method. (This [pdf] is an example of a recent experiment.) Experiments conducted since 1998 have revolutionized campaigns by proving that door-to-door and phone canvassing work. Mark Lopez and I are also writing an overview article on the subject.

Several colleagues and I have been running after-school programs at the local high school, most recently with support from the National Geographic Foundation. This fall, our high school students will continue studying geographical factors that increase obesity, and will produce a radio show with their results. For the most part, I have been addressing various bureaucratic obstacles.

I’ve taken over an undergraduate program called Leaders for Tomorrow and have been working with 14 exceptional freshmen to develop a collective project that combines scholarship, leadership, and service. Speaking of scholarship, I have been coaching a strong crop of Rhodes candidates from the University of Maryland.

John Gastil and I are nearing the finish line with an edited book of essays, probably to be called The Deliberative Democracy Handbook: Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the Twenty First Century. Meanwhile, Jim Youniss and I are at the first stage of a funded project to explore how changes in the US political system affect young people’s political development.

I’m chairing a subcommittee at the University that is trying to identify all the opportunities that our undergraduates have for civic engagement and leadership on campus.

The Deliberative Democracy Consortium is beginning to plan a second meeting of researchers and practitioners in the field; the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is preparing materials for its new state teams; and the Alliance for Representative Democracy is planning the second annual Congressional Conference on Civic Education. I’m on the relevant steering or planning committees for each of these projects.

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