(Indianapolis) We have an opportunity to ask questions on a national survey that will gauge the extent of civic engagement online. We hope to repeat the same questions in subsequent years to follow trends.
It’s hard to get this right. If you ask people whether they do specific activities, such as blogging or posting on message boards, two problems arise. First, these forms of engagement change very rapidly. Yesterday, it was blogging; today it is podcasting and MySpace; tomorrow it will be something else. Second, these activities are only partly “civic” or “political” (by any definition of those terms). If you ask people whether they have created a blog, you can’t tell whether they have done something relevant to politics or community issues. The blig might concern knitting or porn.
Therefore, we might be tempted to ask more abstract questions, such as: “Have you used digital media for civic purposes?” But obviously, most respondents will have no idea what this question means. So we need somewhat abstract questions that can outlast changes in technology, yet ones that people can understand.
I have pasted some draft questions below in case anyone has any advice. These draft items include abstract leads and then concrete follow-ups:
1. Within the last seven days, have you used the Internet to express opinions about politics, a social issue, or a community problem? (“The Internet” includes email and text messages as well as websites.)
If no, skip to question 3.
2. I am going to read you a list of specific Internet technologies. Please tell me whether you used each one within the last seven days to express your opinions about political or social or community issues. a. Email. b. Your own blog. c. Comments on someone else’s blog. d. A social networking site like MySpace or Facebook. e. By making a photo, video, or audio and sharing it online. f. By commenting on someone else’s photo, video, or audio.
3. Within the last seven days, have you used the Internet to gather information about politics or a social issue or a community problem?
If no, skip #4
4. Now I am going to read you a list of specific Internet technologies. For each one, please tell me whether you used it within the last seven days to gather information about political, social, or community issues. a. Search engines such as Google. b. Professional news websites, such as CNN.com or washingtonpost.com. c. Blogs. d. Social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. e. Sites that contain shared pictures or videos, such as Flickr or YouTube. f. Wikipedia or another wiki site.