The second half of my fellowship at the University of Washington has been racing by! Here are a few of the things that have been keeping me busy during the last week.
Washington State social media network
I travelled down to Olympia to speak with a group of government officials who are working on digital media at the state, local and city level. Just like the European Commission, Washington State has a social media network that allows people from different government departments to exchange experiences.
I heard interesting examples from agencies as diverse as the Seattle Police (Tweets-by-beat), the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (Ear to the Ground blog) and the Washington State Health Care Authority (engagement of citizens and stakeholders in Medicaid and health care reform).
I spoke with the group about our experiences with social media in the European Union over the last few years. Although the contexts are very different, we were all struck with the similarities between the challenges we face (adapting to more conversational and interactive forms of dialogue, choosing the right channels, developing appropriate content, measuring impacts and demonstrating return on investment …).
Digital engagement in the USA and beyond
One of the things that continue to fascinate me is the potential for digital media to foster new forms of engagement between people and institutions. I have been searching for more examples of good practice that can hopefully inspire us in the EU, as we try to develop more inclusive approaches to policy-making.
I have been trying to use the opportunity of the fellowship to speak to as many different people as possible. During the last week, I have had great conversations (face-to-face or by phone) with open government activists, officials from local and city government, experts from think tanks, academics and consultants. The examples I have been looking at range from Iceland’s attempt to crowdsource a new constitution to examples of multimedia storytelling like Snow Fall by the New York Times.
I realize that I’m casting my net pretty wide, but I hope to be able to collect my thoughts and come up with some practical recommendations that I can take back with me to Brussels!
I have promised the students I am teaching at the University of Washington that one of the highlights of our class this quarter will be the opportunity to put some questions directly to EU decision-makers. We are cooperating with Debating Europe’s Schools initiative. It has been fun preparing for this, and Debating Europe is in itself a great example of digital engagement that illustrates the issues we have been looking at in class. I hope to be able to share the students’ questions and the responses from the EU institutions soon here on this blog!
Teaching about Europe in British Columbia
Students in British Columbia may soon be better informed about the EU than their counterparts in Europe, following a Conference hosted by Capilano University and the British Columbia Social Studies Teachers Association. The Conference was designed to look at how teachers can include the European Union in classes on politics, economics and history.
Speaking during the opening session of the conference, I remarked that we could do with more events like this in Europe, given the low levels of awareness about the European Union reported in Eurobarometer surveys. I was really impressed by how enthusiastic and well-informed these Canadian teachers were. They were interested to hear about the resources the EU makes available to teachers, including the Teacher’s Corner of the Europa website and the game “Uni, le jeu des régions!”.
Capilano is the tenth University in the Pacific North West that I have visited during the last three months. I’ve got into the habit of buying mugs at each University and now have quite a collection from the University of Washington, University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Washington State University, University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark College, University of Victoria, University of Puget Sound, Portland State University and Capilano University.
I will have to find some shelf space for these souvenirs of the fellowships programme when I get back to Brussels!