The Civic Media Series: Practical
This series exists as a part of academic work being done in a Civic Media graduate course and will cover the proposed principles of Civic Media.
This series can be found under The Civic Media Series.
For something to be practical, it needs to exist beyond theory. In civic media, practical means using theory to create real societal change; it relies on not only putting those theories to use but also the existing social infrastructure that can foster that work. In the video Prototyping a Civic Media Fellowship: A Conversation with Dr. Knatokie Ford and Baratunde Thurston, part of an interview series from The Annenberg Innovation Lab, Baratunde Thurston quotes Professor Holly Willis; “While we tell stories, stories also tell us.”
In that same video, Dr. Knatokie Ford talks about her work with how media impacts public perception of STEM fields, careers, and who can (and should) be doing these jobs. Though the works start theoretical, exploring media’s impact and what that means for people of colour, for women, etc., it moves beyond that. She talks about the work that it led to in raising awareness starting with the entertainment industry because that’s what the theory and research led to.
Theory is only useful in so much as it helps you reach your end goal; Thurston later says “democracy without an informed public is a sham.” Learning is a powerful tool when you understand how to put it to use.
Practice is the actual use of an idea, as opposed to the theories relating to it. In his article On theory vs. practice and starting with an end goal, William Cho succinctly explains the difference between theory and practice. “Theory assumes an outcome, while practice allows you to test the theory and see if it is accurate.” He relates this to Stephen Covey’s second habit from his books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: begin with the end in mind.
It’s useful for most people to understand what they’re working toward, but I think when working with youth it’s even more relevant. I can’t deny I’m easily distracted; if I feel the payoff isn’t going to be worth it, it’s hard to stay motivated, even if I understand—in theory—the significance. High school is an especially hectic and transitional time, so it takes a lot to decide to add more to your plate. If someone had just started a meeting off with “What do you want to do here?” I probably would have engaged a lot more.
Though putting theory to practice is key here, it’s important to acknowledge how access to theory—or lack thereof—can keep people out of civic engagement. If you don’t know the history behind voter segregation and suppression, you might not feel very motivated to vote or encourage others to do so. There’s also practical in the other sense: how feasible is it? As mentioned, high school can be overwhelming, and you have to look at how feasible it might be to ask people who are worried about ACT testing or prom or college applications to add something else to their plates.
Instead, see what’s the most reasonable for them. Are there students involved in student government who want to put those ideas to use? Instead of weekly meetings, could you plan for bi-weekly video chats? Is it possible to work with a history class and offer extra credit? In the end, the most passionate ideas won’t go anywhere if they’re not practical.