I read a great blog post today about the difference between "customers" and "active citizens.

You can read it here .

The author defines the terms like this:

  • "Customer = A person that buys or obtains goods or services from another.
  • Active Citizen = a citizen who takes an active role in the community."

And goes on to state that "...the outcomes we need to foster and encourage are that of active citizens and not more customers…"

So true!!  I, of course, am thinking about OFP.  If a member uses OFP just to receive information only, doing such things as checking to see if there's any new information being disseminated, or not even checking back in because no new information is here, then that member is being a customer.  Lame, i know.

On the other hand, if a member is starting discussions, adding comments, blogging, responding to others, welcoming new members, and so on, well then that member is definitely being an active citizen.

OFP wasn't built to disseminate information - that's what existing ahem!::boring::ahem! websites are for.  OFP is a community of active citizens, or at least, that's the goal we fought so hard for.

So, 'customer' or 'active citizen.'  Which one are you? 

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Comment by John Gallo on August 14, 2012 at 12:22pm

Good question.  I have a feeling that I'm like many people on this site, an active citizen, with limited bandwidth (i.e. time).  There are now so many thousands of ways to be active, both online and off, that it becomes a bit overwhelming.  I'm liking the potential of OFP for forest planning though!  the issue reminds me of that Clay Shirky book: Here Comes Everybody, in whcih he says they sites that pull it off ar ethe ones with a good "Promise, Tools, and Bargain."  I hear he has a new book out, but I've yet to read it.  

Comment by Erica Schachtell on August 9, 2012 at 9:03pm

so maybe, instead of just posting in federal register and local newspapers, a forest should post flyers at trailhead kiosks and campground signs saying "there is a project underway that will affect your use of this area" or something similar, encouraging folks to get informed & involved ??

Comment by Steven B Porter on August 8, 2012 at 5:48pm

I think the average person doesn't have a clue about what the government is doing around them. The don't participate in local, county, state, or federal "politics." They only become engaged when they are impacted. Most of these people are not sophisticated enough to not participate now so that they can complain later. In the regulatory world, this is usually a losing proposition anyway.
I think one of the only ways to engage users at the proper time would be to implement the proposed change while it is being reviewed to make sure the impacted users understand the consequences of the proposed decision. This wouldn't work legally, but it might be a good solution from a practical standpoint.

Comment by Erica Schachtell on August 8, 2012 at 4:43pm

i wonder if the mechanism for this phenomenon is simple blame gaming. 

i mean, isn't it more to an individual's advantage, assuming they are not getting paid to get involved, to avoid participation in planning processes, so that they can preserve their ability to complain later, blaming the participants for a job poorly done? 

the alternative, of course, is becoming active early in the process and thereby making themselves a potential target of blame by others who are later dissatisfied with the outcome.

I tend to shy away from theories that assume the worst about people, but blame-vulnerability-avoidance-and-preservation-of-ability-to-blame-others might be it in this case.  sadly.

Comment by Erica Schachtell on August 8, 2012 at 1:44pm

"The challenge for all of us is to find a process that encourages customers to become active citizens early in the process..."   < bingo

Comment by Steven B Porter on August 8, 2012 at 10:59am

In the Inyo National Forest we have thousands of customers/users of the forest, but we have few active citizens when it comes to participation in any of the regulatory/planning processes that affect the customers' use of the forest.

The active citizens end up being the bureaucrats (government agencies) that have "active citizen" as a part of their job description. In addition we also attract special interests as a part of the active citizen group.

The problem with the process is that the users of the forest don't become active citizens until after the process has been completed and they have been impacted as a result. An example of this "user becomes active citizen" is the Inyo National Forest Travel Management Plan. Many users didn't become active citizens until after certain roads were closed to motor vehicle access. Once the users "rights" were impacted, the users bacame active citizens, albeit too late to be effective.

The challenge for all of us is to find a process that encourages customers to become active citizens early in the process before they are converted into ineffective active users by a process that took away something they value without their input or participation.


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