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Inside Web Lab
September 23, 2004
This month's weirdest Googling that brought people to the Web Lab site:
"some day i'm gonna be famous I have talent"
"large animal game"
"it's howdy doody time"
"conversation about who you are"
Small Group Dialogues
- First Person Plural
- Peace Building Dialogues
First Person Plural: Women Talk about Breast Cancer
Although our Small Group Dialogue technique (SGD) has most often been used to create rich,
flame-resistant "dialogues across differences," a discussion launched in early June broke
some extraordinary new ground. About 800 women who have had breast cancer shared their
most intimate experiences, cried and laughed together, and discovered things about themselves
that, in the words of one participant, "have given me a chance to reconnect to the unfinished
business of recovery."
Created in partnership with veteran book editor Ruth Peltason, and publicized with the help of 10
national breast cancer organizations, the moving discussions in First Person Plural will now be
turned into a book. What began as a two-week dialogue was such a community-building experience
for so many participants that "FPP" is still going strong 3 months later. And last week a group of women
began a campaign to convince Oprah to do a show during Breast Cancer Awareness Month
featuring the women who "met" each other in the dialogue.
Peace Building Dialogues
In a year marred by polarization and cultural war, Web Lab was proud to collaborate with the American
Friends Service Committee on the Peace Building Dialogues, an interfaith discussion on marriage for
same-sex couples, spirituality and civil law. The dialogues and AFSC's Peace Building campaign were
created to find alternatives to the demonization that dominates discussion of the gay marriage issue.
The purpose of the three-week event was not to debate laws or constitutional amendments, but to allow
people from every side of this deeply personal topic to come together and seek peaceful ways to discuss
this issue in our spiritual and religious communities and in our families. Nearly 500 participants joined the
dialogue from 49 states, and from communities of Episcopalians, Muslims, Quakers, Roman Catholics,
Methodists, Buddhists and Jews, among others (including at least one self-declared "pessimistic agnostic").
To read the preliminary response to the discussions and see the dialogue archive, go to:
Web Lab alum and SGD co-inventor Barry Joseph continues to pioneer online dialogues for young people
at Global Kids, Inc.This year, GK's online leadership program launched NewzCrew, a youth current events
dialogue created in partnership with the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
NewzCrew combines SGD with Global Kids' unique approach to public policy education, youth leadership
and online learning. Global Kids anticipates that NewzCrew will bring 2,000 students into online groups,
with an estimated additional 200,000 others reading along. Co-managed by high school students in Global
Kids' Power of Citizenry program, the site also features a "Teacher's Lounge" that provides educators with
curricular materials related to current events that enable them to involve their classes in the discussions.
As readers of previous editions of this newsletter may recall, Crossover has evolved from its original idea
of bringing filmmakers and new media makers together in a series of intensive retreats designed to spark
ideas for groundbreaking new projects. Last year we consolidated the process to make it more production
-oriented. With R&D funds from the MacArthur Foundation, we've been developing ideas for several "hybrid"
TV/Web projects. We're now looking for a top-notch writer for one project, and tentatively planning to begin
shooting a prototype for another before the end of the year.
Learn more at:
As the relationship between technology and politics deepens online, Web Lab continues to be a leader
in the conversation about the changing dynamics of wired democracy. This summer, Release 1.0, Esther
Dyson's venerable and highly respected journal for Internet and information technology insiders, devoted
an entire issue to "Politics on the Net." The issue, written by managing editor Christina Koukkos, includes
an extensive article about Web Lab's efforts to "rethink online discussions" by combining clever technology
[with] knowledge about group dynamics."
The new PlaNetwork Journal featured an article by Web Lab community director Jed Miller and Rob Stuart
of the E-Volve Foundation, entitled "Network-Centric Thinking: The Internet's Challenge to Ego-Centric
Institutions." The article explores how savvy advocates and non-profits are turning to their communities
to enhance effectiveness and define their missions -- and also how traditional organizations and many
non-profits are hindered by their own barriers to network-building. The PlaNetwork Journal and annual
conference are co-chaired by Web Lab alumna Elizabeth Thompson.
Hey, we never got to mention another article that featured Web Lab and SGD, in a 2003 issue of the
Online Journalism Review, published moments after our last newsletter, "News Sites Still Figuring Out
What to Do With Online Communities":
In August, Web Lab Executive Producer Marc Weiss joined a small group of leaders and thinkers in the fields
of election reform and deliberative democracy at a conference designed "to facilitate understanding, exchange
and possible areas of collaboration between practitioners in these key areas of work."
Hosted by Demos, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium,
the meeting yielded several project ideas. Besides the stimulating discussions, Marc reports a combination
of fascination and a little disorientation roaming the fabled estate of John D. Rockefeller, which the Rockefeller
Brothers Fund now uses as a conference center.
Earlier in the summer, Jed joined a panel at the Personal Democracy Conference to talk about the new tools of
wired democracy and the new dynamics that arise as a result. Other panelists included Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org,
MeetUp.com founder Scott Heiferman and writer and blogger Dave Weinberger.
Jed will be speaking in Denver next month, at the conference of The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation.
He'll join representatives of AmericaSpeaks and The Study Circles Resource Center to talk about the challenges
of large-scale dialogues that engage thousands, even millions, of citizens in deliberation on issues of policy and
governance. The presentation will draw on months of development led by AmericaSpeaks during 2003 aimed at
designing a government-sponsored national conversation on health care reform.
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