👋 Reintroducing the Signals
A quick primer on our research about flourishing digital public spaces.
As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast.” And that’s was before Internet culture gave us new mini-moments to fixate on, argue about, and create tribal meaning around several times a day. So January of 2020 — when we unveiled our Signals — feels like a bit of a distant memory. But we’re proud of this work, and as the conversation about how to reshape and reconstruct the Internet continues to gain steam, we wanted to share it again.
The Signals were the culmination of a two-year research effort. Through YouGov, with funding from the Omidyar Network, we (that’s Talia Stroud and Eli Pariser, the leaders of this effort) conducted a survey in 20 countries and with over 20,000 people. We analyzed trends among superusers of various digital platforms and followed up in focus groups, talking to respondents about their experiences. Our research partners also reviewed the literature and talked to over 100 experts from disciplines ranging from social psychology to urban planning about the qualities of flourishing public, or semi-public, spaces. We identified 14 qualities that people around the world agreed were important for digital public spaces, and we created a white paper for each.
One reason we’re pausing to reintroduce our signals is that they offer a baseline for research. They are a rich trove of data from an international array of social, messaging, and search platform superusers.
We have some updates coming, tracking how the Signals fared during the pandemic, as users dramatically shifted their lives and digital needs. Keep your eyes peeled for some exciting news on that front. 😘
Here’s a primer on the signals:
The best entry point is this deck that walks through our thinking from start to finish.
We found four building blocks or key qualities make up a flourishing digital public space. They should be welcoming and safe, help us understand and make sense of the world, connect people near and far across divides, and enable us to act together.
We leave you with some links to better explore the research:
The first responsibility of a digital space is to create an experience where people feel, at a bare minimum, welcome and safe. Then it must make them feel comfortable and secure enough to stick around. To be truly public, a space must be accessible, inviting, and hospitable. The four foundational welcome signals help us assess how well a space meets these goals.
Important information about our world is increasingly communicated in digital spaces. It’s crucial that those spaces help us make sense, together, of the world around us. We don’t all have to agree with each other. But our digital spaces should help us better understand each other and provide context that helps us agree on the fundamental shared reality of what we’re seeing and experiencing.
Connect focuses on the connections a digital space helps people form — with each other, with resources, and with power. Digital public spaces bring both people and resources together in ways that physical spaces often can’t. But simply bringing things together isn’t where the work of connection ends.
When a public space successfully welcomes and connects disparate groups, and facilitates access to power while promoting mutual understanding, we are inspired to take action — proactively and reactively. Act’s signals consider how online behavior translates into physical spaces, inspiring us to work together to support our own communities and others’, and to become better, more informed, compassionate, and involved citizens of the world around us.
You can watch co-directors Eli Pariser and Talia Stroud present the signals at our Festival or explore the elegant interactive explainer page within our site. Have you used the signals as building blocks in creating your own digital spaces? We want to hear from you! Email us at email@example.com
Gather Round This Fire 🔥
Sharing in the light,
The New_ Public team
Illustrations by Akufen
Civic Signals is a partnership between the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, and the National Conference on Citizenship, and was incubated by New America.
What a terrific framing! Congratulations on such deep, thoughtful work. There's one element in my work to understand transformative, systemic change practices that I found in every method included in The Change Handbook that I encourage you to consider: the role of a generative framing. It's the notion that shared aspiration is key to attracting a diverse group, informing their understanding and connection and fueling action. The best articulated research I've seen on this aspect is a chapter called Generative Image by Gervase Bushe and Jacob Storch in Dialogic Organization Development.