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What Drives People to Engage?

March 11, 2016 by Cathleen Fracasse

What Drives People to Engage?

In order to build Big Tent Nation teams that can engage members in a sustained way, we need to understand what drives people to participate in civic activity. Google's Anthea Strong Watson studies the factors that make teams appealing and effective, and provide team members with what they need to feel - and be - effective change makers.

In her role with Google's Civic Innovation group and in her previous experience leading civic technology projects, Watson has the experience and research background to understand the dynamics of civic engagement. Watson bases much of her analysis on the 1968 work of William H. Riker and Peter C. Ordeshook entitled The Theory of the Calculus of Voting. In that paper, the authors propose the following equation to characterize the often unconscious calculation that individuals make when deciding whether or not to vote:

pb_d.png Though the 1968 analysis focused on voting, Strong gives that idea a new twist as she assesses its relevance for online civic activity. In short, if the probability of a positive outcome or the benefit to the individual of a successful effort is zero, then the only factors that matter are the individual's drive to participate - out of civic duty, team affiliation, enthusiasm or other - and the cost of that participation. However, a likely positive outcome in combination with the individual's sense that benefit will accrue to them may push that equation such that the individual is willing to take on increased cost - in terms of time, effort, aggravation or even physical danger. 

Strong describes this theory at 2014's Personal Democracy Forum...

...and in this Medium article.

So what does this have to do with teamwork at Big Tent Nation? Well, here at the Big Tent we all need to understand that true active participation in our very complex (and very dysfunctional) democracy comes at high cost. But we believe that the appropriate creation and nurturing of healthy team environments - and, even more importantly, the likelihood that these teams will be able to positively effect our government and its policies - will encourage our members to absorb the cost of time, aggravation and frustration to continue to work together. Because we believe it is critically important to our success in impacting our democracy that we maintain and support teams of members from very diverse backgrounds, with very diverse political leanings, the cost may sometimes be high. We all need to learn to think more rationally, listen more closely, and put aside our small disagreements to make big change.

We are dedicated to increasing the probability that change can and will occur; the benefit to all of us that will accrue from a more effective and open democracy; and the sense of belonging and engagement that we've all been sorely missing in order to make the internal calculus for participation a slam dunk.

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