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Rax interview with James Stevens

Rax Citizenship CoverIn July, New Internationalist published The Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

James Stevens has been on the cutting edge of new technologies since the early days of the web. When the first internet sites were emerging, he was contracted by Levi’s Jeans and Nature magazine to make their first UK websites and also helped to develop Indymedia. He is a highly respected new media advisor to many campaigning groups and advocate for the use of open-source software. The Rax team interviewed him in 2010.

Although the Web has over a trillion pages, it is often hard to get exactly what you are looking for from search engines like Google as any simple set of search words will offer up millions of replies. How do you get around that for Active Citizenship research of an issue?

The web is such a compelling source it's always tempting to start there! However I find that when setting out to research a particular subject or idea the best leads to quality information spring from personal interactions on the subject and so before launching google attempt to engage with friends and colleges on the subject. Make notes and try talking about what you know already, as this will expose gaps in knowledge.

How can you evaluate the authenticity of information and research that you gather from the Web?

Researching subjects using a variety of internet based resources, Newsgroups, Web Encyclopedias and search engines to cross-reference and verify sources. In the end we have to trust sources, which we can verify with our peers and communities.

Are there other ways of using the web/Internet that would give excellent results when researching an issue?

Get access to or set up your own user groups and forums on the subject. You will find a mine of observation and experience based accounts will inform and expand your information base, plus you can ask questions.

Break down the subject into set of related components to investigate before getting locked into one train of thought. Use the 'advanced' search options!

What other ways are there of using 21st Century technology that can help an Active Citizen access reliable information relating to an issue they are interested in?

The position of newsgathering and reporting on the world has been radically transformed by mobile technologies... not only can we easily carry high quality tv cameras anywhere we go but we can relay the materials we collect in real or next to real time using an array of personal, community and commercial communication networks.

This democratisation of media has fostered a huge range of 'people' reporting and news, consumer, advocacy and arts, a challenge to the voice of authority to the extent we now need 21st technlogy to verify reliability of information sources (see above). Swarming and tagging, collaborative writing and success of opening source software are testament to this sea of change.

What would your top tips be as to how 21st Century technology can help the process of being an advocate for a campaign?

Campaigning can now reach broader audiences, engage and co-ordinate with disparate interests in support of ideas and action. We can remain mobile, informed and supportive of others whilst getting on with campaign tasks.

What advice would you give to Active Citizens who want to use Internet based 21st Century technology to run a successful campaign?

Be clear about your aims and expectations.

Invite open interaction from the outset.

Illustrate your working process and acknowledge supporters.

Be respectful of the security and safety of others.

What advice would you give to an Active Citizen who wants to set up their own campaigning website?

Keep it simple.

Consult with your peers.

Use appropriate technology.

Acknowledge the work already in progress.

In what ways, other than the Internet, can Active Citizens use 21st Century technology to help them create a successful campaign?

Encourage spontaneity, inventiveness and play with technology and communication to help make your point. Use print on demand, bulk sms and local radio services to expand your reach.

What developments in technology can you see coming that will have an effect on how young people can create their own campaigns?

There have been so many excellent technological developments during the last 10 years, which have already had a huge impact on campaigning and much else. Getting the message over to your target groups and the public at large can still be an expensive and time- consuming process.

New initiatives and memes emerge and are adopted more rapidly than ever. However, the best messages are simple, relevant and compelling, be they discussed among friends or on tv news - new technology can help you get organised and make your point!

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