Civic Engagement

Banyan’s software platform will enable news co-ops to provide civic networking spaces that are a welcoming and trustworthy environment for readers to find others in their community who care about the same issues, learn from each other and from other resources, and organize to take action for constructive community change. The software’s civic networking space, in short, will be an online public square whose conversations are nourished by a co-op’s journalism.

This space will also be a petri dish to grow the virus that spreads co-op membership: Many who find value in the licensed co-ops’ journalism will use the software’s handy tools to tell their friends about it, and many who enter its community will invite their friends to join them. The deeper readers’ engagement, the likelier they are to become co-op members — a huge incentive for co-ops to create the most welcoming, safest and easiest-to-use digital community possible: Trustworthiness is the key to inviting people to share and collaborate voluntarily with others—people withdraw their voluntary energy if they don’t trust the environment.

So to leave comments or engage in the community, readers agree to conform to a pledge of constructive behavior such as use of real names, as people do in real-world civic engagement. The software will include a system for flagging offensive behavior that editors can review.  The goal is to ensure that readers’ full range of experiences with the sites—not just with the journalism—fit the value proposition of relevance, respect and trustworthiness.

The software will harness up-to-date best practices of high-functioning and engaged Web communities—and strive always to do better. The aim will be to deal not just with Web sophisticates but with a huge population of regular folks, its software must offer 99th-percentile ease of use.

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The Banyan Project is a nonprofit organization founded from the thinking of 30 senior journalists, academics, Web developers, sociologists and researchers, business and financial strategists, and advocates for strengthening democracy brought together by Tom Stites. Members of this Board of Advisors are listed below; click on names to see bios.

Stites shaped Banyan's model as a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He is now helping a committee of community leaders who are organizing Haverhill Matters, the nation's first community Web news co-op in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Read more about Banyan Project.