How good is change?

The internet exploded about the same time I started high school. Facebook was launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and in 2007 when I entered high school Change.org became available to the masses. I have actively participated since the start. Some of these stories are heart breaking, like the calls for justice against male rape. Other stories make me angry, like plastic companies using toxins in kids’ toys. I do not sign every petition I come across. I don’t agree with all of them. Change.org’s mission is to be “ . . . a social action platform that empowers anyone, anywhere to start, join, and win campaigns to change the world” (Change). The power this social platform gives people is what draws me to to Change.org. I would like to analyze the success of Change.org’s “End Tuition Discrimination against Veterans” petition, so the site’s mission can be executed more effectively. I am going to do this through the framework Cathy Davidson lays out in Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, because I believe Change.org is a form of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is a strategy for solving problems that lets people on the Internet contribute to the solution. As Davidson puts it “Crowdsourcing is ‘outsourcing’ to the ‘crowd’ . . .” (65) meaning people on the Internet are being recruited to solve problems for others. For the petition started by Justin Curley, the problem is veterans move around too much to establish residency and are then charged out of state tuition. Curley wanted a revision of Delgado Community College’s policy toward veterans and residency in New Orleans, so that veterans could pay instate tuition. He also hoped changing Delgado’s policy would promote other schools to do the same. Curley’s petition doesn’t have the most signatures on Change.org, but still was successful with 2,254 supporters. Curley met with the Chancellor of Delgado, and he agreed to change their policy regarding the residency status of veterans. Delgado also agreed to pay veterans back for tuition from the previous semester. This is not only a victory for veterans, but also for students whose tuition has increased.

Justin Curley’s petition was successful, but the structure of Change.org both promotes and restricts this success, according to Davidson’s standards for crowdsourcing. Davidson’s first of three standards for successful crowd sourcing states that: “ . . . difference and diversity –not expertise and uniformity—solves problems” (65). People who signed Curley’s petition came from all over the United States, including California, Tennessee, and Syracuse, New York (that would be me). This shows the diversity of Change.org’s crowd sourcing.  Change.org’s ablity to reach so many people is one of the sites advantages; however there is an element of restriction. This is similar to a problem of Facebook’s early days, because “The top third of lifestyle segments relative to affluence were 25% more likely to use Facebook than those in the lower third” (Nielson). Change.org can only reach the people who use social media. This restricts the diversity Davidson laid out as a requirement for successful crowdsourcing.

One of Change.org problems is that the people who write the petitions decide what the results will be. Petitions are a form of taking action, however they also restrict the result of the signatories partition. Davidson’s second criteria says “ . . . if you predict the result in any way, if you try to force a solution, you limit the participation and therefore the likelihood of success” (65). Here Change.org falls short, because they don’t let supporters lend suggestions or their resources to solve the problem. An example of how this could change would be to add a fundraising feature to each petitions web page or in Curley’s case a section for policy suggestions. Curley’s proposed solution was to convince “ . . . Louisiana Community and Technical College System to pioneer a process that would make it easier and less stressful for veteran students to access the Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits they- we- rightfully earned” (Change). This petition sets out specific results Curley wanted Delgado Community College to provide. The people who are ‘outsourced’ to provide a solution only provide a signature.

The final standard Davidson gives for Crowd sourcing states “ . . . the community most served by the solution should be chiefly involved in the process of finding it” (Davidson 65). The number of veterans effected by the new policy is unclear and the college’s website doesn’t mention Curley’s petition at all. Other veterans and students of Delgado Community College should have been involved in this petition; however, a small percent of Curley’s signatures came from people in Louisiana. The majority of signatures came from the most populated state in the US: California. This is common in Change.org petition. This may be a result of the Internet being too difficult to focus locally. It could also be the petition wasn’t  marketed within Delgado Community College.

When a Change.org petition is analyzed using Davidson’s standards for crowdsourcing, the site is largely successful, but also needs some improvements. These include direct engagement of the community affected by the petition, an additional feature so users could offer suggestions, and a general diversification of the people who have profiles on Change.org. All of this being said: An accomplishment like Justin Curley’s petition shows the power of Change.org’s platform and gives it validation.

Credits

“UK Troops Onboard a C17 Transport Aircraft in Transit to Afghanistan” by UK Ministry of Defense (By Defense Images), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/defenceimages/6106570504/in/photostream/, Edited by Mary Dickinson Jensen

“Demo Lition 10.11.10” by Andrew Moss (By Andrew Moss Photography), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/andymoss461/5166016217/in/photostream

“Bayou” by Jeff Whipple (By JeffWhipple) and “Louisiana National Guard Military Police_013” by Daryl McGrath (By pluto665), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/whipple/2698220931/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/pluto665/2406769634/in/photostream/, Edited by Mary Dickinson Jensen.

“Marines Lead Run to Ground Zero—Fleet Week New York 2011” by anonymous (By DVIDSHUB), Creative Commons 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/5786250975/

“The More Affluent and More Urban Are More Likely to Use Social Networks.” Nielsen Wire. The Nielsen Company, 25 Sept. 2005. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/the-more-affluent-and-more-urban-are-more-likely-to-use-social-networks/>.

Curley, Justin. “End Tuition Discrimination against Veterans.” Change.org. Change.org, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <http://www.change.org/petitions/end-tuition-discrimination-against-veterans>.

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About marymimi11

My name is Mary Dickinson Jensen and this is my senior year at Syracuse University. My major is international relations and I am minoring in writing and Chinese studies. I started learning Chinese when I lived in Taiwan for a year as an exchange student and have been studying Mandarin for the last four years. Both my parents are English teachers, so writing is in my family. I grew up in a town called Vancouver, WA near Portland, OR. My family includes my parents, brother, aunt, and I. My father immigrated to the US in his mid-40s, so the vast majority of his family lives in Denmark. While at SU I have been an active member of College Democrats and this year I am the Secretary of the International Relations Club. In the future I hope to have a career in international law and would like to continue to live in the Portland area.

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