One of the things that we pride ourselves on at Magnify is our science-based approach towards the development of our platform  — we are social and data scientists, who use theory, data, and advanced analytics to study civic engagement and social mobilization.

We’ve built Magnify to help people solve a classic problem that has perplexed social scientists for decades — the problem of collective action.  Back in 1965, Mancur Olson wrote one of the most influential books in social science, The Logic of Collective Action.  In this relatively slim book, Olson leveled a devastating critique of decades of social science research, and the lessons from his book are taught in college and universities throughout the world.

Olson’s critique was simple — a great deal of social science research on mobilization had argued that if there was some sort of group interest in a “public good”, that the group would coalesce, mobilize, and provide the “public good”.  In economics, public goods are things that are produced for the general good (everyone can take advantage of them, meaning they are “non-excludable”) and that if one person uses them they that generally does not change whether or not someone else can use them (they are “non-rivalrous”).

So for example, before Olson’s critique, many social scientists thought that if a public good was desirable, that it would be provided — groups would form to support the provision of the public good.

But Olson argued that is not necessarily true — and that in many cases public goods may not be provided.  Why?  Olson noted that in many situations, people will have a pretty strong incentives to assume that others people in the group will provide the public good; thus people will “free ride” on the assumption that others will provide the public good, and this will usually mean that no one will act, and the public good won’t be provided.

After the publication of Olson’s work, there’s been a lot of research providing “solutions” to the collective action problem:  group leaders and entrepreneurs need to find ways to overcome the incentive to free ride, to get people to act towards the provision of the public good.  And many of these attempts to incentivize public good provision are now common to organizers:  for example, many organizations seeking the provision of public goods will give “selective incentives” to participants (say food, t-shirts, and other small and low-cost items that only participants receive).

We have designed Magnify based on decades of research on overcoming  collective action problems.   Participation in a Magnify project is identifiable:  we ask that Magnify members set up an account before they can work on projects, and when they sign up to help on a project the are listed as being part of the team.  Projects have defined tasks, which are designed to help meet the project goal — and when a project team member acts on the task, they get recognition on Magnify for acting.  We’ve recently rewarded some Magnify members for their strong participation across a number of projects, and we’ll be doing more to recognize members who help a great deal in the near future.  We also make Magnify fun to use, trying to make it as effortless as we can to join and to propose projects to the Magnify community.  And we have been working to help our Magnify community develop and present their projects so that they are successful.

If you haven’t joined the Magnify community, take a few minutes and to do it now.  Then join a couple of projects, and help people like you solve issues in their communities!

Volunteerism is a way of life, and it’s a way of life that is socialized through our interactions with those around us.  The path towards being involved in one’s community as an adult begins for most people when they are young.  Young people see their parents volunteer, and often young people learn about the importance of volunteering when they serve their community along with their parents and siblings.  Young people often get engaged in volunteerism through high school or college programs, or through other organizations that they or their families belong to.

But according to a recent study published earlier this year by the University of Maryland (Robert T., Grimm Jr., and Nathan Dietz. 2018. “Good Intentions, Gap in Action: The Challenge of Translating Youth’s High Interest in Doing Good into Civic Engagement.” Research Brief: Do Good Institute, University of Maryland), current volunteer participation rates among young people have recently declined.

The University of Maryland study had a number of important findings about volunteerism today among young people, two of which we found concerning.  The first important finding was that “Despite 51-year highs among entering college students in their desire to engage in their community, volunteering among high school and college students has declined since the early 2000s and remained relatively low and stagnant for the last decade.”  Second, “Surprisingly, college students volunteer less frequently than high school students.”

Unfortunately, there’s not a good explanation as to why volunteerism among young people is declining, especially in a social, economic, and political context where the value of community engagement is quite clear.  In a situation where the data are telling us that on one hand young people want to be engaged in their communities, but they are not, there is likely something structural going on that is either preventing their engagement, or perhaps making their engagement less meaningful.

Clearly we need to solve this problem.  If young people today are not participating in volunteer efforts at a high rate, that means there simply are fewer volunteers to help solve important community problems today than in the past.  This could also have important long-term ramifications:  if the current generation of young people are not being socialized in the important norm of volunteerism, later in life these current cohorts of young people may be less active in their communities than past generations.

This is where applications like Magnify can help.  Magnify provides an easy way for everyone to get involved in volunteering to help solve community problems, and it does so using the types of technologies that young people in particular are so familiar with.  Magnify provides meaningful community engagement, free from polarized rhetoric.

If you know a young person who is looking for a way to get involved in solving community problems, send them our way.  If you run an organization that is looking to engage young people, drop us a note and we’ll help you out.  We need to work together to help engage young people in our communities, and tools like Magnify can help increase the rate of volunteerism among young people.

 

There’s been a lot of bad news recently about Facebook, much more than we want to recount in detail here.

We been hearing from friends, family, and colleagues that they are tired of Facebook, that they’d like to spend their time doing something more productive than scrolling through ads, and getting anxious if they’d not checked their Facebook page in the last hour.   Some of our friends are so sick of Facebook that they are deactivating their Facebook accounts, or deleting the Facebook app from their devices so they get out of habit of checking it constantly.

What we find interesting about this trend is that it makes sense in the context of recent research.  Because there’s accumulating evidence in the research literature that social media platforms like Facebook just are not good for our mental health, backing up what we are hearing from our friends and families about how unsatisfactory Facebook has become for them.

In one recently study, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook (Verduyn et al 2015).  Relatedly,  in a study from UC San Diego and Yale, people who clicked on more links than the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average (Shakya and Christakis 2017).   As we see the current state of the research literature, in general the bulk of the evidence indicates that social media platforms like Facebook don’t appear good for our mental health.

The time is right for Magnify, because it is a different type of social platform — it’s a place where you can connect with your friends and family, and to work together to get things done.  Using Magnify you can get things done in your community, and help others get important things done in their communities.  Magnify provides a new and productive way to connect, and to use those connections to get things done and help others.

And getting stuff done on social media makes people happier, which has been documented in the research literature.  According to a recent study, people who sent or received more messages, comments and Timeline posts reported improvements in social support, depression and loneliness (Burke and Kraut 2016).   So using Magnify is likely to make you free better than the older and less productive social media platform — Magnify is about helping others, and along the way staying connected with friends and family.

So try Magnify today.  It’s easy to get started, and simple to help others get stuff done.  It’s also easy to get your own projects launched, and to connect with your friends and family to help solve your project.

 

Have you liked a post on Facebook or NextDoor — or written one yourself — complaining about politics, government, or local businesses? Have you seen one from your family and friends? Have you said to yourself, “I don’t know why they don’t do [fill in possible solution here]?”

Talking about politics, especially on social media, is something many Americans do on a regular basis. In fact, 30% of the respondents in the American Panel Survey report they have texted a friend or family member about a political issue.  Moreover, 66% of social media users (39% of American adults) engage in civic or political activities with social media (Pew Internet and American Life Survey).  That’s a lot of political conversation online!

Here at Magnify we would like to transform that political talk into action.  Once you’ve come up with an idea for how to improve your neighborhood or community, you’ve already done all the hard work necessary to post a project on Magnify.  The next step is easy. We’d like you to take a few minutes and translate that idea into a new project.  We’ll help you fill out the details — you just need the idea (and an address).  Then, you simply share that idea with your family and friends.

Fred Rogers is famous for his quote about finding optimism in times of disaster and darkness.  He said, “Look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping.”   Here’s one thing to remember about that quote from Fred Rogers, though.  His message is for children.  There’s a different message for adults.  In our world there are many big and serious issues.  It is time for adults to stop looking for the helpers.  Instead, it is time to act.  We’re seeing a tremendous groundswell of interest in in civic engagement, such as the number of voters who are getting involved and engaged in the 2018 midterm primary elections.  It’s time to post your project.  Build your community.  Don’t look for the helpers.  Be the helper.

 

 

 

Recently, a number of people have used Magnify to solve community issues, which we wrote about in “Barn raising and Success”.  These successes led us to analyze these projects, to see what we could learn about what made them successful.  Here we pass along a few tips that we noticed as part of our study of these successful Magnify projects.

A clearly defined and achievable project goal

First, a successful Magnify project needs a clear and achievable goal.  While many community issues are complex, if you can reduce that complexity , that’s going to make your project more interesting to the Magnify community, and make it much easier for you to get the issue solved. 

For example, in my neighborhood there are few sidewalks, and many speeding cars on the streets.  In situations like these, it’s easy to just call or email someone in City Hall and complain about speeding traffic.  But that’s not going to necessarily produce a real solution to the problem.  Instead, a few of my neighbors looked carefully at the flow of traffic in our neighborhood, and realized that if we got the City to put a stop sign in at a particular intersection, that would help to calm traffic at a place where it would matter a great deal for pedestrian safety.  That’s a clear and achievable goal — rather than just complaining to the City about speeding cars, the neighborhood got together and asked the City to install a stop sign at a particular intersection (which the City eventually did, and which has helped calm traffic considerably in the neighborhood).

So reduce complex problems to achievable and defined goals.

Straightforward action

A second aspect of successful Magnify projects is that they ask the Magnify community to do something simple and straightforward.  Usually that action is contacting a specific individual in a government office or agency, or a specific individual in an organization.  Also, tell the Magnify community what to say — if you want a baby changing table in your local pizzeria (our Pi Pizzeria example), explain the issue to the Magnify community, tell them exactly who to contact (in this case the pizzeria manager or owner), and suggest exactly what they might say in their communications. 

Again, in the example from my neighborhood, the ask turned out to be simple:  a stop sign at a specific intersection.  There were a lot of reasons that this stop sign became the neighborhood-preferred solution, but in the end it gave our neighbors and the City something very specific to discuss, and it gave us all a very clear objective to accomplish.

Making the action clear to the Magnify community is important for the success of your project.

Research

Finally, it is clear that doing some research before you make your project available for the Magnify community to view is important.  Most importantly, you need to determine who can solve the issue, and how to best contact them.  From your perspective, it may not always be perfectly clear who has the power to help you solve your problem — and if it isn’t clear to you, it won’t be clear to the Magnify community.

In the case of the speeding traffic in my neighborhood, it turned out that the best person to contact wasn’t the City, traffic engineers, or the police.  Our city council members have field representatives — and some phone calls and emails from concerned neighbors to the field representative (with a specific request for a stop sign), got the City to act.  So finding the right person who can solve your issue is crucial for project success.

Finding a specific individual in the appropriate branch of government, or in the right organization, is crucial for the success of your project.  Is it better to try to contact that individual by email, or by phone?  Or perhaps to organize your team to show up at a government hearing or meeting?  Do your research, and answer these questions before you finalized your Magnify project.  That will help you build a successful Magnify project!