November 14, 2013

Defining Grassroots – Google Hangout Summary

Over the last month or two, we’ve made a strategic decision to dedicate a huge part of our work to serve grassroots communities and we’ve increasingly found ourselves thinking about how our work in the Open Data and Open Governance space impacts them.

On Thursday November 7th, 2013, we hosted a Google Hangout on Air with a few panelists to try and map out and describe who grassroot communities are. We hosted John Wonderlich – Policy Director at the Sunlight Foundation based in Washington D.C. (transparency and Open Governance), Madijimba Yahya – Open data Evangelist and Town Planner and Dan Aceda, an architect and Kenyan musician.

You can view a recording of the hangout below

The hangout surfaced interesting perspectives on the definition of grassroots communities. To provide context, a majority have traditionally thought of grassroots as the uneducated rural poor.

Madijimba reckons that there has been a paradigm shift in this thinking over the last 10 years to possibly include higher social classes.

John from the Sunlight Foundation considers grassroots as consumers of information that is useful to them in their day to day lives. John also holds the view that grassroots is a source of policy as it is the pulse of public interest and thus a very important stakeholder.

Dan Aceda brought an interesting perspective on grassroots based on clarity of issues. At the lowest and highest levels, issues are viewed in the perspective of survival – life and death. This provides enough clarity to induce a willingness to act and act decisively. Those at the top do everything they can to stay there and those at the bottom act out of a necessity to survive.

Contrast this thinking with the middle class. The middle seems to have zoned out as they often evade the issues as opposed to directly dealing with them.

As regards to what does grassroots look like, Madijimba believes they often don’t have voice and/or ways to channel their issues. This is probably influenced by stigma among community members and a lack of willingness to express themselves and articulate their issues.

There is a need for grassroots communities to be listened to and to have a platform or channel to express themselves. Audiences such as policy makers and journalists crave a better connection to grassroots and could be the connection needed to make this happen. Change agents are also useful in bridging the gap between grassroots communities by understanding their challenges and needs and articulate them to those that can do something about them.

What do you define grassroots to be? Join the conversation on social media using the #DefiningGrassroots hashtag or share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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