History of Civic Intelligence

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The history of civic intelligence is, of course, older and more far-flung than the history of the specific use of the term "civic intelligence."

From the Civic Intelligence page on Wikipedia:

"Civic intelligence," like the term "social capital," has been used independently by several people over the last century. The first usage identified was made in 1902 by Samuel T. Dutton, Superintendent of Teachers College Schools on the occasion of the dedication of the Horace Mann School when it noted that "increasing civic intelligence" is a "true purpose of education in this country." More recently, in 1985, David Matthews, president of the Kettering Foundation, wrote an article entitled Civic Intelligence in which he discussed the decline of civic engagement in the United States. Although there has been little or no direct contact between the various authors, the different meanings associated with the term are generally complementary to each other; they are used to describe an "intelligence" that is devoted to addressing public or civic issues. The main difference in the usages is whether the term applies to an individual or to a collective body, like an organization, institution, or society.

A still more recent version is Douglas Schuler's "Cultivating Society's Civic Intelligence: Patterns for a New 'World Brain' (Information, Communication & Society, 2001). (Interestingly, especially in light of the recent Wikipedia phenomenon, the "World Brain" concept, borrowed from H. G. Wells, describes a "universal encyclopedia" that was not feasible when Wells' original concept was released in 1938). In Schuler's version, civic intelligence is applied to groups of people because that is the level where public opinion is formed and decisions are made or at least influenced. It applies to groups, formal or informal, who are working towards civic goals such as environmental amelioration or non-violence among people. This version is related to many other concepts that are currently receiving a great deal of attention including collective intelligence, distributed intelligence, participatory democracy, emergence, new social movements, collaborative problem-solving, and web 2.0.

Civic intelligence is very similar to John Dewey's "cooperative intelligence" or the "democratic faith" that asserts that "each individual has something to contribute, and the value of each contribution can be assessed only as it entered into the final pooled intelligence constituted by the contributions of all." Civic intelligence is implicitly invoked by the subtitle of Jared Diamond's recent book, Collapse: Why Some Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004) and to the question posed in Thomas Homer-Dixon's book Ingenuity Gap: How Can We Solve the Problems of the Future? (2000) that suggests that we'll need humankind's ingenuity in the near future if we are to stave off problems related to climate change and other potentially catastrophic occurrences. With these meanings, civic intelligence is less a phenomenon to be studied and more of a dynamic process or tool to be shaped and wielded.

Robert Putnam, who is largely responsible for the widespread consideration of "social capital" (2000), has written that social innovation often occurs in response to social needs. This certainly resonates with George Basalla's findings related to technological innovation (1988), which simultaneously facilitates and responds to social innovation. The concept of "civic intelligence," certainly an example of social innovation, is a response to a perceived need and the reception that it receives or doesn't receive will be in proportion to its perceived need by others.

Civic intelligence focuses on the role of civil society and the public for several reasons. At a minimum, the public's input is necessary to ratify important decisions made by business or government. Beyond that, however, civil society has originated and provided the leadership for a number of vital social movements. Any inquiry into the nature of civic intelligence must be collaborative and participatory. Civic intelligence is inherently multi-disciplinary and open-ended. Cognitive scientists address some of these issues in the study of "distributed cognition." Social scientists study aspects of it with their work on group dynamics, democratic theory, on social systems generally, and in many other subfields. The concept is important in business literature ("organizational learning") and in the study of "epistemic communities" (scientific research communities, notably).

No atlas of civic intelligence exists, yet the quantity and quality of examples worldwide is enormous. While a comprehensive "atlas" is not necessarily a goal, people are currently developing online resources to record at least some small percentage of these efforts. The rise in the number of transnational advocacy networks (Keck and Sikkink, 1998), the coordinated worldwide demonstrations protesting the invasion of Iraq, and the World Social Forums that provided "free space" for thousands of activists from around the world, all support the idea that civic intelligence is growing. Although smaller in scope, efforts like the work of the Friends of Nature group to create a "Green Map" of Beijing are also notable.