Raising Barriers to Participation

By Tim Hardy

For many the physical barriers to participation in protest are daunting: this is an important area where internet-based tools can help. Sometimes though, there is value in raising barriers especially when it comes to online activism.

The best way to look at internet activism is as the bottom rung of a ladder of participation. Critics of so-called “clicktivism” dismiss that first step as too easy – but if for every thousand people who click “Like” on Facebook, just one goes on to turn their outrage into action then that cannot be dismissed. Once they have made the decision to act, the internet gives them unprecedented access to the tools and information they need to do so safely and effectively.

Critics make much of the fact that visible online participation is too easy. They may be right.

Critics also suggest that online action like signing petitions is too easily ignored by those in power. Again, they may be right.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up there. These things can be fixed.

While individual names on petitions can be ignored, more detailed letters like the one the World Development Movement asks people to sign to stop bankers speculating on food demand more attention from those they are meant to influence.

While clicking a “Like” button may be too easy, replacing it with one that demands intellectual participation gets people moving towards a mental state where they can more effectively demand change.

How about replacing one-click steps with multi-step ones that demand, through asking questions about the content just shown, that the reader understand before they take the next step?

Such a method could be used to walk a visitor to the site through the construction and sending of an informed letter to a politician or news organisation rather than letting them click and forget.

Those who lack the time can also be given the option to tweet or post to their wall “I failed to climb the ladder of participation at url – can you do better?”

It may break web design best practices for selling products – but we’re not trying to do that. We’re trying to get people engaged and committed to climbing that ladder of participation to real world action. Sometimes a little difficulty at the start is what we need.