once a year, i pack my stuff and fly to washington dc for an advisory board meeting of the pew internet and american life project. for half a day, i get to sit in a room with super smart board members and even smarter staff members and brainstorm ways to improve an already excellent project. it's exhilarating.
project director lee rainie got things started by telling us what's in the pipeline. john horrigan has some reports coming out shortly, including one on online consumer practices around three different commodities: real estate, cell phones, and music. amanda lenhart is leading two fascinating projects, one on writing in a digital age and one on the relationships (or lack thereof) between gaming and civic engagement. apparently, the folks at pew never stop - just last december they release three reports, including "teens and social media" (lead author amanda lenhart) and "digital footprints" (lead author mary madden), two excellent studies that my students and i will be reading in digital literacy.
we then transitioned into areas for improvement. the project had just gone through an external review, with results that i would characterize as extremely positive, and instead of spending a lot of time talking about what they do well, we focused on areas that need improvement. for example, in a world increasingly populated by cell phones, especially among young people, pew's traditional land-line phone surveys will need some updating. further, considering bloggers' common (and wonderful) practice of linking to specific ideas rather than entire reports, we discussed alternatives to releasing the reports as only PDFs.
and we spent a significant amount of time talking about a word that more and more strikes me as arcane: dissemination. how, we all asked, do we improve dissemination of the findings? how can the reports find their way into the hands and minds of even more academics, even more journalists, even more bloggers, even more policy makers, even more people?
my Big Suggestion was to blog. dissemination is good, i argued (politely!), but conversation is better. an increase in conversation is an increase in dissemination - only more engaged. imagine, i asked, going to pew's web site not only for killer content but also for killer conversation.
it's remarkable that a project that began in 2000 is going stronger than ever. if i were them, i'd be inclined to kick up my feet and rest on my laurels. lucky for us, they are not me - instead of curbing their efforts, the pew internet and american life project continues to expand their reach: more reports, more topics, more collaborators.