Connecting Research and Advocacy for Media and Communications in the Public Interest (Report 2004)


What would a research agenda shaped by advocates and organizers look like? This 2004 report is based on conversations with grassroots activists and community organizers who work on media and communications policy and advocacy.


"Connecting Research and Advocacy for Media and Communications in the
Public Interest," presentation to the Social Science Research Council,
addressing the question "What would a research agenda shaped by
advocates and organizers look like?" Based on conversations with
grassroots activists and community organizers who work on media and
communications policy and advocacy. (4 pages, Updated January 27, 2004)

Aliza Dichter
Article Text: 

Connecting Research and Advocacy for
Media and Communications in the Public Interest

Originally prepared by Aliza Dichter, Center for International Media Action (CIMA)
for Social Science Research Council "Media Democracy" meeting, October 23, 2003
(Updated January 27, 2004)

What would a research agenda shaped by advocates and organizers look like?

following suggestions and questions were drawn from interviews with
grassroots activists and community organizers who work on media and
communications policy and advocacy, as well as many other conversations
where advocates articulated their research needs. They are intended as
a contribution to ongoing discussions about how advocates and academics
can work together in the interest of advancing media and communications
for public-interest goals and social-justice values.

Note that
this is not a list of research questions to be adopted by scholars in
isolation. To the extent possible in a given research context,
investigations would be enriched by establishing relationships with
advocacy groups, community media groups or other
activists/practitioners. Some of these questions could be or are being
tackled by community members as action research projects, others might
be participatory projects with partnerships between scholars and
activists or practitioners.

As noted by the meeting
participants and others, connecting research and advocacy is
complicated by the challenges of timing, such as the advance-planning
needs of academics (e.g. for grantwriting) as well as academic concerns
for objectivity/independence from political agendas and research
"subjects." Experiences from collaborations between researchers and
reflective practitioners in other fields may help us to meet those

The questions below are organized into three categories reflecting the advocacy perspective:
1) What are we fighting for? – the big vision, the best proposals
2) Evidence for our arguments – reporting on the social impact of media policies and practices
3) How to win? How to fight? – informing political strategy

research already exists on many of the questions and topics outlined
below. However, this research needs to be made more useful to the
advocacy community:

1) Translate existing research into a useful form, disseminate and make accessible to advocates:
- Create summaries of existing research, data and findings on particular topics
- Aggregate summaries and translated research into a central location
- Generate list of available researchers and scholars and their areas of expertise as a "referral guide" for advocates

2) Create tools from research, like the Center for Public Integrity's ownership database:
- For evaluating media corporations
- For determining the impact of policies
- For evaluating the media/communications conditions in a given community
- For evaluating advocacy efforts

3) Create a system for on-demand, activist-driven research based on campaign and advocacy needs:
- A program to match graduate school researchers with advocacy groups
- A system to receive research queries from advocates and submit to a researcher pool
- Resources, data sets and information available to aid community-initiated participatory research projects

that these project ideas need to be developed in collaboration and
consultation with public-interest advocates as well as with grassroots
activists and community organizers, to ensure they are developed in a
useful and accessible form.

Research questions from the advocacy perspective:

1. What are we fighting for?

in the general vision (what does a good media system look like?) and
the specific (what models of spectrum allocation have supported
community uses?), advocates can look to researcher to help us work
through the big questions:

  • What models of media policies and
    regulations contribute to a diverse, democratic, participatory media
    that meet social and community needs? Stories, examples and theories
    from around the world.

  • What would victory look like? What
    kinds of regulatory structures, government agencies, licensing schemes,
    accountability mechanisms, franchise (or other corporate/civic)
    agreements, laws, etc-- what kinds of "media systems" would exist in a
    policy regime that met our goals/values. (ie: media that enable the
    public to equally communicate and participate, get information, access
    and share their cultures, discover diverse viewpoints and creative
    content, retain privacy, avoid censorship by economic or political
    pressure, etc)

  • What corporate practices and policies (eg
    "civic journalism," community review boards) can we learn from and
    advocate for to improve media's role in communities and informed

  • What are the implications of future technologies,
    architectures and protocols/standards for social justice, community
    development, democratic values? We need to know what to support, what
    to build, what to use.

  • What are the implications of specific
    proposed policies or emerging systems on the potential for free,
    participatory, democratic, uncensored, accessible, diverse,
    noncommercial media? What are the implications of specific global
    initiatives, trade treaties?

  • We need theories and models for
    economically viable and sustainable independent, noncommercial and/or
    community-controlled media.

  • How do people use ICTs and media
    in non-commercial ways? What are the community, public, civic uses of
    spectrum, broadband, CCTV, Internet, newspapers, even bulletin boards
    that have developed or have potential?

  • How have media/comm.
    policies in the past affected specific constituencies? How might
    proposed policies affect specific constituencies? (eg: the poor,
    seniors, rural communities, youth, "minorities," women) – note that
    some forms of discrimination are illegal and thus we might oppose
    policies as discriminatory.

  • What are the concerns of global
    civil society around media and communications issues? What should U.S.
    advocates know about the impact of US government and corporate
    activities on communities and social justice in other countries?

  • What frameworks can we be advancing to structure policy around our
    values? For example, "diversity and localism" is a key framework for
    FCC ownership policy. It what ways can this framework serve to advance
    our goals, and how can it work against it? (for example, the landmark
    UCC v. FCC case was in part a civil rights challenge to "localism")
    What can we learn from the existing "public-interest" frameworks
    currently undergirding the policy structure and how we might adopt or
    challenge them?

2. Evidence for Our Arguments

Note that
the difference in time cycles is a challenge here. Advocates need
research to use as evidence in a timely way, to be able to respond to
challenges, meet deadlines for filing comments, capture press attention.

  • We need access to core data about industry, programming, users,
    "audiences"- data that is currently only collected by industry and in
    proprietary formats. The research questions for collecting this are
    also set by industry interests. We need quantitative studies on
    existing media conditions, practices of media companies.
  • We
    need frameworks for assessment and analysis of media policies,
    practices and systems that don't rely on market-competition economics
    or audience ratings.
  • We need to establish what sorts of media
    resources and access and structures within a community contribute to
    healthy communities, sustainable societies, authentic democracy and
    social justice.
  • We need frameworks for assessing the impact,
    successes and value of community media (including low power radio,
    public-access TV, community web centers, media arts centers, community
    newspapers) to get policy, funding, support. Ratings don't tell the
  • Does ownership matter? We need research data and
    studies of how ownership and concentration affect agenda-setting,
    freedom of speech and public policy.
  • We need research on the
    role of media arts and media education in youth and community
    development (both specific research studies and tools for our own
  • Campaign-specific research needs

- eg: the impact of duopoly ownership
- stories about impact of media concentration
- critiques of the methodology of FCC and industry research
- content analysis linked to public policy/community impacts
- local research as needed
- document and analyze comments to the FCC
- refutations of spectrum arguments about interference, open-market trading, etc

3. How do we win? How to fight:

To support the continued development of our work, we need:

  • Evaluations of our work, both specific external assessments of our
    strategy tactics and impacts and also frameworks, tools, resources and
    partners to do this ourselves.

  • Stories from the field and
    evaluations of advocacy and community media impact that can be used to
    make a case to funders to increase dollars to the field.

  • Research on the role of media in social change, from examinations of
    the Right's long-term media strategies to proposals for integrating
    media technologies and outlets into social movement and community
    organizing work.

  • Power analyses and political/economic
    analyses of what the power structure looks like in terms of shaping and
    controlling the media system, how agendas are set and thus strategic
    points for intervention.

  •  Access to comparative research,
    documentation, histories and analyses that link media advocacy to
    lessons from other movements and public-interest policy efforts.

questions have been informed by discussions with many media advocates
and organizers. Particular thanks to Inja Coates, Dharma Daily, Seeta
Peña Gangadharan, Deedee Halleck, Art McGee, Jenny Toomey, Pete Tridish
and Martha Wallner for sharing their thoughts.

Trust Takes Time


This article about building multicultural alliances spells out the
difference between coalitions, collaborations and coordination of work.


Drawing lessons from the Environmental Justice Movement, with the goal
of building strong, multiracial and multicultural bottom-up social
change, this article lists some of the key questions to consider when
building alliances. The authors outline the key elements of
coordination, cooperation and collaboration and how they differ. They
present specific recommendations for successful partnerships, based on
their experience.

Nilak Butler and Pam Tau Lee
Article Text: 

Trust Takes Time: The Principles of Working Together
by Nilak Butler and Pam Tau Lee

Originally published on The Ark, the newsletter of the National Organizers' Alliance

Nilak Butler, renowned human rights advocate, environmental justice leader, actress, singer, sister, and auntie to many died on December 26, 2002 at the age of 49 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Nilak, an Alaskan native, was a founding mother of the Indigenous Women's Network, a board member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and beloved mentor and friend to many in the organizers' circle. Her spirit will be with us.

Bottom Line Values for EJ Collaboration:

Eleven years ago, as part of the first People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, we drafted and adopted some key principles to guide our work. The vision we set for ourselves at that time is worth revisiting:

We the people of color, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to begin to build a national and international movement of all people of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth;

to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves;

to insure environmental justice;

to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods;

and to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice.

Multi-racial & Multi-cultural Movement

It is a multi-racial, multi-cultural convergence of existing local and regional grassroots movement and struggles which are already underway by people of color which are actively resisting various forms of environmental genocide against them throughout the world.

Bottom-up Strategy

Unlike traditional mainstream environmental and social justice organizations, this multi-racial, multi-cultural movement of people of color is evolving from the bottom up and not the top down. Speak for Ourselves

As people of color, we have not chosen our struggle; they have chosen us. We have no choice but to come together to overcome our common barriers and resist our common foes. Only in our diversity of our oppression will we be able to clearly see the pervasive pattern of genocidal environmental racism. We gathered to speak for ourselves and to define the issues in our own way.

Key Questions

Our movement now has more than a decade of practice building local organizations, networks, coalitions, partnerships, and alliances. These have been both short and long term in scope. Some questions that we should attempt to address include:

1. What level of unity/cohesion do we seek (short term/long term)?
2. How do we involve Network affiliate organizations in key discussions?
3. What mechanisms do we develop to cultivate younger and diverse leadership?
4. What mechanisms do we develop to encourage broader participation in the movement on a regular basis?
5. What mechanisms can we institutionalize for intercultural sharing?
6. How do we conduct EJ business without interfering with tribal sovereignty and internal organizational business?
7. How do we reduce conflict? \
8. What are the most common causes of conflict?
9. How do we handle conflict publicly?
10. How do we determine leadership of the EJ movement?
11. How do we define the roles of professionals in the movement? (legal groups, academics, scientists, etc.)
12. What should be the role(s) of white people (allies) in the EJ movement?

Baseline Understandings
Collaboration between organizations demands a high level of cooperation and unity. Other forms of organizational working relationships might be explored and tried first in order to establish and build trust and experience. These options include:
Cooperation, Coordination, and then Collaboration.

The following are some key elements of each.


? Basis for cooperation is usually between individuals but may be mandated by a third party.
? Organizational missions and goals are not taken into account.
? Interaction is on an as needed basis, may last indefinitely.
? Relationships are informal; each organization functions separately.
? No joint planning is required.
? Information is conveyed as needed.
? Authority rests solely with individual organizations.
? Leadership is unilateral and control is central. All authority and accountability rests with the individual organization, which acts independently.
? Resources are separate, serving the individual organizations’ needs.


? Individual relationships are supported by the organizations they represent.
? Missions and goals of the individual organizations are reviewed for compatibility.
? Interaction is usually around one specific project or task of definable length.
? Organizations involved take on needed roles, but function relatively independently of each other.
? Some project-specific planning is required.
? Communication roles are established and definite channels are created for interaction.
? Authority rests with the individual organizations but there is coordination among participants.
? Some sharing of leadership and control.
? There is some shared risk but most of the authority and accountability falls to the individual organizations.
? Resources are acknowledged and can be made available to others for a specific project.
? Rewards are mutually shared.


? Commitment of the organizations and their leaders is fully behind their representatives.
? Common, new mission and goals are created.
? One or more projects are undertaken for longer-term results.
? New organizational structure and/or clearly defined and interrelated roles that constitute a formal division of labor are created.
? More comprehensive planning is required that includes developing joint strategies and measuring success in terms of impact on the needs of those served.
? Beyond communication roles and channels for interaction, many levels of communication are created, as clear information is a keystone of success.
? Authority is determined by the collaboration to balance ownership by the individual organizations with expediency to accomplish purpose.
? Leadership is dispersed, and control is shared and mutual.
? Equal risk is shared by all organizations in the collaboration. Resources are pooled or jointly secured for the longer-term effort that is managed by the collaborative structure.
? Organizations share in the products; more is accomplished jointly than could have been individually.

Conflict, Consensus and Autonomy

Conflict is present when differences become a problem and create strong negative emotions that need to be acknowledged, addressed, and resolved. Conflict is not always a negative condition. It is often out of some level of conflict or interaction of different ideas, perspectives, and experiences that progress can be achieved. What the movement should is to create understanding and respectful listening. When tensions arise, people should seek clarity and make decisions based on empathy and compassion.

The Chinese character for conflict combines the following concepts: “Crises, Danger, Opportunity.” Working toward consensus is one method to address conflict in a productive manner. Consensus is, when all parties participate in making a decision and all will support the decision reached. [iv] This method enables us to “come together speaking out of our cultural diversity to our common oppressors, as many members of an extended family….”

Consensus demands that all perspectives be voiced, heard, understood and respected. As these views are aired, the groups work toward finding common ground or solutions that the group can all “live with.” The autonomy of the individual organizations is not negated but with respect to the joint work, each organization is expected to respect and abide by the decisions reached through consensus.

Informal and or formal discussions to discuss particular differences that get in the way of the work should also be encouraged. Looking back to the ‘70s when political activism was high, many organizations went head-to-head to claim leadership or authority of the anti-war movement, the Serve the People movement, the revolutionary Marxist movements. Groups dug in their heels and refused to resolve differences, engaging in sectarian public debates, even physical attacks. This along with the well-documented infiltration of political organizations by the federal agents led to the demise of a political movement that had the potential to bring about positive systemic change in this country.

Patience and Time

Being upfront and expressing our individual and our organization’s interests and needs can help facilitate mutual understandings and establish appropriate working relationships…but it can not be rushed. Challenges have included: distance; language; flexible consensus process when time is limited; and tension between process and product.

So what’s needed for a successful partnership? From our experience, we might suggest:

? Shared decision-making process
? Community Ownership
? Effective Communication
? Clear Roles
? Financial Resources and Accountability
? Periodic Evaluation and Review of the Process
? Trust

The key to successful relationship-building among our diverse EJ organizations is patience and time. Be realistic. Incorporating activities such as inter-organizational site visits, taking time to break bread, having relaxed cultural and educational exchanges can all help lay a foundation for trust.

Every historical movement has its tensions, conflicts and differences. It is unrealistic to expect the Environmental Justice Movement to be any different. But it is our duty to take these challenges and use them to generate energy, creativity and partnerships to move the work forward. Personal tensions and conflicts need to be put in their place and not be allowed to interfere with the political tasks at hand. The principles and guidelines we adopt and the standards we set are ours to identify, find consensus on and be accountable to. We have a unique opportunity to take our work to the next higher level.


Trust Takes Time

White Supremacy Culture in Activist Organizations


A list of characteristics of white supremacy
culture that weaken the organizational capacity of grassroots groups
and institutions serving diverse communities in this country.


Built upon the work of numerous change agents and organizational
work, this article lists damaging characteristics of white supremacy
culture and thinking, and includes antidotes for correction.

These characteristics are damaging to both people
of color and to white people. Organizations that are people of color
led or are a majority of people of color can also demonstrate many
characteristics of white supremacy culture. The following characteristics are covered:

  • perfectionism
  • sense of urgency
  • defensiveness
  • quantity over quality
  • if it's not in a memo, it doesn't exist
  • only one right way
  • paternalism
  • either/or thinking
  • power hoarding
  • fear of open conflict
  • individualism
  • I'm the only one
  • progress is bigger, more
  • objectivity
  • right to comfort
  • everything personally
Tema Okun
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