Wednesday, Jun 27, 2007

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A little about the project lead (me) and the inspirations for the project

Since blogging is mainly about the art of self-promotion, I thought I'd speak a little bit more about myself and how I got into the world of blogging, what I've been doing with the medium, and why I decided to propose this project.

Firstly, my name is Graham Lampa. I graduated from Hamline University in 2005 with degrees in German and Global Studies, but also focused on my interests in media as editor of the student newspaper, the Oracle. Before I began at Hamline, I started my own blog in the spring of 2001, but at that point was not using any actual blogging software to ease the process. In fact, I coded every entry by hand and uploaded it by FTP to my webserver. Very tedious. Then a friend introduced me to Blogger, the first mass-market tool for instant publishing that was eventually bought by Google. After a time, I migrated my work to the Movable Type platform, upon which the University's UThink system is based. When SixApart, the company behind MT, decided to switch to a commercial model, I jumped ship to WordPress, a free and open-source blogging tool maintained by a group of people volunteering their time.

July 2nd, 2001 was the first time I used a blogging tool to update my own webpage with ease, and now that I am approaching my six year "blogiversary," I am excited to begin putting my experience with the medium to practical use. As an undergrad and as part of my Certificate in International Journalism program, I wrote a paper called "Imagining the Blogosphere" for a groundbreaking, interdisciplinary, online collection of papers on blogging called "Into the Blogosphere" published by the University of Minnesota's Department of Rhetoric in 2004. The paper examined the process of identity formation in the blogosphere and how people come to see themselves as bloggers even if they only produce content for their own friends and family and not the wider blogging community.

During that same time, my contact with the University of Minnesota also included researching the U's UThink system, which had just been launched and which powered the "Into the Blogosphere" collection. I emailed back and forth with the project's manager, Shane Nackerud, for advice about how to integrate Movable Type into the academic environment and set up the system for wide-scale use at Hamline. Although this project received funding from both the student congress and Hamline's Information Technology Services, I graduated before I was able to get the project up and running and, sadly, nothing came of it.

In the past year, I also began a new website that melded the power of collaboration on the internet with the zaniness of Public Access cable television. Called "Defeat Hamil!", the website was meant to turn the tables on Hamil Griffin-Cassidy, host of the popular Minneapolis Television Network's "Totally Scrabble Tuesday", who seemed to always invariably win against Team Minneapolis in his call-in games of Scrabble. I realized that Hamil had such a large advantage because Team Minneapolis's turns at the Scrabble board were always made by different individuals or teams scattered across the city. With no ability to communicate, Team Minneapolis was not really much of a team at all. Hence, the creation of the website which allowed for deep collaboration and even greater interactivity than Hamil had already achieved with his three-year old show. The website was so effective in trouncing Hamil, who has since become a friend of mine, that Team Minneapolis maintained a better than 500 average throughout the rest of the show's run, which ended in June, much to the chagrin of rabid TST fanatics.

This experience taught me the power of harnessing the web not just to supplement the efforts of existing institutions but to actually amplify them. I was inspired to think about how this sort of work could be applied to the Humphrey Institute, where I am currently pursuing my Master of Public Policy degree. I was surprised to see that the webpages made for the various research centers were largely static and learned later that they were difficult to update. This discouraged the staffs of the centers to even think in terms of putting their work on the web, because of their lack of web development experience. The weblog platform could be a saving grace for the Institute, I thought, because while it takes some work to set up, maintaining a blog takes no technical knowledge and can be well-integrated into an organization's workflow.

And thus was born the Humphrey-UThink project "Emphasizing the Public in Public Affairs." As a pilot project in adapting existing structures to use the blogging platform, the Humphrey Graduate Programs Office will be switching over their Internship and Jobpostings for current and past students to the UThink system starting July 1. I worked with the staff of the GPO to get the blogs set up, and we think that it will be a much better system for that purpose than the listservs they used previously.

Keep an eye on this space for news about the project!

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Grant proposal: Emphasizing the "Public" in Public Affairs

In March, 2007 I submitted a grant proposal to the University of Minnesota's Office of Service and Continuing Improvement entitled "Emphasizing the Public in Public Affairs," which intends to improve the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute's public outreach by equipping its various research centers with weblogs so they can more easily publish their findings, upcoming events, and other information relevant to their work.

The grant was approved in June as one of 11 projects to be funded by OSCI's Service and Process Improvement Fund (SPIF). The grant proposal is the smallest (monetarily speaking) of all the projects, but my collaborators and I are hoping that it will have a large and lasting impact.

Providing me with great assistance in putting this proposal together, I would like to thank the following people:

  • Ted Peck - Administrator for Research and Centers, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute
  • William Bear - Information Technology Manager, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute
  • Shane Nackerud - Web Services Coordinator, University of Minnesota Libraries

The following centers have already agreed to be participants in this effort are bravely stepping into the blogosphere:

I will soon be contacting the remaining centers to see if they would also be interested in joining the project to improve their public outreach efforts.

For those interested, the original grant proposal (PDF) is available for your perusal.