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The Civic Organization and the Digital CitizenCommunicating Engagement in a Networked Age$

Chris Wells

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190203610

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190203610.001.0001

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Appendix A: Website Selection Process

Appendix A: Website Selection Process

The Civic Organization and the Digital Citizen
Oxford University Press

In line with previous research on the constituents of the youth civic web, organizations of interest were identified by drawing on a number of resources. The catalog was begun with sites appearing in earlier research on youth civic engagement.1 Next, to ensure inclusion of major nonprofit organizations that have not appeared in studies of youth-only sites, Google searches were conducted using the names of the United States’ 100 biggest nonprofit organizations paired with the search terms “youth,” “student,” “college,” and “social networking.”2 Finally, a more open-ended search was conducted to identify organizations working on contemporary issues and political or religious ideologies that (p.190) had not been uncovered. Those searches combined 54 key civic and political terms with the youth-related search terms above.3

The catalog of civic organizations with live websites identified through these methods was then screened for sites or sections of sites having a primary focus on engaging young people, yielding a total population of 264 living websites dedicated to promoting youth civic engagement.4 These were categorized by research assistants and checked by the author according to the type of organization that created them. If a site was entirely online, without identifiable reference to an offline organization, it was placed in the online only category. Fifty-six sites fell in that category. A focus on a government agency or program, a candidate for office, or a political party placed a site in the government/party category (28 sites). Sites promoting advocacy for a cause or particular political interest group were placed in the interest category (98 sites). And organizations providing community or service involvement without explicit advocacy were placed in the community category (84 sites).

To obtain rough estimates of traffic, www.compete.com was used, and a preliminary list of the most-trafficked sites in each category was selected. These clusters were then adjusted to include organizations representing local levels of large multibranch national organizations, and those that might have eluded the mechanical search terms as primarily youth oriented, but that offered explicit invitations youth engagement.

Specifically, to include the kinds of local, community sites that most youth would be likely to interact with, the sites of several national-level organizations in the community/service category were replaced with those of local branches, selected based on searches using randomly generated zip codes. For the Girl Scouts the site of a Madison, Wisconsin chapter was used; for the Boys and Girls Clubs the site of Metropolitan Denver’s Clubs; for the Boy Scouts a Council in Texas; and for 4H the site of 4H in North Carolina.

Second, even though they are not focused primarily on youth, the 2008 political campaign sites of John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton were added to gauge any differences in the way they communicated engagement to young voters; several major interest organizations that eluded our search for organizations that had an explicit focus on youth, but that offered sections targeted at youth on their websites, were included in the sample. These included the ACLU, NRA, and Sierra Club. In these cases, we focused on website sections targeted at youth.

Based on the size of the coding challenge, the sample was cut off at 90, with an oversample of 35 in the online only category (to accommodate the great diversity of sites in that category), 15 in the government/party category (reflecting the smaller numbers and more limited youth focus in this category), and 20 each in the interest and community categories. The final sample of sites is presented in Appendix B.


(1) Montgomery, Gottlieb-Robles, and Larson’s study (2004) provided 348 sites that passed an initial, automated test of having current activity. From the studies of Bennett and Xenos (2004; 2005; Xenos & Bennett, 2007) and Wells (2010) were drawn an additional 70 sites. After the compilation of those sites, all were checked manually, eliminating 161 that were duplicates, had not been active for more than a year, or were no longer online.

(2) The list can be found in Clolery & Hrywna, 2006.

(3) Key terms included: political positions (e.g., libertarian, socialist), political issues (gay rights, 2nd amendment), current issues of concern (sustainability, Darfur, media literacy), ethnicities (African American, Latino), and religions (Christian, Muslim).

(4) Our process involved looking first on the homepage, then on an “About” page, for evidence that the site was for youth (e.g., references to youth, students, kids, age ranges under 30) and that it involved some form of public engagement (e.g., getting involved, improving one’s community, speaking out, activism).