Karen Gross, Citizen Discourse #37

"Be respectful. Listen to understand. Act with good intentions.
Support ideas with evidence & experience. Disagree without being disagreeable. Critique the idea not the person. Invite wonder."

Karen Gross_Citizen Discourse_Share Impact Podcast.jpg

“How do you preserve a pluralistic, democratic society?” This is one of the questions Karen Gross, Founder of Citizen Discourse, asked alongside her theory that “…the internet today exists in a state of nature – nasty & brutish – because we didn’t take the time to civilise ourselves on it…” so how do we improve conversations on social media platforms but also develop written word and conversations about the topics that matter in society?

You may not know but I started my career as a facilitator. I facilitated interfaith and intercultural dialogue between teenagers and university students from different religious and cultural backgrounds across the UK. It was this background, in bringing people together for deep, meaningful conversations about difference and commonalities that excited me about talking to Karen Gross from Citizen Discourse. 

Citizen Discourse is a social network connecting teenagers for more thoughtful and mindful conversation - an invitation to practice writing and civil discourse online and in real life.

Karen says the in real life element of her organisation is important to build deeper connections by partnerships and collaborations with organisations in different locations. But the online space allows people to continue these conversations when they can’t be in the same space together. 

How does it work? A group of students join the platform collectively as a class or year group, called a hive. Individuals submit journal entries, share articles and provide some context around why they’re sharing that particular piece – which then allows people to comment within the material. 

“We’re interested in how current platforms like Twitter have quality discourse” How does 140 character messages effect our value on communicating through writing? “We’re encouraging a slower discourse.” Karen isn’t dismissing existing platforms, she loves Instagram, but she’s providing an alternative to help young people have different types of conversation and particularly written discourse that’s more than a text message, tweet or FB post. 

In this insightful interview about the transformative way social media and social networks have changed our the way we communicate, Karen shares her experience of becoming a social entrepreneur – it wasn’t planned, it evolved over time and it was surprising to lots of people around her, but she pursued it with passion overcoming the challenges of not always knowing the how at times. 

Karen Gross is the founder of Citizen Discourse, a start up social enterprise aiming to transform how young people engage with social media by offering a fun and welcoming space for more substantive discourse. Citizen Discourse is creating an online community that supports the development of critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills with the hope that our next generation is better equipped to be engaged and kind local and global citizens.

Prior to law school Karen served as a policy director for an Austin City Council member. This position helped instill a faith in democracy and good government. 

Karen has been recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer in 2016, 2017 and again in 2018.  

In this podcast we discuss:

  • Why Karen set up her organisation and how she uses tech to create an alternative social network 
  • The importance of citizen discourse and enabling a slower discourse
  • The topics teenagers care about and write about 
  • The power of hearing the stories of young people in society too
  • The importance of supporting and empowering the next generation
  • The Kindness Contract for discourse: be respectful, listen to understand, act with good intentions, support ideas with evidence & experience, disagree without being disagreeable, critique the idea and not the person, invite wonder


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