hypertext and politics

hypertext and politics

David Eddy Spicer
John F. Kennedy School of Government

The Case Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government has been experimenting with multimedia and hypermedia case studies over the past few years. Our most recent efforts include two Web-based case studies that use hypertext narratives and structures to interweave a wide variety of primary source material.

In developing both cases, I relied extensively on Storyspace and Web Squirrel...

The most recent web case,"North Carolina and the Battle for Business", was developed by the Kennedy School in conjunction with Minnesota Public Radio's Civic Journalism Initiative, and is designed to get the public involved in discussions about current political and economic questions. The case is built on a deep foundation of information that would otherwise be difficult to find outside of North Carolina, including local news articles, government reports, legal briefs, and transcripts of interviews with knowledgeable insiders conducted specifically for the case.

"North Carolina and the Battle for Business" calls on the public to write a memo for North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, currently facing a decision about how to use public funds to attract businesses to his state. Those who submit their suggestions will have the chance to win a trip to an MPR-sponsored symposium at the end of May in Washington, DC, focusing on "The Economic War Among the States".

The first Web case we developed, "Campaign '96: Third Party Time?", puts the reader in the role of a campaign strategist for a minor-party presidential bid in this year's election. Hypertext links allow readers to explore interviews with third-party strategists, to view the latest public opinion and demographic information on the electorate, and to review historical information on the role of the Electoral College. "Third Party Time?" is currently in use at the Kennedy School as well as over a dozen other universities around the country.

In developing both cases, I relied extensively on Storyspace and Web Squirrel to help find a coherent, non-linear structure for the material that we hoped to make available. My goal was to present a wealth of information along with a framework that would give readers a sense of place within the plethora of facts and figures. "Third Party Time?" works towards this goal by providing readers with two different perspectives on the same body of information: one akin to a table of contents, and the other organized by thematic categories. "Battle for Business" uses interview transcripts and succinct "mini-cases" as nodes from which readers can leap among different categories of information.

As yet, only anecdotal evidence points to the success of such structures in allaying readers' fears of vertiginous cyberspace. Over the next several months, we hope to explore questions of design and accessibility in greater detail.

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