Future of Student Needs

Participating in 2025

Participating focuses on how students might participate differently in civic life and investigates what it means to be a citizen in the future and how people interact with government and non-government groups. This aspect of student life is perhaps the most uncertain of our six. On the one hand, it is fairly easy to find evidence of emerging movements to challenge the status quo. On the other hand, it is just as easy to find evidence that little significant change is actually taking place — and resistance to change on the governance side is alive and well.

Beyond the Periphery?

One key uncertainty is whether students civic engagement will move from the periphery to the center. In general, as formal participation goes down, informal participation goes up. Single-issue politics is a common example of informal participation, but in the future, we see “hacktivism” as an increasingly important mechanism. Hacktivists are an amalgam of hackers, social activists, makers, and social networkers who in general favor and promote greater transparency and participation in government. Hacktivists are symbolic of a larger grassroots social movement on the part of students and citizens to take a more active role in how their lives and communities are governed. Largely on the fringes today, they may move toward the mainstream in the future.

Naughty or Nice?

A key question is whether hacktivism, as it moves toward the mainstream, will evolve toward “naughty” or “nice” purposes, that is, adversarial or cooperative. Our primary scenario is one in which the governing “establishment” sees the writing on the wall and decides to embrace hacktivism and become more transparent and open to participation. We feel, however, that there is also a strong possibility that the establishment will resist calls for greater openness and transparency and “circle the wagons.” This could drive the hacktivists to fight and create a more confrontational future. A future with shadow networks of hackers selling their skills to the highest bidder, and sometimes breaking laws and causing chaos, should not be lightly dismissed. 

Signals of Change

  • Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest suggests massive growth in social movements. This steady growth, now occurring below the radar, already involves more than 100 million people.
  • Hacking can also be used for nefarious purposes, such as Darknode.
  • Grass-roots movements, such as OpenGov Foundation, are emerging to encourage greater openness in government.
  • national day of civic hacking has evolved into an annual event.
  • "Ordinary citizens" used social media to help Iceland create its new constitution.
  • E-government is growing, such as the Obama administration's Data.gov, but there are questions about its effectiveness.

What if hacktivism creates positive momentum for greater transparency and participation, but established institutions resist and see it as a threat?