200: Here’s NEWS on a New Web Page Where Your Values Make a Difference

e’re celebrating our 200th Story today by announcing NEWS of a remarkable online experiment: www.OurValues.org (Remember: That’s ORG.)

    It’s a unique experiment by Dr. Wayne E. Baker (right), a leading researcher looking into American and global values from the University of Michigan’s prestigious Institute for Social Research. (He’s part of the team exploring data from the World Values Survey, which examines attitudes in countries all around the world.)
    His aim is to help you — to help all of us — make a difference in our rapidly changing world.
    Here’s the idea behind this big effort: There’s a lot of confusion about what our values truly mean. How often have you said — or heard someone say this about our leaders: “They just don’t get it when they make decisions that affect us! I’ve never been polled. I wish somebody would ask me why this matters so much.
    Well, right now, starting today, you’ve got your chance to respond.
    Dr. Baker is gathering data from all phases of our online experiment — from the simple Quick Poll on the OurValues page — to the comments you’ll add in response to the daily stories on that Web page — to an in-depth survey he’s inviting you to sign up for on the OurValues page.
    We hope you will visit OurValues daily — you can click on the links in this story or on the “tab” at the top of this page to jump over there.

    Why do we believe that this experiment can work, despite the hot-button issues we’ll be discussing?
    Well, we tried a related (although much smaller) experiment a year ago.
    Some of our readers may remember Dr. Baker working with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm last summer in a special online project on “Crowdsourcing” — preparing a unique nationwide report on what we called “Open Source Religion.”
    The project report from 2007 remains online at Assignment Zero’s Web site, where people gathered from across the U.S. in the spring of 2007 to talk about faith. That smaller 2007 group that talked online ranged from fundamentalist Christians to atheists, from observant Hindus, Jews and Muslims to agnostics.
    That project was co-sponsored by Wired Magazine, the New York University Department of Journalism, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Reuters Media among other groups.
    In our phase of that experiment, we proved that such a huge array of men and women could, indeed, carry on a civil and constructive conversation about close-to-the-heart values. We were one of the few teams in the overall “Crowdsourcing/Assignment Zero” project to complete our original assignment.
    So, when I became the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit — 200 stories and nine months ago — our team was eager to build upon what we had demonstrated nationwide last year.
    As of today, OurValues is officially launched — and it’s now in your hands. It’s your gathering place to talk with Dr. Baker and other Americans about values.
    Please — visit it regularly — sign up for the in-depth survey in the left corner of the new page — and express yourself. If you do, you can make a difference in the world just by participating on that new page.

And, what’s happening to ReadTheSpirit?
    We’re not going anywhere.
You’ll still find our stories Monday through Friday on this main page —
including our popular Tuesday quizzes, our Wednesday Conversations with
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Writers, who are becoming some of the most-read voices on our Web
site. And you can still sign up to receive our free Monday-morning ReadTheSpirit Planner, which outlines the spiritual news in the week ahead in a quick newsletter format.

“New U-M Project Probes Americans’ Values”

(THE FOLLOWING is the University of Michigan News Service press release on the launch of OurValues today …)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.As the fall elections draw near, an innovative new University of Michigan research project is probing the values behind Americans’ political decisions.
    On Monday (June 30), the project Web site, http://www.OurValues.org , will provide visitors with a chance to weigh in on a changing array of hot-button issues from polygamy to patriotism to same-sex marriage.
    Public comments and responses to “Quick Poll” questions on the site will inform the content of a major survey on Americans’ Evolving Values to be fielded by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).
    “I am very enthusiastic about this website,” said Wayne Baker, a professor at the U-M Ross School of Business and a faculty associate at ISR. “Not only will it help to define the content of the coming survey, it represents a new, ‘open source’ approach to research that is based on ‘the wisdom of crowds’ rather than only the insights of a small group of academics.”
    Baker, a sociologist, is developing the content and leading the discussions on the new website, which offers site visitors a chance to comment on the topic of the day, or on other issues on their minds. For the coming, nationally representative survey on Americans’ Evolving Values, Baker is collaborating with social psychologist James S. Jackson, who directs the ISR.
    “We live in a time when there is more debate than ever about what being an American means,” Jackson said. “As we move forward, it is vital to understand the underlying values and principles that Americans of all ages and backgrounds share. An important goal of this larger project is to clarify how basic values are linked with political, economic, and religious behavior.”
    Baker has developed the OurValues Web site in collaboration with David Crumm, founding editor of ReadtheSpirit.com and former religion writer with the Detroit Free Press.
    “The recent controversies about the spiritual advisors to both presidential candidates have receded, but religious and moral values remain an important dimension underlying many contemporary political issues,” Crumm said. “Dr. Baker’s project is a new way for concerned Americans to let leaders know what they value, and why.”

    Established in 1948, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world’s oldest academic survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world’s largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information.

PLEASE, Keep keep telling us what you think! We’re not going anywhere here at ReadTheSpirit. Your Emails, Facebook notes — and messages on other social-networking sites — directly shape what we present here in the heart of our online magazine. Click on the ‘Comment’ link below — or Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm directly.

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