Not all that long ago, the scientific community was justifiably ecstatic about having achieved mapping of the human genome – The Human Genome project. The promise was that by understanding genetic mapping we could find cures for disease, disability, and perhaps enhance longevity.
But an interesting development has occurred. Scientists are now learning that understanding of human genetics goes far beyond mapping genes. Two people – for instance identical twins – can have identical DNA sequences– but can nonetheless experience very different health. Why?
This is where the science of epigenetics comes in. It seems that the environment, life conditions, our experiences, and perhaps the experiences of our ancestors can all affect how our genes express themselves. Epigenetics, a combination of proteins and markers affected by environmental conditions and life experience, can turn genes on and off. So even though two people have identical DNA they can still live very different lives.
So what does epigenetics have to do with citizen networks? Assume that two governmental agencies have similar networks – a similar number of members, compelling content, and exchange between citizens and agency. Assume also that we support the networks with similar component technologies. Why would we experience different results – different levels of citizen participation?
Words can be powerful. They influence purchases – “I’ll buy this good over that good”. “This good is better for me”. “I want that”. In government, they affect public opinion – “I am/am not for government sponsored healthcare reform”, “ I am for less taxes” “We need more roads”.
This is why the industry of preference formation (advertising, marketing, and public relations) is a multi-billion dollar industry. Often goaled with sending just the right message, or controlling the message, it is founded upon the belief that if organizations can just choose the right words—the magic words—consumer and citizen behavior result.
But what about people – those like us? Aren’t we the most important actors in preference formation?