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What Is FOCAS?

The Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society (FOCAS) is an annual roundtable series that convenes influential citizen leaders, technologists, policy makers and academics to develop strategies for using new information and communications technologies for the greater benefit of society.  A selection of FOCAS topics include: “Networks and Citizenship,” “The Next Generation of Healthy Informed Communities,” “Models for Preserving American Journalism,” and “Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.”  Over the years, participants have included: Madeleine Albright, Marcus Brauchli, Julius Genachowski, Alberto Ibargüen, Pat Harrison, Reed Hundt, Theodore B. Olson, Marissa Mayer, Craig Newmark, Paula Kerger and President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia.

The current FOCAS theme is on open and innovative governance.  This two-part series (2012-2013) aims to develop practical applications and activities to promote more transparency, smarter governance and enhanced democracy at the federal, state and local levels. The series is generously supported by the Knight Foundation

This site displays the report that resulted from the 2013 convening that took place in Aspen, Colorado, July 10-13.  The series of chapters, written by Forum rapporteur Panthea Lee, highlight the critical open government conversations and ideas developed by participants during the three-day meeting. We encourage you to read the report and join the conversation using Twitter hashtag #FOCAS13.  Visit the Communications and Society website for additional information about FOCAS and our other programs.

Impact and Outcomes

With this convening and others we aim for new insights on our topics, but also for significant impact. This is difficult for a single conference to achieve, but we are proud that the 2013 FOCAS Forum has already resulted directly in the formation of ODI USA – the Open Data Institute of the United States.  Emulating the UK-based Open Data Institute model, ODI USA will pull together disparate players at the federal, state and local levels to advance the cause of open data and open governance.

About the Communications and Society Program

The Communications and Society Program is an active venue for framing policies and developing recommendations in the information and communications fields.  We provide a multi-disciplinary space where veteran and emerging decision-makers can develop new approaches and suggestions for communications policy.  The Program enables global leaders and experts to explore new concepts, exchange insights, develop meaningful networks, and find personal growth, all for the betterment of society. 

The Program’s projects range across many areas of information, communications and media policy.  Our activities focus on issues of open and innovative governance, public diplomacy, institutional innovation, broadband and spectrum management, as well as the future of content, issues of race and diversity, and the free flow of digital goods, services and ideas across borders.

Most conferences employ the signature Aspen Institute seminar format: approximately 25 leaders from diverse disciplines and perspectives engaged in roundtable dialogue, moderated with the goal of driving the agenda to specific conclusions and recommendations.  The program distributes our conference reports and other materials to key policymakers, opinion leaders and the public in the United States and around the world.  We also use the internet and social media to inform and ignite broader conversations that foster greater participation in the democratic process.

The Program’s Executive Director is Charles M. Firestone.  He has served in this capacity since 1989 and also as Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute.  Prior to joining the Aspen Institute, Mr. Firestone was a communications attorney and law professor who has argued cases before the United States Supreme Court.  He is a former director of the UCLA Communications Law Program, first president of the Los Angeles Board of Telecommunications Commissioners, and an appellate attorney for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.