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FOCAS 2013 - Frequently Asked Questions

What is FOCAS?
The Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society (FOCAS) is an annual roundtable series run by the Communications and Society Program 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. 

What is the purpose of this website?
This site features the report that resulted from the 2013 FOCAS convening on open government that took place in Aspen, Colorado, July 10-13.  The report, written by Forum rapporteur Panthea Lee, highlights the critical open government conversations and ideas developed by participants during the three-day meeting. The site also highlights the Forum contributors, relevant background research and work product.  The site acts as a dynamic space for viewers to explore the Forum content and engage on the topic. 

What is 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.  As one of over thirty policy programs at the Aspen Institute, the Program provides 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.  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.

Who leads the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program?
Charles M. Firestone is executive director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. Since his appointment in December 1989, the Program has focused on the implications of communications and information technologies for leadership, the impact of new technologies on democratic and social institutions, and the development of new communications policy models and options for the public interest. He was also the Institute's executive vice president for policy programs and international activities from 1997-2000.

Prior to his positions with the Aspen Institute, Mr. Firestone was director of the Communications Law Program at the University of California at Los Angeles and an adjunct professor of law at the UCLA Law School. He was also the first president of the Los Angeles Board of Telecommunications Commissioners, which advises the Mayor and City Council on all regulatory matters relating to the cable and telecommunications fields.

Mr. Firestone's career includes positions as an attorney at the Federal Communications Commission, as director of litigation for a Washington DC public interest law firm, and as a communications and entertainment attorney in Los Angeles. He has argued several landmark communications cases before the United States Supreme Court and other federal appellate courts. Mr. Firestone is the editor or co-author of seven books, including Digital Broadcasting and the Public Interest (The Aspen Institute, 1998) and Television and Elections (The Aspen Institute, 1992), and has written numerous articles on communications law and policy.

He holds degrees from Amherst College and Duke University Law School and resides with his wife, sculptor Pattie Porter Firestone, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Who sponsors the programming of the Communications and Society Program?
The current FOCAS series (2012-2013) is made possible by a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Other C&S projects are funded by various foundations, and corporate and personal contributions.

Who moderates the FOCAS Roundtable?
Charlie Firestone, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, moderates FOCAS and all other roundtables produced by the Communications and Society Program.

Who are the participants at FOCAS?
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.

Can I attend FOCAS?
Participants at FOCAS are a carefully balanced group of community representatives, public officials, and corporate and non-profit leaders that are invited for their expertise, creativity and influential public policy ideas. Participation at FOCAS is by invitation only, but others are encouraged to view the plenary sessions streamed live on the web and join in on the conversation using Twitter hashtag #FOCAS13. 

Where does FOCAS take place?
The FOCAS Forum is an annual summer event that takes place at the Aspen Meadows Conference Center in Aspen, Colorado.  This year’s Forum took place July 10-13, 2013.

Does FOCAS have the same theme every year?
The FOCAS themes vary each year, but always encompass strategies for using new information and communications technologies for the greater benefit of society. A selection of past 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.” 

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.