rahulb's blog

The Open Web and Participation

Live blogged by Rahul Bhargava and Matt Stempeck Monday, June 23, 2014 - 3:45pm

The Internet lowers coordination costs, making it easier for groups of people to cooperate and work together. Despite this, it's often been hard to apply the lessons of online cooperation to the world of civics. A set of exciting new projects and initiatives offers hope for what's possible and a clearer sense of the challenges of using the web to participate in offline social change.

Hiring: Promise Tracker Web Developer

The MIT Center for Civic Media is looking for a contract developer to help us design a web-based tool that empowers community organizers around the world to create crowd-sourced monitoring campaigns that hold officials accountable to the public promises they make. We are looking for a Boston area developer that can sit in our offices and work closely with us for a period of 3 months. We'd like to start as soon as possible this summer. The first month and a half of development is reasonably well outlined, but the rest of the time will depend on feedback from user testing, user studies, and more of your input. There may be an opportunity for the work to continue after that, depending on performance and funding.

The primary focus will be on developing an interaction-heavy web-app. We expect to build things with Ruby on Rails, lots of Javascript, HTML and CSS. Our work leverages and builds on the open-source Open Data Kit project, so we plan on contributing things back to that community and having greater impact. We want to build user-friendly and intuitive websites, so familiarity and appreciation of good design is required.

Making Events Better

Most meetings and events suck.  I'm lucky enough to know lots of folks trying to make this better.  Recently Civic Media hosted Gunner from Aspiration Tech for a training on how to create and facilitate  participatory events. Afterwards I was inspired to reflect more on my own approach to facilitating the workshops and events I run. A key reflection for me was that I put a strong emphasis on the process of collaboratively making of things. Our Data Therapy workshops and events are "think with your hands" events.  Almost every topic is tied to a hands-on activity where you make something with your peers.  This is how we invite participants to engage in the material - through the process of making things.
 

Trip Report: Connecting with Belo Horizonte, Brazil

I just returned from a fascinating week in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)!  The trip was organized by the Office of Strategic Priorities (@escritorio_gov) of the State of Minas Gerais (they are members of the MIT Media Lab).  The Escritorio joined the Media Lab to think harder about fostering innovation and empowering their citizens.  Following those themes, we worked together and planned an agenda that focused on four main activities:

Civic Lunch: Jon Rubin on Conflict Kitchen

Today's guest is Jon Rubin, who teaches contextual practice for socially and contextually engaged art at Carnegie Mellon. This is a live blog by Rahul Bhargava, Catherine D'Ignazio, and others - don't be surprised by typos or inconsistent tone!

Conflict Kitchen came out of what they don't have in Pittsburgh. They've never sent out a press release, but coverage has never stopped (AP, A Jazeera). Jon shows us an al Jazeera clip about Conflict Kitchen to introduce the project:

Facilitative Leadership & Civic Media

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Facilitative Leadership training offered by the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC).  I took away a fantastic set of insights and processes to use in the various workshops and trainings I do, in addition to better coaching, listening, facilitation and leadership skills.  The two-day training hosted a group of about 15 people at the IISC office in Boston.  The goals were to build our ability to engage the colleagues and communities we work with as partners in creating the change we all want to make. I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the training and its connection to our work here.  If this stuff sounds relevant you should attend their training because it was great!

Quantity & Quality of Our Parks in Somerville & Cambridge

The following is a guest post by Namasha Shelling, who works as a Project Coordinator at the Harvard School of Public Health.  Namasha and I have collaborated to build on The Public Land Trust's (TPL) metrics around parks and communities. TPL published their methodology and results openly, and this post is built on that valuable contribution they have made!

Park Quality: Why we should care, not only about the quantity of parks, but QUALITY of parks in our neighborhoods

According to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit that works on land conservation in the US, parks are known to reduce crime, revitalize local economies, increase physical activity, and in turn bring communities together. How many times have we heard this sort of phrase before? Not that it isn’t true… but it doesn’t matter how many parks your neighborhood has, if people don’t want to use the parks. 

Mural-ing Our Way to Data Literacy

Last Tuesday Groundwork Somerville officially dedicated their South Street Farm and with it, the exciting new data mural that the Green Team has worked so hard to finish painting.

Activities for Building Visual Literacy

There are a lot of people talking about "Visual Literacy" right now. Shazna Nessa shared some thoughts from a journalistic point of view on the Mozilla Source blog recently. Her discussion focused on how data visualizers should consider the limitations and affordances of visual depictions of information. I'd like to offer a complementary response from a constructionist's point of view. Certainly the journalists and new explainers need to understand how to best use the tools at hand, but in addition we can help the "audience" build visual literacy by helping them create their own visual presentations of their information. The creative act of telling an information-based story offers everyone the best way to understand the affordances of various visualization tools, in addition to making them more aware consumers of this new "visual grammar". So how do you do this? What kind of fun activities can we do with people help them work with and present information?

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