Creating Technology for Social Change

Permanent reunion: How can the civic media community collaborate throughout the year?

This June’s Civic Media Conference was described in glowing terms by so many of you who attended, but no term was as oft-repeated — and to me, as heartwarming and frustrating — as the word “reunion”.

Why would a reunion be heartwarming and frustrating, assuming you’re not meeting your high school sweetheart? Well, we love it that so many past attendees are able to get together again, collaborate again, have a few drinks again. But we hate it that we haven’t found a way to keep attendees together, collaborating, and socializing throughout the rest of the year.

That is, in the word “reunion” is an implication that we’ve been apart.

So I wrote to our 200+ attendees and asked a simple question: how can we better collaborate in person throughout the year? In fact, what already works well in your organization, your community, and your neighborhood?

We got some great responses and want your thoughts in the comment field below:

I would suggest creating a think tank of sorts, a place that people can post their ideas, thoughts, etc, in a casual way so we can share our musings.

–Pam Smith, Library Director, Anythink Libraries

In fact, we gave this a shot after last year’s conference, and it fizzled in large part to the loss of physical proximity to fellow attendees. Hence…

I think this could be a great opportunity to create a small, bespoke knowledge-sharing community around the topic of civic media. Members of the group could ask questions and get answers using a Stack Overflow model, or a Public Insight Network approach (create profiles and MIT community managers could solicit questions and ask them of people with relevant info).

Off of that, small groups could form around specific questions and coalesce to plan in-person meetings at MIT or elsewhere. MIT could help fund small group meetups, potentially, becoming a catalyst for collaboration and communication.

–Andrew Haeg, American Public Media

Andrew Haeg’s suggestion reminds me of one of our Center’s great collaboration successes, working with folks around MIT in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It worked simply because the earthquake happened just before MIT’s “independent activities period” in January, when many faculty and students were already free to get together. But we’re not all always available, so…

I wonder if there might be some way to advertise upcoming projects (or “breaking news” projects like those responding to the situation in Japan or the BP oil spill) and solicit help — be it programming, engineering, funding, additional researchers/collaborators, etc. People could then jump in to collaborate based on the advertised help needed on the project. Something like this may already exist and I think that it would be quite useful to encourage collaboration.

–Talia Stroud, Assistant Director, Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation, University of Texas at Austin

Ultimately, though, the elephantine question remains: how do we get varied professionals collaborating in a sustainable way?…

The closing presentation by Michael Maness presented some challenges for us all to think about–particularly around how to scale some of the work, how to make the audience more of a community and create human-to-human contact. We have a daily morning news program, The Takeaway, which is heard in about 60 markets across the country–NY, Boston, and soon to include San Francisco. We could be interested in working with anyone who has an idea for a project that could combine innovative digital tools with live radio to develop and use a community of people to further the story or the conversation. We are open and interested in developing segments around news segments in partnership with innovative digital thinkers so that we could work together to scale some ideas, and to involve a national community. The Takeaway, hosted by John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee, has a staff that is open to collaboration.

–Laura Walker, President and CEO, WNYC Radio

What do you think? How do we collaborate on civic media work in a way that vivifies and sustains?