rahulb's blog

What is Civic Innovation in India?

Three of us (Sands, Alexis & Rahul) were in India in mid January to lead a week long workshop for Indian undergraduates about Civic Innovation. Students and alumni from the MIT Media Lab have organized large Design Innovation workshops in India for the last few years, focused on a bottom-up approach to changing how engineering education happens in India. There are certainly exceptions, but Indian education is typically very traditional, and there aren't many opportunities for sharing ideas and approaches across disciplines.

Our goal was to work with the 30 participants in our track and explore a few questions:

  • What does "civic innovation" mean in India?
  • Can we help these students apply their skills to problems that matter?
  • Do our methods and approaches for doing civic work apply in India?

Field Trips

To explore what civic innovation means in India, and to provide some inputs into our design process, we took a few field trips around Ahmedabad.

Lasers, Food & Data (Telling a Story About Food Security)

Can a vegetable tell a story about food access in Somerville?  Yep.

"70% of Somerville Public School students receive free or reduced lunch" - laser-cut onto a cucumber

“70% of Somerville Public School students receive free or reduced lunch” – laser-cut onto a cucumber

In public settings, it can be quite hard to get folks walking by interested in a data-driven argument about your cause.  We often argue that a creative data sculpture can grab their attention… like maybe a vegetable laser cut with some data about food security!

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. 

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