codesign | MIT Center for Civic Media

HOPE X: When You Are the Adversary

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Quinn Norton

In the past year, there has been a lot of attention towards major adversaries, like the NSA. Most of the time, we're actually up against small adversaries. Most adversaries are just jerks. Small adversaries target everyone, with whatever technology they have. It might be gossip around the water cooler. It might be local law enforcement, or your IT department, in schools, corporations, or NGOs. They're honor killings, partners committing domestic violence, friends who mean well, stalkers who don't mean well, or random interactions.

What are the tools of small adversaries? A common one is making someone give you their password to email, Facebook, etc. Hacker tools can be used in negative ways. The people Quinn works with as a journalist need security tools that work practically, not academically. How do adversaries get access? Usually through email. More and more tools are becoming available. The tools used by small adversaries, are modeled after those used by large ones.

Balancing Deep and Wide Impacts in the Design of Civic Tech

These are the prefatory remarks I made as moderator during the panel "Balancing Deep and Wide Impacts in the Design of Civic Tech" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, Boston, MA on March 8, 2014.

I'm working on a project called Action Path. Similar to Promise Tracker, which will be the featured case study in this session, Action Path is a smartphone app for civic engagement. Specifically, the app uses geo-fencing, a technique based on the awareness of the user's GPS coordinates, to send notifications to users about opportunities to take quick actions in the form of polls or documentation of a local area for easy, yet contextually-relevant civic engagement. As indicated by my promo slide here, it's meant to marry mobile computing with the concept of a "Jane Jacobs Walk," whereby you only really understand a city's needs and resources through walking its streets. I hope you all agree that this sounds great... at least in theory.

But what does this look like in practice? Well, right now it looks like three two-hour public meetings per week, where I sit and learn about the ongoing planning processes in Somerville—the city where I live and hope to do my research. I am building trust with folks in the planning department at the City of Somerville and the leaders and organizers in civil society organizations who work on issues like land use, affordable housing, and beautification in different neighborhoods around town.

There are lot of conflicting agendas among these different groups, all of whom I need buy-in from in order to, 1) make sure that I have enough people test my app, and 2) ensure the app is stocked with relevant actions that a) make my partners feel good about endorsing it among their members, and b) make the city and private developers happy because the feedback will be in a form that can inform their planning processes, WITHOUT becoming overly politicized. I want to have real impact, and tying the technology to real impact is important for my research

In the end, I have to write this up as a thesis. And that means I need a rigorous study of some kind showing that people's understanding of their ability to make a difference in their city has changed.

I appreciate that this is an iterative and interactive process that demands flexibility, but it's also hard from the perspectives of design, research, PLUS overall impact. And it's actually the social processes around the technology that are harder to design than the mobile app itself.

Liveblog for Rightscon USABILITY AND DIGITAL RIGHTS TOOLS: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS FROM THE FIELD

Liveblog from the Usability panel at RightsCon. It covered the Countersurveillance hackathon we had just wrapped up, a SF event headed by OpenITP but also linked to the recent Countersurveillance DiscoTechs. I typed this live and published right after the sessions for the day - please forgive typos etc.

Usability as a huge issue. Doesn't matter how much we train if the software isn't usable.

OpenITP has done two events around crypto and usability now - DC in January, and SF in March. OpenITP tools brought to be worked on. Not hard to do a hackathon on usability. Can get people in to improve documentation. User testing is a thing that can happen in a day. Making wireframes. We'll do a report back on challenges faced, what people are doing usability-wise. What they're doing to correct those things.

Barbara with Benetech

Codesign Studio: Mar 1-2 CounterSurveillance DiscoTech

Our Spring 2014 Codesign Studio (codesign.mit.edu) has begun. This semester, we're experimenting with a few new pieces:

  • Surveillance theme - all of our partnerships are with partners who are organizing and creating around issues of surveillance
  • Distributed partnerships - partners this semester are not just Boston-based
  • DiscoTech/Hackathon - we're supporting a distributed DiscoTech (discovering technology) event, which is a sort of "inclusive" hackathon.

codesignpo2-600

Partners!
As always, our partners and students are amazing. Here's a link to the recorded live stream of all of the partner presentations.

Scaling the unicorns: Diverse perspectives that serve the public good

In a room of urban planners, architects, engineers, data viz experts, designers, programmers, and media professionals, we asked, “how do we scale the unicorns?”

Unicorns are those perspectives we need, the ones we easily demand but are hard to find. Women coders, technologists in local government, architects in humanitarian aid, geographers in newsrooms.


Unicorns, by rahuldlucca on Flickr

Creating New Collaborative Space

There’s this ongoing sense of frustration from the adaptive, iterative, inclusive informal side of disaster response with the formal side. While we often focus on how to get members of a population not accustomed to collaboration to feel empowered to speak and act, and that is a core component of any work I do, that’s not what this entry is about. In the same way that I think many people don’t engage in their environments when conflict is a possible component, I think the lack of collaborative and codesign approach in the formal sector is simply a lack of exposure and understanding.

A good example of bad design

Here’s a good example of bad design

The city of Boston is developing “parklets” -- mini-parks in tiny spaces, roughly the size of two parking spaces. They are supposed to be lilliputian urban oases. So far they’ve completed two, in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, with a third due for Allston.

But the results have been less than stellar, as this story by Boston Globe staffer Martine Powers makes clear. Rather than collaborate with the local neighborhood residents or business owners, as some other cities have done, Boston just plopped the parklets down with little or no direction from locals.

The end result is something of a waste. The parklets don’t get used. People aren’t even sure what the heck the parklets are all about.

James Rojas at Codesign Studio

James Rojas gave a guest spot at the Codesign Studio a couple weeks back. The full entry is here, but I'm particularly pleased with the vizthink that came out of it:

Project Partner Pitches for the Codesign Studio

co written by Aditi Mehta, Becky Hurwitz, Rodrigo Davies, Sasha Costanza-Chock, and Willow Brugh and cross-posted at codesign.mit.edu

Today the potential project partners for the fall 2013 civic media: collaborative design studio came by to present a little bit about the work they do and the possible projects they'd like to team up on. Here's a summary of the presentations - you can see that they are all doing incredible work, and we're very excited to have the chance to collaborate with them.

Skillshare: An opportunity for codesign in the peer economy

Meet Margot Harrington. Five years ago, Margot worked for a design agency. Five years ago, that agency laid off two-thirds of its staff in one day. Margot now stitches together her income via her own design studio and speaking engagements. She moonlights through Aeolidia which always has a few projects for her and helps her stave off the feast-and-famine cycle of freelancing.


Photo by Lucy Hewett

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