Talk by Eric Gordon (@ericbot) of Emerson's Engagement Lab and Rogelio Lopez (@Tochtli_exe) of USC Annenberg at the MIT Center for Civic Media.
This is a liveblog of a talk on November 6, 2014, recorded by Alexis, Ali, Adrienne, Catherine, Nathan, and Erhardt.
The context of the talk is the space of "civic tech." It's a field that has been defined by corporations and foundations. They have been seeking to put a lot of things into recognizable envelopes.
Mostly, civic tech is associated with government and government innovation. Increasingly, there’s an effort made by other organizations to use that term. Some of the narratives that pop up in civic tech are that of the smart city, entrepreneurship, and efficiency.
They were curious about how would you characterize civic tech through a metaphor in terms of the operations of your organization? "We're the NASA of non-profits." This is to say it is a scientific enterprise and also that there is a frontier out ahead. This was a very positive spin on the use of technology in nonprofit work.
When we talk about civic tech to NGOs the rhetoric isn’t as positive. “It’s a sourdough starter, you have to keep feeding it unless it dies,” or “deer in the headlights.”
Most of the time, the metaphors being used to describe the technologies of integration are filled with fear and anxiety.
“Everything keeps changing all the time,” Gordon says to express his frustration with the technology landscape. "Keeping it to the traditional, like, grassroots organizing tools of going out and having one-on-one conversations."
Themes of "Keeping up" and "keeping it real" kept coming up in their interviews. Rogelio explains that keeping up means staying current with technologies, but they wanted to focus on “keeping it real,” because many of these communities were focused on communities who worked in the grassroots activism space.
For many organizations, legitimation is based in the grassroots. The efficacy is judged based on how it affects residents. The reality is organizations are struggling with the normative maxim “keeping it real.” Eric notes that they are particularly interested in community organization and grassroot techniques.
There is a need to complicate discourse. “There is so much stuff going on in the course of using technology."