Creating Technology for Social Change

Creating Learning Guides for Community Makers

On Saturday, October 26, 2014, Nathan Matias and I co-facilitated a session at Mozilla Festival on creating “Learning Guides for Community Makers” along with Gabriela Rodriguez, Janet Gunter (@JanetGunter), Linda Sandvik, Vanessa Gennarelli.

The main goal of the session was to help participants create a learning guides for other community-focused makers based on initiatives, projects, and workshops they have already organized, hosting them here:

We are also interested in connecting practitioners together who are working at the intersection of code/data literacy, civic technology, and youth development. The effort was inspired in part by MIT Media Lab alumni projects like Young Activists Network (Leo Burd) and ScratchEd (Karen Brennan).

We kicked off the session by discussing “What do we mean by civic and community-focused making?” This proved an engaging topic, especially as we dug into my own definition and goals. I offered the idea that there are changes we would like to see in the world, and we would like more people to be in the business of making change, so its important to support the growth of an inclusive Civic Tech movement. We debated whether a sense of membership in some kind of “civic tech movement” was a necessary part of community-focused making. We agreed that community-focus was both about working in existing communities as well as building new communities through collaboration, forming and strengthening relationships with others.


To guide our thinking with examples, we shared two existing learning guides and invited the co-facilitators to discuss their own work. Vanessa talked about co-designing courses with P2PU, Linda talked about three acres and a cow and kite mapping, Janet talked about The Restart Project, and Gabriella talked about Data Uraguay.

Ahead of the Mozilla Festival, Alisha Panjwani, Leo Burd, and Don Blair helped us create a template for the learning guides meant to emphasize the community-focused goals and specific context of any initiative or workshop. The better we can define who was involved and why, the better we can see who is missing and also what might be needed to adapt a learning guide to one’s own context. We ask contributors to tell a story about what they did and what roles youth and technology played in the work. Most importantly, we ask contributors if they are willing to offer contact information for those who come across a guide. If we can connect people doing the same work, this will be a bigger success than a thousand perfectly written guides.

After participants in the Festival session worked on their learning guides, we reconvened to discuss the process and think about how it could be improved. Laurenellen McCann suggested we should look into collections of cases already out there like Beautiful Trouble and Getting in on the Act and see how they think about community-focused making, which doubled as a suggestion of tapping into existing communities of practice.

Linda talked about the difficulty of explaining how to fly a kite as a part of her Kite Mapping learning guide. This is not something easily translated through text, and perhaps links to YouTube videos with relevant explanations would be one way to address that question. This is also an opportunity for collaboration on projects where connecting experienced kite flyers to initiatives like citizen science and youth skill-building should be encouraged through the learning guides.

Vanessa noted as she worked on her own learning guide, that she was struggling to convey the “emoting” that was an important part of organizing her project; we need to think about how to incorporate that in the template. More broadly, she found the process of reflecting on her own work to be of incredible value. She suggested another goal for the learning guides might be to create a space for organizers to reflect on core ideas and process of their work by attempting to develop a guide to it. This was an important insight into the community-making involved in pulling together this collection.

A good example of this in action came from participant Andy Lulham, who described his work with GoodGym in London, a fitness community that runs together to parts of the city where they then participate in a community project. He reflected on how this was largely an adult-oriented group but that there was no reason why he couldn’t reach out to local schools and other youth groups to incorporate those communities and make it more age-inclusive, which was a beautiful outcome of the session.

In summary, we had a great session with deep engagement from our participants. Many of whom committed to helping grow this project going forward, including refining the template, evaluating the learning guides, and creating ways that organizers who try the guides can share back what they learn. Nathan and I hope to host more workshops in the future and eventually present the learning guides at the Digital Media and Learning conference in June 2015 in order to open up the collection to that community of makers.

Many thanks to all who participated and co-facilitated!