local communities | MIT Center for Civic Media

People in local geographic areas may need help communicating with each other in order to collaborate in building and sustaining healthy communities. Grassroots action at any level - neighborhoods, towns, or cities - can help improve local services, welcome newcomers, and develop cultural, economic and political capital.

The Responsive City: Susan Crawford at the MIT Media Lab

Today at the Media Lab, we were joined by Susan Crawford, visiting professor at Harvard Law School and co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Susan's last book, Captive Audience, focused on net neutrality. Her most recent book, The Responsive City, focuses on ways that cities are using data to support governance.

(this blog post was written by Nathan Matias and Ed Platt

"The most human technology we have is the Internet," Susan tells us. It gives us the ability to talk to the people we need to, when we need to. "I'm very worried about democracy," she tells us. This past midterm election had the lowest voter turnout in 72 years. At the same time as we have all time lows in participation, citizens are worried about issues of surveillance.

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.

9 Best Practices for Diverse Inclusion and Cooperation in Open Communities

How can open source and participatory communities like Mozilla support diverse inclusion? Here at the Community Building Track at the Mozilla Festival, an international group of organizers convened to discuss ways to cooperate effectively across gender, age, accessibility, and cultural differences. It's part of a larger initiative here at the MozillaFestival to create a community building handbook for open communities.

The session was facilitated by Beatrice Martini, Katelyn Rogers, Flore Allemandou, J. Nathan Matias, Deb Soumya, Alifiyah Ganijee, Leo McArdle, Ibrahima Sarr, and Cynthia Ng. These notes were created by me and Katelyn Rogers.

How To Party Online

How do you party with a group of people across four continents? As a trustee of Awesome Knowledge, I'm looking for great ways to celebrate our community and congratulate our grantees. Every month or two, we give $1000 to an awesome project that spreads knowledge (learn more, and unlike most Awesome Foundations, we're a distributed group who have no shared geography. Most chapters conclude each grant cycle with a party, where a wide community is invited to celebrate as the grantee receives a big cheque or bag of money. After weeks of grant reviews and hard decisions, it's this party that often keeps the foundation Awesome.

Awesome Knowledge can't easily party in one place, so we're looking for ways to celebrate online.

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!

Gratitude and its Dangers in Social Technologies

How do our designs change when we start emphasizing people and community and not just the things they do for us? Over the next year of my research, I'm exploring acknowledgment and gratitude, basic parts of online relationships that designers often set aside to focus on the tasks people do online.

In May of last year, Wikipedia added a "thanks" feature to its history page, enabling readers to thank contributors for helpful edits on a topic:

Thanks on Wikipedia July 28-30, 2014

HOPE X: Themes and Reflections

Image by Willow Brugh.

Over the weekend, I attended HOPE X, the 10th Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by 2600 Magazine. HOPE is my favorite hacker conference, and a strong contender for my favorite conference overall, because although content is tech-heavy, it's not really about technology. HOPE is a conference by and for those interested in the hacker ethos of free information, understanding the world, and empowerment to fix what is broken— including keynote speakers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. So HOPE is a great place to think about the intersection of technology, journalism, and activism. Throughout the conference, I noticed several recurring themes.

Code Is Not Enough

HOPE X: Hackerspace Community Dynamics Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Facilitator: Naomi Most

The goal of this meet up is to take a step back, look at building communities, and talk about what doesn't work, and more importantly what does.

Do you hackerspace?

Most folks here have some experience starting and growing spaces. The rest are interested.

Are hackers normal people? Or are they really different?

We're just like anyone, e.g. baseball fans, who have a particular set of interests.

Hackers are people who question assumptions.

One participant say there's sometimes a "we're better, and we're exclusive" and they're not in favor of that. Much agreement from the group.

A person who wears hacker as a badge on their arm says "I have superpowers" but a person who wears it on their heart says "I have superpowers, you can too."

Hackerspaces in libraries help bridge the gap with people who wouldn't identify as hackers.

HOPE X: The Repair Movement

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Concerned with mass production and unidirectional flow of goods. Especially important for hackers because of electronic goods. How do we change this?

Tiffany Rad, @TiffanyRad, Pianos and Cars

When you buy something, do you own it, and how much of it?
Concerned about ownership of private information, GPS etc, in cars. You don't own the software, and could void the warranty by disabling features you don't want.

Can you legally access your car's computers? Diagnostic computers cost 15-20k. Makes it difficult to repair outside of dealership.

If you have to break cryptography to fix your car, you may void your warranty and may violate the DMCA. There has been a push for "Right to Repair Acts." These have succeeded in Massachusetts and Oregon.

Jiffy Lube and AutoZone lobbied for standardized access to diagnostic tools. Available by 2018. Only licensed mechanics are covered by these agreements.

Other Consumer Goods.

HOPE X: Diversity in Tech Meet-Up

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

In this Meet-Up we broke out into groups to talk about common problems related to diversity in tech and to brainstorm solutions. This documents the reports that each breakout group gave.

Problem: How to balance radical inclusion with creating safe spaces for minorities?
Solution: Encourage meaningful interactions that go beyond "don't do this."
Solution: Make space sometimes available to closed groups.

Problem: Tech has an image of lacking diversity, which turns people off.
Solution: Help diverse communities develop technical skills internally.

Problem: Differences in ingrained communication styles. The loudest voice often wins.
Solution: Employ different techniques, e.g. roundtables. Encourage a focus on awareness of language, such as gender neutrality.

Problem: How to move from being unaware of a lack of diversity to making improvements.

Problem: Narrow definitions of success, such as entrepreneurial stereotype.

Problem: Lack of buy-in on importance of diversity.

Problem: People taught from an early age that they can't do tech.