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.

Helping a Community Find Stories in Their Data

My Data Mural work has led me into a new area - actually helping community groups find the stories they want to tell in their raw data.  Until now, all my data therapy work has focused on how to present the data-driven stories more creatively.  This post shares some of the techniques I'm trying out.

Civic crowdfunding at #SXSWi 2013 - liveblog


This week I spoke on a panel at SXSW Interactive on civic crowdfunding, titled "Can crowdfunding save local government budgets (SXSW 2013)?" Here's a liveblog of the talk, by Helena Puig Larrauri and Leah Jones.

Panelists: Eric Engelman - advisor for Mayor of San Diego
Story Bellows - co-director of Mayor’s office of new urban mechanics in Philadelphia
Rodrigo Davies - researcher at MIT and advisor for Spacehive
Jordan Raynor - Co-founder of @citizinvestor

Food Rescue: Designing a Tech Solution for Somerville

This is the second in a series of posts about how technology can help food rescue and food security.  I am collaborating with community groups in Somerville, MA; trying to extend and enhance existing food rescue programs. Click here to read the first, a tech overview.

The Case for Informal Visualization

Data visualization is all over the place. On the hype curve, we’re clearly up in the area of inflated expectations. If you listen to the reporting, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking dataviz is going to bring world peace! I’m writing to beat the drum in favor of more informal presentations.  You can tell better data stories, and engage your audience more, by creating less formal data presentations.

Some Examples

What do I mean by "informal visualization"?  To start, toss out your computer, printer and graph paper. Pull our your crayons, big paper, tape, and your imagination.

From top-left, clockwise: 

Food Rescue - how can tech help?

This is the first in a series of posts about how technology can help food rescue and food security.  I am collaborating with community groups in Somerville, MA; trying to extend and enhance existing food rescue programs.  Read the second post, about our design workshop, here.

Food waste is a huge problem in the US – with millions of tons wasted per year and scores left hungry around the nation. Members of the Somerville Coalition for Food Security approached me to help work on this problem here in my town; wondering how technology could help them expand their exiting food recovery programs. As a first step, I did a bunch of research into who is using technology to help with food rescue, and how. This post summarizes that research.

How can we find fresh food fast in Boston?

How do you find fresh food in Boston if you're in a hurry? For many people in the city, it's not that easy. Over the next few months I'm working on a project with the Mayor's office of New Urban Mechanics and the Mayor's Youth Council to figure out how to make it easier, and cheaper to eat well. Find Fresh Food Fast was born out of Sarah Williams' Crowdsourced City class at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and we'll be using techniques like crowdsourcing to build knowledge and tools that facilitate better eating for everyone in the city.

Civic crowdfunding from the Statue of Liberty to now

statue of liberty_crop

I've been asked recently to define what I mean by civic crowdfunding. For the purposes of my research, I'm characterizing it as crowdfunding campaigns that involve the development of public assets. It may or may not include the investment of public funds; it may take the form of towns and cities supporting civic projects being executed by other stakeholders (such as New York City's Kickstarter page or the town of Wycombe funding a space for local entrepreneurs). The key is that the outcome is a public asset that all members of a community can access.

Using Tech in Africa as a Lever for Change (Amadou Mahtar)

(Liveblog post from #netexplo)

In the introduction, it's mentioned that AllAfrica is hosting the anniversary of USA4Africa We Are the World, and will promote crowdsourced versions of the song (parody away).

Amadou Mahtar (@amahtarba) of AllAfrica and African Media Initiative speaks on the use of the Internet and technology in Africa as levers for democracy and economic and social change. Technology is pointless, Amadou says, unless it improves human life, particularly in the context of the African continent.

Amadou provides a disclaimer that his talk today is more of a religion than a science. It comes from his personal belief in greater connectivity to provide greater economic and human development.

An Open Letter to Patriotic Microphilanthropists

by Sam Novey and Erhardt Graeff

We applaud Bill Moyers and Arnold Hiatt's "Open Letter to Patriotic Philanthropists" in the Winter 2013 Issue of Democracy. It's an eloquent and timely call to action for "well heeled and well connected" donors to support work that is critical to the future of our nation and our world.

Political reform funding does suffer from an imbalance in resources between lobbyists and activists, caused in part by nearsightedness favoring quantifiable deliverables and risk aversion to innovative projects. However, we feel that we are only looking at one part of the reform movement. Many of the values we care about are as much cultural issues as they are explicitly political or legal issues. We should also be funding efforts to deliver cultural change, and doing so in a way that pushes cultural change itself.

Crowdfunding an exit strategy for EveryBlock


The news that NBC is closing the hyper-local news site EveryBlock has been met with widespread disappointment - rooted as much in the failure of a good brand as the uncomfortable reminder that the hyper-local community is yet to find a business model that pays.