technology solutions | MIT Center for Civic Media

Technology solutions can be software or hardware or even new ways of using old processes. They are tools that assist individuals and communities to engage with each other, share information, and take action.

Data Therapy

Project Status: 

As part of our larger effort to build out a suite of tools for community organizers, we are helping to build their capacity to do their own creative data visualization and presentation.

So you want to build a tech tool which bridges political divides...

I reached out to friends at Center for Civic Media about how much I've been hearing lately about folk wanting to "pop communication bubbles." A bunch of these (and Berkman) folk have been working on things like that for a long time, and have some excellent things to share in regards to our attempts, successes, failures. This is a near-exact transposition of their response to my prompt.


Platforms which already try to bridge political (or other) differences:

High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

Online harassment has been an enduring and evolving social concern for over 40 years, yet many of the most urgent empirical questions for public well-being and freedom remain unexplored. Nor can our answers currently evolve at the pace of socio-technical change.

On August 17th and 18th, we worked with Jigsaw to convene 35 researchers, advocates, and platform representatives to identify and advance high impact research about online harassment. Together, we have just finished a public report on our conversation:

[pdf] High Impact Questions And Opportunities for Online Harassment Research and Action

How should you use this report? We created this document to share what we learned and to draw attention to research projects led by our workshop participants. If you see a question or a project that you're interested in, we encourage you to contact the people listed with the project.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Messing with Nature: Genetics and Climate

Live blog by Sam Klein, Natalie, and myself.


How do you innovate in a field of massive potential and risk? When it comes to genetically engineering living things, most of the technology being developed happens behind closed doors. How do we change the perception of science and genetic engineering with an emphasis on openness for the sake of safety, ethics, and cautionary vigilance but continue to move forward? Who should be responsible for making “god-like” decisions that will ultimately affect our entire future as a society? Megan Palmer, Senior Research Scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University was our moderator.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Against the law: countering lawful abuses of digital surveillance

With bunnie huang, Author, Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering and Edward Snowden. Liveblog by Sam Klein, Erhardt Graeff, and myself.

Introduction and overview from Snowden

This is my first time giving an academic talk, and I think it's the first time a US exile is presenting research at a US academic institution. One of the great things about Cory's talk is that we don't talk enough about how laws are a weak guarentee of outcome. theft, murder, etc still happen.

Introduction to Forbidden Research

Liveblog by Sam Klein and myself

Joi (director of the Media Lab), Opening

Research is forbidden when it won't get peer reviewed, you'll be ridiculed, your lab won't get any new students. Academic freedom is diminishing. We're not killed any more for the things we say and do (mostly). But looking at Nobel prizes, people are taking career-risking moves to discover something. Civic did an event called Freedom to Innovate. Laws for criminals used to stifle innovation. Courage needed to explore these areas on Forbidden Research.

So we're asking ourselves: how does an institution become robust? Laws etc put in place to protect the status quo. Academic institutions or society should question the status quo. All the things in history that we see as moments of social change have to do with doing taboo things. Reed Hoffman has agreed to support a Disobedience Prize ($250k). Difficult to award because "what is societally useful disobedience" ends up being complicated. We don't have a firm date but it's an experiment.

Civic Innovation Workshop in Mérida, Mexico

What does civic innovation look like in México?  There are efforts across the nation to build skills, interest, and capacity for civic technology.  Last week I contributed to these by facilitating a workshop for youth in Mérida, Mexico on the topic of Civic Innovation.  It was organized and hosted at the amazing Workshop school, just outside of town, with the help of my colleague and friend Alberto Muñoz.  Their student-led, collaborative approach to learning was inspired by the Reggio-Emilia style; reminding me of my roots in the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  It provided the perfect setting for this hackathon-style workshop to help youth learn about how to apply their technological and creative skills towards the public good.  The participants ranged from 6th grade, to graduate school; a great mix of skills and interests.

Practicing Data Science Responsibly

I recently gave a short talk at a Data Science event put on by Deloitte here in Boston.  Here's a short write up of my talk.

Data science and big data driven decisions are already baked into business culture across many fields.  The technology and applications are far ahead of our reflections about intent, appropriateness, and responsibility.  I want to focus on that word here, which I steal from my friends in the humanitarian field.  What are our responsibilities when it comes to practicing data science?  Here are a few examples of why this matters, and my recommendations for what to do about it.


We Should Have the Right to Trust Our iPhone Passcodes

Smartphones have become an almost universal tool for the masses, mainly as a simple gateway to the Internet. Though, in recent years these devices have increasingly become personalized and full of even more intimate data. Some would argue that our smartphones are extensions of ourselves because they could function as an "extended mind" and will start becoming a hub for internet connected devices that could leave behind real-time footprints of their users. The design of the devices themselves have shifted to reflect this closer intimacy between users and their devices. New iPhones have fingerprint scanners so that people can't just look over your shoulder while you type your password and iOS has tighter rules on when the iPhone requires a passcode if the fingerprint scanner is enabled.

Designing The Numbers That Govern Wikipedia: Aaron Halfaker on Machine Learning in Large-Scale Open Production

How can we engineer open production at scale, and what can we learn from feminist critiques of technology that could help us achieve those goals? At the Berkman Center this Tuesday (video), Aaron Halfaker talked about the challenges of scaling large-scale cooperation, the values that motivate efforts to keep that cooperation going, and lessons from Feminist Science and Technology Studies for maintaining large-scale socio-technical endeavors like Wikipedia.