Creating Technology for Social Change

What is Civic Media

Examining examples and definitions from the Civic Media site and blog posts from various thought leaders, I formed the following definition of Civic Media:

Civic Media is any use of a medium that empowers a community to engage within and beyond the people, places, and problems of their community.

This definition connects with what I believe are some key principles of civic media:

The medium of interaction alone is not enough, but it must be coupled with social practices and social design to engage people to participate. One of my pet peeves with the Arab Spring events is how people overemphasize the role of social media in the revolutions — these technologies certainly facilitated the mobilization of protestors, but the people leveraged the medium for their own purposes.

Civic engagement is not only social but intentional. Scaffolds to support social interaction and bonds are essential, but such interaction must serve a community purpose and action. For example, many use YouTube videos to share moments with their friends. However, YouTube has also been used as a medium for campaigns to inspire the global community to act like the It Gets Better Project, a campaign to inspire LGBT youth to persevere and have hope through their difficult times.

Communities are not just bounded by place, but also by shared interests, values, and experiences. This explanation of community includes virtual places like The Harry Potter Alliance, an online activist community of Harry Potter fans, that mobilizes youth to engage with global issues such as poverty, equity, and human rights.

Civic media must connect to the attributes of communities (those attributes enumerated above) to be useful. In Out the Window, a project based in Los Angeles, videos created by Los Angeles youth and artists to share community stories are disseminated through the public bus system. The public buses serve a massive audience, where 70% of the riders earn less than $26,000 a year. Videos are triggered by the geolocation of the buses and play community specific content such as personal immigrant stories and issues of healthy food access in the neighborhood.

I look forward to further discussions about the definition and principles of civic media — as mekenefake said in her blog post, these ideas are bound to change over the course of the term.

My interest in civic media stems from my interest in the sociotechnical design of technologies and science/technology outreach, particularly among youth from underserved communities. For the last 6 years, I’ve been working on various educational technologies for kids, specifically tools that enable novices to create their own interactive media like stories, animations and games. I’ve seen what an empowering experience it can be for youth to discover how they can create and share their technology. However, in trying to implement these technologies in various urban areas like Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, I’ve seen how technology can be delivered inequitably not just through access to the tools but also access to programs, educators, and experiences that facilitate the full use of the tool. I look forward to learning more deeply about civic media and its many appropriations across diverse communities.