Seizing every opportunity for feedback and collaboration

On Friday, we shared our draft project proposal with members of City Life/Vida Urbana’s Bank Tenant Association leadership team. BTAs form a significant portion of CL/VU’s membership and at this weekly Friday night meeting, BTA leadership team members discuss organizing strategy and figure out next steps for actions they want the membership to take.

Mike, Terry, and I presented the project idea our team came up with feedback from some of the CL/VU staff – to develop carnival games that reveal the deceptive nature of the market. We were only one agenda item on a long list of items they needed to cover during the meeting, so one major lesson learned in designing feedback activities is to keep in mind the time and stick to the process design! We designed a process for them to give us feedback on the idea – we told them about the project and asked them to record any questions, concerns, and general feedback/suggestions on separate post it notes and put them up on a flip chart. We then gave them space to ask any clarifying questions they had first. When the hands started shooting up, we started answer the questions. It was only later that we realized that we were trying to answer questions that they should should have written down for us to discuss and decide later! It was fine, we just ran out of time and told people to write the rest of their questions and concerns down for us to review later.

Still left to do is discuss these new ideas with our team members and revise our draft project proposal to reflect what we come up with. The feedback we got was really good and raised the point that I think we all considered early in the project but didn’t know quite how to address: could some CL/VU members join our team and therefore move from feedback givers to decision makers on our collaboration spectrum? Fortunately, some BTA leaders were really excited after hearing the project idea and want to contribute as team members – or at least come to some meetings. So, we also need figure out a system that works for including BTA leadership team members into our meetings – a great logistic problem to have!

Terry and I stayed for a bit more of the meeting as the BTA leaders discussed their plans for the National Day of Actions on the housing crisis on October 28th. The major demand nationally from organizations and coalitions working on housing and on the housing crisis is for the replacement of Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) director Ed Demarco. FHFA oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which has for the past six years, refused to do principal reduction, a practice that allows homeowners to pay on the current value of their home. This is ultimately cheaper for banks than foreclosure (1), but more importantly keeps families and family businesses in their homes. A later conversation with a BTA leader revealed to me how little support organizers feel from student organizations on college campuses. He wondered to me: why aren’t students organizing talks and lectures about this? Isn’t this an urban planning program? This issue and this demand is important – students and professors can have so much more influence on issues like this!

This was important to me because, as a new organizer who plans to continue to work in Boston on a range of planning issues, it gave me pause about whether I had some missed opportunities by not focusing more on how students at MIT and in my planning program at DUSP can partner with communities and community organizers to raise the profile of issues like these and increase pressure on targets as part of an organizing strategy. Further, however, it emphasized to me the importance of our codesign project because I think ultimately I want community members and leaders to feel like they have the tools to design projects that tell their stories, weave their own narratives, and win real policy changes – with or without support from people they might feel have more power. I hope this project accomplishes this, or at least encourages dialogue about it.

(1) http://clvu.org/sites/default/files/uploads/fhfa-demarco-letter.pdf

See draft Project Proposal here.

3 thoughts on “Seizing every opportunity for feedback and collaboration

  1. Hi Team!

    The carnival with games is a really creative idea to start combatting the dominant narrative. I am really looking forward to seeing how your games develop!

    Below are some guiding questions and thoughts as you move forward.

    1. Problem statement: In your project proposal, can you add more meat to this? What exactly is the dominant narrative? Provide more specifics than just “foreclosures are decreasing…” Give examples from newspapers and other media outlets of how they discuss the dominant narrative and then explain why this is an issue. What are the larger implications of this dominant narrative and why does it need to be overturned?

    2. So the carnival would take place in the Spring and you are now focusing your deliverables to be the games? This sounds like a good, feasible plan (p.s. CoDesign Studio is also being taught in the Spring so you can take it again and design the carnival through the course).

    3. Right now the games that you describe are abstract and conceptual (which is good), but don’t necessarily provide information on how the housing market works. I think the player of the game should not only be able to grasp the abstract concept, but also learn information about the housing market and current problems. How will the games convey this information? How exactly do people learn from the games? What is each game’s message?

    4. Maybe a good way to start building the games is to think about 3-4 “they say” issues from your first blog post and figure out how playing the game leads to the “we say” message. Remember people don’t know as much about the housing crisis, markets, and current trends as much as you do, so the games have to educate them.

    4. If one of your goals if to overturn the dominant narrative, people who believe that dominant narrative need to play the games. When you do finally deploy these games (and I know it will be in the Spring), strategize about how to get a diverse range of folks to play them.

    5. Have you considered building any digital games? This way, even when the carnival is not taking place, people can continue to play and learn form them. I am not sure if any of you have any coding experience, but hiring someone who does is something you could use your $1000 towards.

    6. Another final project idea deliverable could be an overall assessment report of the games. You had mentioned you wanted to use this semester to test your games. (Also, where would you be testing them?) It would be useful for others involved in activism and gaming to see and understand your process and also learn about what did and did not work with your games.

    7. It sounds like other staff members from City Life are joining your team, which is awesome! What is each person’s role?

    Really awesome brainstorming, everyone! Let me know if you have any questions. :)

  2. Hey all!
    I’ve enjoyed reading about your process, especially the variety of exercises you’ve used to guide conversations about goals and designs so far. I’m using the URBANO feedback method below. Hope this helps add to the other comments!
    Bex

    Clarify
    Who do you expect to join the carnivals — both the 2 events you produce this term and the event in the Spring? Have you thought of ways to capture the action at these events to share with people who do not attend and potentially with people who are only exposed to the dominant narrative?

    If you envision these games as part of other actions, would it make sense to think of creating a carnival or game-team that could attend events rather than a stand-alone event? I could envision getting a lot of attention for this aspect being fun and it becoming a draw for people to show up to actions.

    Value
    This could be a clever way of sharing a new version of the housing crisis narrative with an audience. Engaging people through play opens many possibilities.

    Concern
    I wonder about the scale of the events you intend to produce this term. Do you yet have a vision for how big these will be, and what it will take to produce them?

    Suggestions
    I’d suggest thinking about how this can continue to fit into CLVU work going forward. Will the games be reusable at later actions? Is the Carnival an event that CLVU would like to throw again?