James Vorderbruggen – Massachusetts Mesh Net

Ideas radiate from our comfort zone when we’re shocked to life.

I’m James, and during the co-design lab, I’m hoping to meaningfully engage communities in the design process of Mass Mesh, a community owned internet initiative that is currently in its infancy. This project is really comprised of the shared effort of a small group of core developers/enthusiasts right now. Work so far has focused on developing a low-cost, high-throughput router that is capable of scaling the network. The developers are disillusioned by market-based approaches to community internet like Althea, and unimpressed by short-cut implementations like the NYC Mesh (See: hub and spoke network.) In order to move beyond these implementations, though, we will need to engage with potential network participants in order to create a better strategy. It would be impossible to build a meaningfully decentralized network of this kind from the top down.

We have not done market research, as far as I know. We have agreed that we should focus on low income communities, but this decision was made based on no data about where that community may be. We have also not verified whether this imagined community would be receptive to operating network hardware in their home. We hypothesize that those without the means to purchase internet access from corporate providers will be the most receptive to alternatives because they have the most to gain.

I personally think that events and targeted advertising would be a good way to get the ball rolling on community engagement. Events could focus on getting hardware up and running, but I don’t think that’s the most effective way to use our time. Hardware setup is basically a fixed process. I think that the question of how to overcome the service provider -> customer relationship on our network is of central importance. Organizing as a co-op makes intuitive sense, but this is vague. Establishing basic by-laws and funding mechanisms will take some conversation. It would be best if we had early adopters to engage in this conversation with. Ideally, these people would know what it means to run a network node, and understand the methods available for connecting our mesh to the broader internet infrastructure at least in general terms. This basic knowledge will help guide the conversations about ownership of network infrastructure.

The problems facing Mass Mesh are multifarious, and we will be up against strong capitalist players in this market. Radical engagement with the community provides a way forward for us without compromising our core mission of bringing internet access into the Commons.

Announcing the Spring 2019 Co-Design Studio: ‘Hacking Hackathons!’

DiscoTech Flyer from the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition

DiscoTech Flyer from the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition

Hello co-designers! I’m pleased to announce that in the Spring of 2019, the co-design studio will be organized as an advanced practicum around the theme of “hacking hackathons,” with a goal of developing shared knowledge and best practices for organizing radically inclusive design events. Projects may be individual or team-based.

General description: The Civic Media Co-design Studio is a service-learning, project-based studio course in collaborative design of civic media. Students partner with community-based organizations to create civic media projects grounded in real-world community needs. The course covers co-design theory and practice, including methods for community participation in iterative stages of project ideation, design, prototyping, testing, launch, and stewardship.

Listing in the MIT Course Catalog: http://student.mit.edu/catalog/mCMSa.html#CMS.862

If you’re interested in joining us, please fill out this short form: http://bit.ly/codesign2019-interest.

Connecting STEM to the CULTURE


It’s no secret that there is little to no representation of black and brown individuals in the technology sector. Current curriculums and programs attempting to address this deficiency often seek to show students opportunities or directly try to convince them to pursue STEM careers. One thing these programs have in common is that they often fail to relate to the students.

Fascinate, Inc. is an organization with a mission to bring cutting-edge technology to underrepresented students nationwide and facilitate pathways into STEM-based careers. Cultural relevancy is their strategy of choice in getting students excited about STEM. The project we chose to focus on relates to the Dope Tech Showcase, a technology showcase held in a local makerspace with students and volunteers of color. Our goal is to work collaboratively in determining a process that will make the Dope Tech Showcase cohesive and replicable over an extended period of time. The result would be a showcase guide that the event organizer and/or volunteers could use to smoothly operate their own Dope Tech Showcase.

For more information, please refer to our case study and presentation.

Pushing Against Inequality in Boston with Social Media

Within Massachusetts, inequality is rampant. A symptom of and contributor to that inequality is the prohibitive cost of child care which further perpetuates poor families struggling to both raise children and bring in a livable income. Furthermore, structural barriers prevent young women and mothers in poverty especially those of color, to come out of poverty. Project Hope works to alleviate these systemic challenges by providing programs that work with women to overcome these barriers. In order to best assist Project Hope in their mission, we devised a social media campaign to bring in more caregivers, students, families, and participants into their programs.

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Case Study

Infiltraiting Spaces: Uncovering Hidden Pathways into STEM


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For this project, I worked with 22 youth at the South Boston Clubhouse to design activities that promote constructionism and technological fluency, to be put in a subscription box and paired with an online community. The hope is to create an empowering and encouraging environment for marginalized youth where they feel free to pursue an education/career in STEM. The activities were selected by the youth, with help from the books The Art of Tinkering and Make: Start Making! Additionally, members of the Lifelong Kindergarten research group contributed activity ideas. The subscription box, while still being developed, was intentionally designed to encourage youth to pursue STEM activities – and ultimately a career, no matter the obstacles. From several of my listening methods, I learned that a majority of the youth I worked with didn’t know anyone in their families (or social network) who have a career in STEM, and didn’t know what types of careers were possible with a STEM education. This information shaped the direction of the online community. The online community’s purpose is to give youth a place to explore and ask questions they don’t have the space and opportunity to in their everyday lives, in addition to showcasing their work.

The race, class, and social barriers to constructionism in education for Black (and other marginalized communities) prevents their access to participation in 21st century careers in STEM fields that have the power to radically improve the economic trajectories of their lives. My hope is that with this project, we can find a way to lessen the barriers, diversify STEM fields, and show youth what is possible while also connecting them to opportunities.


Case Study

Project Case Study – Daphne and Hanna

Expanding the Notion of Public Good: A Popular Education WeChat Strategy for Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) Boston

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We are creating educational content for progressive Chinese American community organizations to distribute on WeChat to broaden their base and to counter right-wing Chinese narratives.


The Chinatown Progressive Association (CPA) organizes working-class Chinese/Chinese Americans in Boston around issues of housing and workers rights. Civic action and political education around economic and racial justice are embedded in their organizing model.

Through discussions over the course of March and April with CPA staff, our co-design project landed on the form of educational content expanding the notion of the public good, and on the issue of right-wing organizing on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform that has been utilized extensively by conservative Chinese activists.

To address misinformation spread by right-wing Chinese Americans, there must be a more diverse range of content available on the WeChat platform. We are designing shareable WeChat content that can open up easily within a group chat and that can be integrated into a subscription account post. This collection of images will also be given to CPA in larger file format so that they can also be used as posters. The first topic we chose was data disaggregation, one of the most contested issues on WeChat currently.

Case study and Presentation available on request.

The Griot Museum of Black History and Culture

The Griot Museum of Black History and Culture in St. Louis, MO brings Black history to the light from the shadows, but remains a hidden gem itself. Through codesigning a crowdfunding campaign, The Griots’ fans crafted the public story for a new addition to the museum they love, increasing visibility, funding and a new audience.

See our Final Case Study and Final Presentation here!

Am I Next?: Youth Activism and School Gun Violence Documentary

The official poster for the BMHS/BATV documentary, Am I Next?

The official poster for the BMHS/BATV documentary, Am I Next?

Am I Next? is a short documentary focusing on student opinions and activism in Billerica, MA around the topic of school gun violence.

The goal of the documentary is to provide Billerica’s high school students a space to have their voices heard, advance their knowledge of video production, and explore different viewpoints on gun violence.

Group members of this project performed interviews with Billerica Memorial High School students in group and individual settings as well as researched local and national reactions to school gun violence. Our project collaborators also filmed the BMHS student walkout, researched the history of school gun violence in the U.S., and compiled related social media posts and news footage to enhance the audience’s understanding of the topic. Through this project, we hope to create dialogue between students and community members about how different populations in our society react to gun violence in school settings and how we can move forward to ensure these events don’t continue to occur.

Here are the links to the project slides, the case study, and the extended trailer for the documentary.

The full documentary will be out Fall 2018 and available through Billerica Access Television.

Final presentation

Hi everyone!

Sadly I won’t be in clas on Wednesday — right now I’m in the Balkans, traveling for school and learning about the history of former Yugoslavia. Very interesting stuff.

Here is a link to our case study, though Mallory might still be editting it. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1n57MXsrNwvklRAZA5IOBPJppS5EsI4A5Rq88ecjqNOc/edit?usp=drivesdk

Mallory is also doing the powerpoint presentation, so I don’t have a link for that yet (THANK YOU MALLORY!). I wanted to post something because I’m worried I won’t have internet tomorrow.

A big reflection I’m having is about how do we make transformational change in such a short period of time? I think that our project (hopefully) started to sow the seeds for some ideas for transformational change. I think of transformational change as fundmentally altering the way we think about something, and therefore how we approach problem solving and implementing our ideas for solving the problem. The short term nature of the project reminds me that big changes take a long time to happen. If I want to keep doing co-design inspired work and make transformational change, I might need to re-think what transformational change look like or how I measure whether or not it’s happening…Right now I measure whether or not we changed how we think about things, and therefore changed how we approach problem solving and implementing our problem solving ideas by evaluating whether or not the idea we implement feels risky but is successful. I think my evaluation metric for transformational change is the riskiness of the idea and implementation because I think that something really transformational shouldn’t already exist…and it needs to be successful otherwise it wasn’t a good transofrmational change! But to see this kind of change, it seems impossible without trial and error, which takes time, money, and relationhips built on trust. Iam thinking about how to maximize those three things in a world where sometimes they are limited. And trying to think about whether I need a new definition or evaluation tool for transformational change.

Really excited to hear how the presentations go. i wish I could tune in, but I am 7 hours ahead, so class will be from 2-5am in Croatian time 🙂

Workshop with CPA


On Friday, April 20, we facilitated a workshop at CPA Boston from 5-6 PM. The attendees of the workshop were members of the CPA Steering Committee. There were approximately fifteen people in attendance by 6 PM. Our primary question for the meeting was: How might CPA use Wechat more effectively to influence more Chinese Americans in Boston?

Here is our workshop presentation. Here are our agenda and meeting notes.

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The meeting was held in Mandarin and Cantonese, with some simultaneous interpretation into English. CPA staff and members described their experiences with Wechat. Generally, the Chinese-speakers were more knowledgeable about Wechat and were involved in more private group chats. Mrs. Tang, the most knowledgeable about Chinatown WeChat groups, noted how whenever she disagreed with right-wing opinions in group chats, she would feel attacked. Fiona, the workers center organizer, expressed the need to create much more educational Wechat content to be able to respond to the daily articles by right-wing Chinese. Lydia and Karen, former and current executive directors of CPA, discussed the need for long-term planning for content-creation and gave us feedback for utilizing existing material such as the Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit created by CPA San Francisco.


Through the workshop, we were able to get quick feedback on our Wechat infographic prototype and we were able to crowdsource a list of future content topics and resources to continue making content. We were also able to connect with others in the Chinese American activist community who are organizing a more extensive effort around utilizing Wechat. Our next steps include 1) continuing to create content and to share with our new Wechat group for further feedback, and 2) conducting research on right-wing Chinese WeChat mobilization strategies.

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