James Vorderbruggen and Edward Burnell
Through a year of co-learning, Ujima and Mass Mesh will organize a community-owned wireless mesh network in Roxbury and Dorchester to provide home broadband access.Continue reading
inPUBLIC is a festival to reclaim public spaces throughout Boston.
inPUBLIC is a 3-day festival in September that will take across public sites in Upham’s Corner and downtown Boston. The purpose of this festival is to activate spaces for public-making – where familiar and unfamiliar people can come together to engage with familiar and unfamiliar activities. Through forms of verbal discourse, such as panels and discussions, as well as other forms of discourse, such as art-making, play, and food, we hope to spark new ideas, conversations about difficult issues, and a stronger sense of a right to the city and its public-in-theory spaces.
Planning a multi-site, multi-day festival requires a lot of thinking on spatial, temporal, and material factors. Within each site, the festival also requires thinking on how the energies of different activities and visual pieces will intersect — what kind of atmosphere will the festival create at different points in time? Given that many factors can change throughout the stages of planning this festival, we wanted to create something that could be used modularly throughout the planning process. As a result, we created a Festival Planning Toolkit that addresses 3 aspects of the planning process: figuring out the spatial layout of the activities at each site, creating a timeline for when different activities will take place, and understanding the logistical needs and impact of each activity.
The Hacking the Archives project is an ongoing collaboration between MIT students, MIT faculty, and several community partner organizations. Its aim is twofold. The first goal is to co-design a hackathon bringing these organizations together with each other, with archivists, with MIT affiliates, and with local youths and community members. This hackathon took place in May 2019. The second goal, currently in progress, is to continue several of those projects over the summer in engagement with local youth. This paper represents a case study from the perspective of two co-designers, Annie Wang and Ben Silverman, reflecting on the background and process of putting together the Hacking the Archives hackathon, primarily through their collaboration with the community organization METCO, Inc.
Link to case study: Here
Link to slide deck: Here
We met with METCO representatives Colin and Milly at their headquarters in Roxbury on April 8. During the meeting, we discussed their hack needs for the Hacking the Archives event and shared with them what we had planned for the hack itself. As projects pitched and developed at Hacking the Archives will extend into the summer, we wanted to learn what METCO had planned for the long term.
The Roxbury location is right off the MBTA Orange Line, a few blocks away from the Jackson Square stop. METCO’s headquarters are housed above the Mass Rehab Commission’s Roxbury office in an old New England building with creaky wooden floors and well-worn couches in its hallways. A small dog and a receptionist greet us at the METCO entrance on the second floor; the receptionist mentions attending the Data 4 Black Lives conference and asks if we are affiliated. We explain that we are not and take time to investigate some of METCO’s informational materials on the wall, including a timeline of their history.
Colin arrives and we are led into a small conference room, slightly chilly and sporting a freshly-cleaned wooden table. He welcomes us to what he calls “our little hideaway” as he plugs in a space heater, informing us that it may blow a fuse, but the heater does not turn on. We begin discussing the hackathon idea and our general plans, sharing the product of the pit crew organization so far. We then ask about their needs and desired outcomes in designing and programming the hackathon.
Our key takeaways from this conversation are as follows:
1. METCO’s long term goal is to “create a ‘reciprocal busing’ program” (though Colin stresses that this is not official terminology). METCO currently has over 3,000 students who are bused from Boston into the suburbs, where they learn about suburban histories, cultures, and other ways of knowing and being. They believe that the suburban schools and communities should make an equal effort in learning about Boston through these students. Students from Boston should be able to present their respective histories through their own voices and research, producing stories that they can feel proud of and have ownership over.
2. METCO would like to use the hack opportunity to begin collecting stories and places that correspond with the history of METCO, preferably tying into the social and activist histories of each respective neighborhood. They have expressed their hopes that METCO “should be just one part of a larger social justice story.” Ultimately, this project should lead to a sustainable program that can be refreshed and renewed year after year.
3. Their target audience is suburban classmates and teachers unfamiliar with the histories of Boston-area students. They wish to accomplish the following through their project:
– Make visible the unknown history of desegregation in Boston
– Dispel suburban myths about what Boston is like
– Provide suburban residents with an engaging way of learning about Boston and its people
They plan to work with primary historical materials and will likely be bringing yearbooks, handbooks, fliers, and other sources to the hack. They also hope to bring in high school students currently participating in the busing programs as participants in the hack, as they will take over and lead development of the project over the summer.
As per METCO’s feedback from this meeting, we plan to address the following:
- We will be assisting METCO by researching and bringing more primary sources to the hackathon. In addition, we will center the activities for the hackathon around their goals to produce a tour/street guide to Boston.
- As METCO hopes to bring in Boston-area high schoolers, we want to make sure that they have equal stake in the project. As a result, we have reached out to see if METCO can arrange a meeting with us including one or more of their students.
In this post, I will be reviewing the Hack for Inclusion event at MIT through the lens of design justice principles. This hackathon happened in late February of 2019 in the MIT Media Lab space and focused on “finding innovative solutions for important, difficult, and messy problems related to creating a culture of inclusion in a complex, globally diverse world.”
While I have participated in hackathons before, I found Hack for Inclusion’s structure to be unique. As opposed to on-site organization of teams, the HfI organizers asked for participant information beforehand and organized us into teams based on skill and/or interest. As such, each team was diversely composed of developers, engineers, designers, educators, and other skilled persons. Although I can absolutely see the advantages in crafting teams before the event, I wonder if this impacted the limited number of challenges posed by the organizers. Almost all of the challenges were sponsored by different companies, nonprofits, or advocacy groups, and as such each group began with a different level of available resources. The challenge my group was given, “Society Reentry from Incarceration,” had representative subject matter experts but did not have a sponsor.
The hack was organized as follows on the first day. All teams followed the same schedule, as is listed here. The following day was devoted to building, testing, and judging.
(A disclaimer: we were given the option of listing our favorite challenges before the hack, and “Society Reentry from Incarceration” was not on my list if only because I have little to no preexisting knowledge on the topic. As such, I was surprised when I received this challenge and often found myself confused over the course of the hackathon.)
Design Justice Strengths
- Design as empowerment (to some degree). As previously stated, the hackathon’s organization was unique in that we were sorted to different groups before the event. This allowed us some time to get acquainted with the topic, potentially connect to other group members, and do some background research.
- Understanding of what is already working at the community level. We had some experts on post-incarceration programs who offered their experiences working with newly freed persons or knew of accurate secondhand accounts of programs that were effective for our target audience. Ultimately, this informed the final design of our project – rather than building something entirely knew, we decided to consolidate what already existed and make it easily accessible to those who need it.
Design Justice Opportunities to Improve
- Lack of community-controlled outcomes. Our group was made up of developers, nonprofit workers, and graduate/undergraduate students. The people who would be most impacted by our work were entirely absent, so we had to rely on secondhand testimonies on the internet to design our experiences.
- Lack of voices who would be most directly impacted by our design. As previously stated, we had no former incarcerated people who we could contact and interview, or otherwise involve in the project. We did spend some time interviewing a prison warden, but I am all too aware that their experiences are entirely different from what a prisoner would face.
- Lack of accountability. After the project was said and done, there were a few emails sent out by the organizers asking us to send materials or offer feedback. Otherwise, there was no other “push” for us to continue the project.
- Lack of expertise. This may have only reflected my experience in the hack, but I did not feel like everyone was treated as an equal expert throughout the process. Our group was unusually massive – 10 people – and it was primarily 2 or 3 people experienced in post-incarceration programs who dominated the conversation. I found myself unable to speak up or contribute much throughout the event because of my sheer lack of knowledge.
Looking back, I suspect that the hackathon organizers were particularly careless with putting together my team. Of the 10 people present on the first day, only 2 people came the second day to continue working on the project. It seemed that they decided to group together everyone who could only come for the first day, which is a strange decision on their part.
While I enjoyed the experience overall, I sense that there was far more that a hackathon that labeled itself as fostering inclusion could do. More than anything, it could promote an inclusive design environment where all feel included, and where all members of the hacking community have equal access to resources.
Context, Outputs of listening methods
Existing web platform
The current website platform uses a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) visual editor. That makes it very user friendly for the staff, while limiting layout options, interaction possibilities, etc. It also includes features to schedule, make plans, and other procedural tasks common in the education sector. It also includes a built-in form creator, and response collection platform.
Existing success stories
Existing documented success stories have been collected largely for the purposes of annual reports. There are a few in the form of a paragraph-long third-person narrative and picture of someone who went through a program, alongside some statistics about that program as a whole. Others are a page long with an accompanying photo. These stories are all in English, and are not shared out with the community in a systematic way.
Examples from other community organizations
I looked at three organizations’ online presence to get an idea of how other organizations serving a Spanish- and English-speaking population share their work online. There were some useful ideas, but nothing that addressed the challenges in an ideal way. I might need to ask more people for resources/models to take inspiration from.
A Pew survey of US Latino news media sources suggests that using online methods might be a good way of reaching Millenials and Gen X Latino populations, with a lower share of Baby Boomers (though still a significant amount). That same survey also suggests that we should put materials online in Spanish to reach a foreign-born population, which community partners noted in observations of response when material is put online in Spanish.
current work process
The current process to collect success stories is pretty involved. It involves connecting with clients via program staff, interviewing the clients, asking for a photo submission, and writing it up to varying lengths for use in materials like an annual report.
Highest priority personas
In thinking about this design project, it is helpful to think about a few key personas that we can imagine interacting with our design in some way. For this design, we are focusing on communications staff, Spanish-speaking clients, and funders.
One key challenge is that templates, workflows, solutions must be able to stand on their own. Ideally they won’t even require new accounts for free online services. Money, time, and energy are all valuable resources and the best effort needs to be made to conserve time and energy in a project without a budget.
I have a sense of a tension between wanting to give funders a clearer idea of what Instituto does, as well as giving local community members a better idea of what Instituto does. The messages we would want to send to both groups come from the same place, but might need to emphasize different things or take different forms. I think a significant challenge will be coming up with a process that can either speak to both at the same time, or easily enough lead to multiple outputs from the same source material.
- Talk with other people doing communications work within my networks.
- Create lo-fi prototypes for more concrete feedback from others at Instituto. None of the items mentioned above takes that much effort for me to produce an unpolished version with existing materials or placeholder text/media.
Questions for the class
- Have you seen any community organizations taking a bilingual approach to online communication, which could serve as a model?
- Do you have any ideas about how to make this process/outputs more relevant to educational programs and participants themselves?
- I feel like I’m a little too limited in my thinking right now. What are some wild ideas you have about this communication topic, without any regard to feasibility? I could use some out-there inspiration.
The Festival or Counter Atmospheres is a 4-day event in June that will take across three public sites in Boston: Upham’s Corner, Downtown Crossing, and Copley Square. The purpose of this festival is to activate spaces for public-making – where familiar and unfamiliar people can come together to engage with familiar and unfamiliar activities. Through forms of verbal discourse, such as panels and discussions, as well as other forms of discourse, such as art-making, play, and food, we hope to spark new ideas, conversations about difficult issues, and a stronger sense of a right to the city and its public-in-theory spaces.
In order to collect, preserve, and share the experiences and lessons of past generations of Boston-area activists, and in order to engage the public with grounded, accessible, and inclusive archival histories of activism, we are proposing the creation of a hackathon where organizations, youth groups, scholars, and individuals will come together to develop projects to create a new “activist archive” that link together the multiple struggles of the 1960s with their growing contemporary political relevance. We will be bringing together six Boston-area organizations and working alongside their representatives to develop their pitch projects at the hackathon, taking place in May. Eventually, projects begun at the hackathon will be led and developed by youth over the summer to be used and displayed within the community.
Design brief: Here
Slide deck: Here