Class Week 10: CoLab and project presentations

This week Dayna Cunningham, Executive Director of MIT CoLab, came to speak to the class about the group’s work and 25-year history.

Among several examples, she described how CoLab is supporting waste pickers living on islands off Nicaragua to improve their economic prospects and explained the Shared Wealth project in the Bronx.

Dayna explained that the organization’s goal – and that of Participatory Action Research – is to identify problems collaboratively. It has an explicit social justice orientation: to change the world, make it better and to improve democracy. As groups of citizens are identifying important problems and figuring out how to address them, the mission of groups like CoLab is to support them.

That’s not the same as consensus building. Dayna said CoLab’s approach is an alternative to Habermas’ idea that it’s possible to create a set of rules and processes that produce authentic agreement.

“That’s a noble ideal, but my perspective is that democracy is never finished and it’s necessary to constantly interrogate contradictions, appearances of agreement where disagreement exists.”

“Democracy is not about stabilizing in a place where we’re all happy.  It’s about having conversations that surface disagreements and moving in a productive, generative way forward from problem identification,” she said.

You can read the live notes of Dayna’s talk here.

In the second half of the class the groups gave their mid-term project presentations:

City Life / Vida Urbana