Participatory Politics

What Comes After Election Monitoring? Citizen Monitoring of Infrastructure

Monday, April 29, 2013 Comment black man speaking into bull horn at rally

I was recently in Senegal at a board meeting for Open Society Foundation, meeting organizations the foundation supports around the continent. Two projects in particular stuck in my mind. One is Y’en a Marre (“Fed Up”), a Senegalese activist organization led by hiphop artists and journalists, who worked to register voters and oust long-time president Abdoulaye Wade. (I wrote about them last week here, and on Wikipedia). The other is a project run by Open Society Foundation West Africa – OSIWA – with support from partners in Senegal, Liberia, Nigeria and the UK. It’s an election


In Praise of Peer to Peer Connectivity: Technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci

Monday, March 25, 2013 Comment woman giving presentation at ars electronica 2011

Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist who uses, as well as studies, social media, offers a refreshingly rigorous and empirically-scaffolded perspective amid the frenzy of armchair social science regarding the impact of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and other participatory media. Too often, public discourse about the influence of social media, both positive and negative, devolves into a Manichaean rhetoric of utopia-or-apocalypse. While strong points of view from all quarters are necessary when new technologies are debated in the public sphere, Tufekci captured my attention by her combination of empirical scholarship, ability to tackle nuanced explanations in straightforward prose,


Re-Designing Learning For Democracy

Thursday, March 14, 2013 Comment john dewey quote democracy must be born anew within each new generation

Ann Pendleton-Jullian, the architect and educational redesigner, notes that:  “Design has the capacity to shape contexts as frames for things to happen.”  My excitement at being part of the connected learning movement and the Digital Media and Learning initiative sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is that, together, thousands of us are thinking and working and making in order to design new ecosystems for learning in which the democratic, egalitarian, and innovative can thrive and flourish. If you think you hear a critique of the status quo in that sentence, you are


DML Conference 2013: Democratic Futures

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 Comment people sitting on outdoor steps during black lives matter rally with fists in the air

President Barack Obama recently ended his post-State of the Union tour in his adopted hometown of Chicago. Roughly two weeks earlier a group of young Chicago residents started an online petition at Change.org urging the president to visit and directly address the city’s gun violence crisis. While a strikingly high number of gun related deaths were the catalyst for the petition, the architects of the campaign made a plea to the president to address the larger social, educational, and economic hardships facing the city’s Black and Latino youth population. Specifically, the petition encouraged the president to


Community Innovation Lab: Mashups of Youth, Activists, Technologists, Policymakers

Monday, December 17, 2012 Comment what is upham's corner poster on side of building

If you seek examples of civic engagement by young people, look no further than the Community Innovation Lab, a mashup of Harvard students and faculty, the city of Boston, and established neighborhood associations. The core of this town-gown-local government hybrid is a course jointly taught by Harvard Graduate School of Design professor Michael Hooper and Harvard Kennedy School professor Susan Crawford. The Lab is the activist portion of the course, which also includes weekly seminars taught separately by each professor. Crawford’s syllabus on ”Solving Problems Using Technology” and Hooper’s syllabus on “Advanced Workshop in Participatory Urban


What Ancient Greek Rhetoric Might Teach Us About New Civics

Thursday, November 29, 2012 Comment picture of old new greece city skyline

A great deal of our conversation lately has focused on getting governments to open up their data and to share what they know with the general public. We are beginning to see a larger trend emerge -– much of the thinking of the power of technology to transform societies, especially societies in the developing world, focuses on government transparency. I think this focus is deeply important, but I also think it’s an incomplete way to understand the space of technology and social change. We need to understand not just governments and transparency, but the rights and


Gaming the System

Thursday, November 08, 2012 Comment shadow of man working at computer

Before the presidential election took place this week, many teachers used attention to the political drama unfolding across the nation as a way to draw students into classroom discussions and assignments.  Lesson plans that focus on elections have been around for decades to promote civic education and other learning goals.  However, the idea that video games are a way to promote civic engagement and an understanding of democratic systems is a newer idea, although role-playing activities and strategic games around mock elections have long been used in K-12 classes about government.  And, as Joseph Kahne pointed


Understanding Digital Civics

Monday, September 03, 2012 Comment group of students working on their laptops individually

Last week, I gave a lecture titled “The Emergence of Digital Civics” at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. I was in South Australia to give another lecture, a joint lecture with Dr. Genevieve Bell of Intel in memory of her friend James Tizard. I hope to write up the talks Genevieve and I gave, but since I had detailed notes for my civics lecture, I’ve worked them into a blog post. In Kansas City, a young man named Jase Wilson is trying to build a trolley system. Kansas City applied to the US department of transportation


How Do We Make Civic Crowdfunding Awesome?

Monday, August 13, 2012 Comment thousands of hands in the air

Ten people each contribute $100 a month into a pool. They meet once a month and discuss possible projects to support. Each month, they give a grant of $1000 to a project that meets a simple criterion: it’s awesome. That’s the logic behind the Awesome Foundation, founded by Tim Hwang and friends, brilliantly built and managed by Christia Xu. Awesome Foundation now has 50 chapters in 10 countries and has given 252 grants, sponsoring awesome projects like Float, which attaches air pollution sensors to kites to report on air quality, and Free the Billboards, which invites


Learning from Kony 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012 Comment large group of student at science fair

In March of this year, as I taught my winter lecture class that focuses on Public Rhetoric and Practical Communication Online, I began to receive urgent e-mails from students about a viral video produced by a group called Invisible Children, which my undergraduates implored me to watch.  A number of the messages came with warnings that it would require thirty minutes of my time and attention.  A typical cautionary message read as follows: “you should really watch the whole thing in one go, so set up a good chunk of time.” So I made sure to