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May 18 2011


Video: Civic Media Session, "Civic Disobedience"

(For great detail about the "Civic Disobedience" session, check out moderator Ethan Zuckerman's write-up.)


Watch the full video...

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May 04 2011


Video: Civic Media Session, "Design for Vulnerable Populations"

Designers often want to help people that they perceive as being in need -- whether those affected by natural or human-caused disasters, the economically or physically disadvantaged, or those who are on the losing end of a cultural power dynamic. However, naive attempts to "help" through simplistic techno-centric design can be at best ineffective, and at worst counter-productive.

What can designers do to better connect with the communities and individuals they wish to serve? How can design projects avoid patronizing attitudes and economic colonialization? How can a designer be effective in promoting social change while following their conscience?

This panel brings together designers who have worked in the mental health industry, international development, the prison system, and community environmental action to discuss what has worked and what hasn't, and what approaches designers can take to increase their chances of success.

  • Charlie DeTar (Moderator) Co-founder of Between the Bars, a blogging platform for prisoners. Fellow at the Center for Future Civic Media, and PhD student at the MIT Media Lab.
  • Patricia Deegan Creator of the CommonGround web application which supports shared decision making in psychopharmacology consultation. Adjunct Professor at the Dartmouth College School of Medicine and at Boston University, Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
  • Liz Barry Director of Urban Environment at Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, a collaborative developing inexpensive and community-led means to explore environmental and social issues; Co-founder of TreeKIT, an initiative to collaboratively measure, map, and manage urban forests.
  • Nathan Cooke Born and raised in California, USA, Cooke works at MIT’s D-Lab documenting technologies and working with students on design projects. He has previous experience working for Frog Design in San Francisco and at Autodesk as part of their Sustainability division.


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March 28 2011


Civic Tools Video: "Hero Reports / Crónicas de Héroes"

Lorrie LeJeune describes Hero Reports/Crónicas de Héroes, a project currently deployed in Juárez, Mexico, to help residents report and map incidents of heroism, large and small.


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March 25 2011


Civic Tools Video: "Tool for Consensus-Based Decision Making"

Charlie DeTar walks us through prototype software to aid medium-to-large groups in consensus-based decision making.


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March 13 2011


VoIP Drupal Kicks Off at Drupalcon

Last week I wrote about another project that's come to a boil at the Center for Future Civic Media: VoIP Drupal.

Here is a brief video of Leo Burd lecturing at DrupalCon 2011 on the release of Voip Drupal, a plugin that allow full interaction between Drupal CMS and phones.

VoIP Drupal is a project of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, with key contributions from Civic Actions.

March 12 2011


Junkyard Jumbotron

Rick Borovoy just released the Junkyard Jumbotron project, which allows laptops or phones in close proximity to be ganged together to form a large display.

The Junkyard Jumbotron requires no special software; it is simply a web page that receives real-time updates from our server, allowing scrolling, zooming, and soon video. Like all software at the Center, it is free and open.

Rick developed the project as part of a larger suite of tools that he calls the Brown Bag Toolkit, all oriented around making technology work better with face-to-face interactions, like meetings, canvasing, or chance encounters.

Huge thanks to Paula Aguilera for making the video.

March 04 2011


Office Depot: Using Sourcemap to sell more recycled paper

Congratulations to Center-founded project Sourcemap -- a free way to track and view component parts of consumer goods -- which has just announced its first big get: Office Depot and New Leaf Paper.

As Marc Gunter reported on his blog, Sourcemap will be the tool of choice for Office Depot and New Leaf Paper to visualize the sourcing of their recycled paper:

Beginning later this year, shoppers who buy Office Depot’s 100% Forest Stewardship Council-certified recycled paper will be able to use their mobile phones to read a QR code (a kind of barcode) on the package. They’ll then see a movie, like this one, that traces their paper back to its source. This paper was tracked from the GreenBiz’s State of Green Business Forum 2011 in Washington, D.C., back to the streets of Milwaukee. Please take a look:

February 22 2011


Lost in Boston Finds a New Partner in Hope House

Lost in Boston Real Time turns bookstores and burrito joints into bus stops by delivering the MBTA’s live bus and T data to these value add locations via LED signs. The first few deployments of the project validated the hypothesis: indeed knowing that the CT2 is still ten minutes away is much more valuable while sitting at Anna’s Taqueria with friends than standing alone at the bus stop.

LIB Real Time may be of limited value to all of us with smartphones and bus apps. But imagine you’re not sitting at Anna’s with the bean juice running down your arm as you check your smart phone app; instead you’re a client living at a residential treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction.

Say today is the first day of a new job and you need to find your way there on the bus. You don’t have a bus schedule, never mind a smart phone. You leave for the bus stop hoping that today the cards aren’t stacked against you and the bus is running on time.

This is a reality for many of the 102 individuals living at Hope House in Boston’s South End. When residents are faced with the inevitable delays that come with their daily commutes via public transit, it creates an additional stress in an already challenging time in their lives.

Hope House understands that support and empowerment for their comprehensive community-based treatment program can come from many sources. So when Development Director Susan Bradley heard about Lost In Boston Real Time, she knew it would be a perfect fit for the residents of Hope House. She contacted creator Rick Borovoy last summer:

Dear Lost in Boston team:
Would we be eligible to host a Real Time bus sign? Hope House is a
 non-profit residential rehab center for homeless men. We are located at the
 corner of Melnea Cass Blvd and Hampden Street. We have 102 residents, most of whom depend on public transportation. The #1 bus route is the one we
 would be interested in monitoring.

It turns out that Lost in Boston Real Time is uniquely positioned to support the residents of Hope House. And since partnering with Hope House, they have proven to be an ideal community collaborator: unwearied, bold and candid.

Unwearied: Hope House appreciates that Lost in Boston is a pilot project and is working out some kinks in its initial deployments. Hope House patiently and graciously waited until early November while a more reliable version of the software was developed before the signage and hardware were installed.

Bold: Hope House brings humor and a practical sensibility to the Lost in Boston project. Always willing to roll-up their sleeves, grab a ladder, and push a few buttons on the net book, Hope House takes sign administration in stride.

Candid: Straightforward, honest and direct, Hope House didn’t hesitate to let us know that the residents loved the sign and… when things weren’t working. Hope House also invited us to meet directly with residents -the end-users – facilitating an authentic and valuable feedback loop for the project.

Encouraged by the successful deployment of Lost In Boston Real Time at Hope House, the project is exploring new community partnerships. Upping the ante, this time around we’ll be seeking to build a system of signs within a community that combines real time event and public transportation information. Interested? Please contact Rick Borovoy at borovoy@media.mit.edu or Regan St. Pierre at reganstp@mit.edu here at the Center for Future Civic Media.


Civic Media Session Explores Data in Cities

(Cross-posted at MediaShift Idea Lab)

With a redoubled focus on the community in the civic media community, the Center for Future Civic Media has launched a new speaker series. These relaxed, informal conversations about civic media featured ground-level practitioners, activists, hackers, and local leaders.

The first session, "Bustling with Information: Cities, Code, and Civics," brought good friends Nick Grossman, Nigel Jacob, and Max Ogden to our Cambridge campus. As you can see from the video clips below, these sessions are unique opportunities to talk about the amazing work that goes on in this sphere, intriguingly out of earshot of the debates on the future of journalism.

We think this is a great niche for us: Highlighting the do-it-yourself ethic that's always existed in civic media (not to mention at MIT), separate from concerns about paper vs. iPad, MBA-honed business models, etc. Sessions planned for this spring include discussions of intellectual property collaboration, the implications of check-in/location-sharing technology, how local stories spread worldwide, civic media for vulnerable populations, and civic disobedience.

So stay tuned to Idea Lab and civic.mit.edu for updates and scheduling information.

Meanwhile, check out these clips from last week's civic media session, moderated by Center director Chris Csikszentmihályi, for a taste. And, in the comment section below, let us know what other civic media topics warrant more exploration.

Nick Grossman of OpenPlans, Nigel Jacob of the City of Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Max Ogden of Code for America respond to questions about how civic tools do (or need to) vary from city to city.

Max Ogden of Code for America discusses taking "treasure troves" of government data sets to bring citizens and friends together, describing it as "enhanced serendipity."

February 17 2011


Video: From Cities, Code, and Civics: "Enhanced serendipity"

Max Ogden of Code for America discusses taking "treasure troves" of government datasets to bring citizens and friends together.

From "Cities, Code, and Civics", a Civic Media Session of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.


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Video: From Cities, Code, and Civics, "Customizing tools from city to city?"

Nick Grossman of OpenPlans, Nigel Jacob of the City of Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Max Ogden of Code for America respond to questions about how civic tools do (or need to) vary from city to city.

From "Cities, Code, and Civics", a Civic Media Session of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.


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Video: Civic Media Session, "Bustling with Information: Cities, Code, and Civics"

Nick Grossman, Nigel Jacob, and Max Ogden

Moderator: Center director Chris Csikszentmihályi

Cities are vibrant, complicated organisms. A still-working 200 year old water pipe might rest underground next to a brand new fiber optic cable, and citizens blithely ignore both if they are working well. Cities are constantly rewriting themselves, redeveloping neighborhoods and replacing infrastructure, but deliberative structures like school boards and city council meetings continue to run much the way they have for generations. In what ways can information systems rewrite our understanding of civics, governance, and communication, to solve old problems and create new opportunities in our communities?

Nick Grossman is Director of Civic Works at OpenPlans. He oversees development of new products around smart transportation, open municipal IT infrastructure, participatory planning, and local civic engagement.

Nigel Jacob serves as the Co-Chair of the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, a group within City Hall focused on delivering transformative services to Boston's residents. Nigel also serves as Mayor Menino's advisor on emerging technologies. In both of these roles Nigel works to develop new models of innovation for cities in the 21st century.

Max Ogden is a fellow at Code for America and develops mapping tools and social software aimed at improving civic participation and communication. This year Max is working with Nigel and the Office of New Urban Mechanics to create technologies that better enable education in Boston's Public Schools.

Civic Media Sessions
Hosted by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, these open sessions highlight cutting-edge media research and tools for community and political engagement.


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January 07 2011


Q&A: The MIT Global Challenge

The Center for Future Civic Media has established some great relationships across groups at MIT with overlapping interests. In fact, those groups are wonderful presences at our regular Thursday meetings, teasing us with well-timed eye-rolls when our researchers' geek out five minutes too long about, say, Django libraries or KML data.

Two of these groups--the Community Innovators Lab and the MIT Global Challenge--have helped put together a "Q&A triangle", featuring Alexa Mills of CoLab and Kate Mytty of the IDEAS Competition and the MIT Global Challenge, to help our blogs' readers understand civic and community work through the perspective of our own groups.

First up is Kate. The IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge are an annual invention and entrepreneurship competition that support and encourage innovation in overcoming barriers to well-being in communities around the world. They are powered by the MIT Public Service Center to spur innovation as public service. Teams work in a variety of areas -- water, sanitation, disaster relief, access to health care, education, energy and much more.

1.) What are you most surprised that works well in the Global Challenge? And what are you most surprised doesn’t work as well as you’d think?

Through the MIT Global Challenge site, what suprises me most are the connections that are possible. We’re just in the beginning and a lot of people are offering their and asking for help. That shows the potential of the community. When any platform is started to connect people around a shared purpose you hope and anticipate people will benefit from that platform. Seeing it in practice -- and I was here for very little of the development process -- is powerful.

We’re still in the learning phase and there’s a lot to be gained in the next year by watching how people use the site to push forward their ideas, connect and discover opportunites. The one space I’m hoping takes off more is a lot of community partners (NGOs, MIT alumni and much more) have spent a lot of time defining the gaps they see in their communities -- problems to be solved . I’d love to see a time come when “problems” and “solvers” will meet with more speed and urgency.

2.) What circumstances are conducive to good competitions?

Ask me again in a year and I’ll be better prepared to answer (I’ve been doing this for six months now). My gut response says, at least for our competition, a shared purpose, a sense of urgency, a community of support and development for the teams entering the competition, enough money to make it worth their while, and probably an ethos of celebration. There are a lot of incredible ideas out there -- in any competition -- and sometimes, by the nature a competition, those ideas are lost and the winners are celebrated. I see it as important to celebrate the work that goes into entering the competition and then join together as a community to support furthering the efforts of ongoing teams and projects.

3.) How would you describe the process of getting sponsorship and the ongoing role of sponsors?

Great question. We have a set of sponsors -- organizations and individuals -- that are passionate about innovation, entpreneuership, and public service. Two of the key sponsors I point out are Monster Worldwide and the Yunus Challenge supported by supported by MIT alumnus Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel (who also supports J-PAL and IDI ). With their sponsorship, they support innovation in certain areas -- for Monster this year, it’s around information technologies for empowering migrant workers and the Yunus Challenge, it’s innovation in agricultural processes. Giles Phillips, the MIT alum, we work with through Monster is involved every step of the way and is every bit as invested as we are. That’s a key strength and there’s room for other sponsors to come on board and support innovation in other broad areas -- whether mobiles, disaster relief, entrepreneurship or what have you.

- - - - - -

This post is part of a Q&A triangle between three offices at MIT: the IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge, the Center for Future Civic Media (C4FCM), and the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab). Each office asked three questions of the other two offices, generating six blog posts. Check out the other posts, which will be published between January 6th and 11th, if you’re interested:

• CoLab interviews C4FCM • C4FCM interviews IDEAS • IDEAS interviews CoLab
CoLab interviews IDEASIDEAS interviews C4FCM • C4FCM interviews CoLab

January 05 2011


Konbit: Connecting orgs in Haiti to Haitian labor, whether online, offline, literate, illiterate...

One of the intriguing developments following the earthquake in Haiti a year ago was NGOs' coming to terms with the fact that their dependance on technology allowed them to overlook local labor. Konbit, a remarkable project developed by Media Lab students, took this to heart.

After the earthquake, many new NGOs arrived to help, yet only the established ones had reliable access to a key labor resource: speakers of Haitian Creole.

So despite being surrounded by countless Creole speakers, the NGOs flew translators in, at high cost.

The Media Lab's Greg Elliot and Aaron Zinman developed Konbit in response. Konbit allows any local with a mobile phone to call a number and record a narrative of their skills--Creole, midwifery, whatever the skills may be. That short narrative is then translated by volunteers, and NGOs can search those translations for the workers they need.

Earlier today, Public Radio International reported on Konbit:

You can dial into Konbit from anywhere in Haiti, courtesy of local cell provider Digicel. You are then greeted by what’s probably a familiar voice, at least if you’re Haitian. The team got veteran broadcaster Bob Lemoine to record the voice prompts.

“His voice is great,” says Zinman. “It was good to have a voice that Haitians would trust.”

After a brief welcome message, Konbit then leads you through a series of those all too familiar voice prompts, asking if you have certain kinds of work experience.

Engineering, leadership and nursing are Konbit categories. So, too, are babysitting and sewing. When you find an area where you have expertise, you can leave a detailed voice mail message highlighting your skills.

“We wanted to figure out how we could help people tell stories about their lives,” Eliot says.

PRI reports that Konbit has been running in beta for just two weeks but has already handled 500 calls.

Center for Future Civic Media director Chris Csikszentmihályi served as one of Konbit's collaborators

December 16 2010


Internship opportunity with Grassroots Jerusalem

Grassroots Jerusalem co-director Micha Kurz sends word of his team's internship opportunity in new media, with a goal of creating four interactive maps this summer--of streets and housing in Jerusalem, of schools and health statistics, of local stories (using multimedia), and of grassroots organizations and other local resources.

Interested? Check out the full description:

Grassroots Jerusalem – MIT New Media Internship Application 2011

Organizational profile:
Grassroots Jerusalem sets out to provide an “Evolving Map” of the current grassroots activities and organizations working in the Jerusalem area. We provide a picture of what is currently happening on the ground, the pending urgent issues, the local solutions and where support is needed to further the work.

Grassroots Jerusalem does not discriminate between Israeli or Palestinian initiatives, nor does it categorize according to religion or political affiliation (although they may be mentioned). We believe that everyone is entitled to their piece of the puzzle, and their own opinion. What interests us is what is being done, not what is being said.

Grassroots activists recognize that despite the many cultural differences, and contrast of political opinions, we still have much in common. Human rights, justice, nonviolent communication, social and environmental sustainability are just a few of the values we share. Grassroots organizations have a connection and knowledge of Jerusalem from the “bottom up”. These provide the fertile ground on which to build relationships. We recognize the impracticality of true peace, so long as our mainstream societies fail to address the urgent community issues that are often neglected by top-down approaches.

The goal is not to push certain political agendas, or create umbrella organizations and coalitions. Our goal is:

  • To shed light and realize the vast network of some (very special) everyday people, stepping up and finding creative solutions for age old “unsolvable” challenges.
  • To help each other grow and evolve. To be more efficient in our separate goals, and more effective in our collective outcome.

With a clear view of our resources: people, funding, professional consult, global outreach, original ideas, inspiration and spirit, we recognize ourselves for what we are, and realize the true potential we can only reach together. Together we take steps towards creating an organic, grassroots strategy geared for the reality we wish to share.

Job Description

Background: Grassroots Jerusalem has been working on a community needs assessment and organizational profiling project designed to inform the organization’s overarching objective of creating an interactive map of Jerusalem that reflects community values, rather than top-down views. The new media intern will work as part of a team on producing the online interactive maps based on the field work done in the communities. The goal is to create four interactive maps:

  • an accurate street and housing map of Jerusalem;
  • a rich data map with information such as the number schools, health statistics, etc.
  • an unconventional interactive map that uses multimedia to tell personal stories of people in the communities that reflect larger issues; and
  • a map of grassroots organizations working in Jerusalem to address community needs (with links to individual organizational profiles).

The new media intern’s role will focus on the technical aspects of creating these maps. This may include flash or HTML5 programming, graphic design, audio/video editing, etc. This is a great opportunity for someone who is tech-savvy, knowledgeable and interested in open source tools and new media possibilities with community development and social change in mind.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem interns will undergo an orientation designed to not only introduce them to the layout of the city and the technologies essential to the project, but will also provide tools to deal with and better understand the dynamics and challenges that exist for international students working in a conflict area.


  • Work closely with the Grassroots Jerusalem new media journalist to:

  • extract themes, narratives and issues from community meetings and needs assessments and organizational profiles

  • brainstorm ways to present this information using the online digital platform in an engaging, effective and accessible manner that reflect the community’s views and values
  • work from concept to creation of the digital maps (with a focus on the technical side of things – programming, editing, graphic design, etc.)
  • participate in community events and relationship-building as part of the research necessary for creating the story-telling map
  • ●●

  • Assist Grassroots Jerusalem staff in uploading multimedia content and data to the website using Ushahidi or other online tools
  • Address and troubleshoot technical issues as they arise
  • Assist Grassroots Jerusalem where needed, as directed and requested (i.e. producing photographic and video materials)
  • Person Specification: The successful candidate will have:

    • A minimum of 2 months experience living/working in a developing world environment
    • A passion for international development, community organization and human rights
    • Proven web programming skills for interactive projects using tools such as HTML5 or Flash
    • Strong knowledge of open source tools
    • A proven ability to work independently with minimal supervision
    • Excellent communication skills and ability to work in a team

    Commitment: Interns will need to be in Jerusalem and ready to begin work on June 12th and will need to be available until August 12th. Interns are welcome to stay longer, but need to be aware of the orientation week as it is a required component to this summer’s work.

    As this is an intern position there is no salary, but the Grassroots Jerusalem staff is committed to helping their interns take advantage of the variety of funding they qualify for through their educational institutions as well as providing form letters geared to help interns reach out to their friends, family and local organizations for financial support.

    How to apply: Please email the following items to intern@grassrootsjerusalem.org

    • Resume and cover letter (max 2 pages)
    • On a separate page please answer the following questions to the best of your ability:


    1. Please describe the extent of your international experience and how you believe this experience will contribute to your feeling prepared to live in Jerusalem this summer.


  • What types of experience have you had working in a team on a common objective? What do you enjoy about working in this manner? What did you find most challenging?
  • ●●

  • What do you believe makes you an excellent candidate for this internship opportunity?
  • ●●

  • What kind of support do you require of the Grassroots Jerusalem staff in order to feel you will be able to work the most effectively this summer?
  • ●●

    Due to the high volume of applications only selected applicants will be contacted.

    December 06 2010


    UN Global Pulse Camp 1.0

    (Photo credit: Christopher Fabian of UNICEF & Global Pulse)

    Just got back from the UN "Pulse Camp 1.0".

    Global Pulse is a new and quite ambitious UN initiative "to improve evidence-based decision-making and close the information gap between the onset of a global crisis and the availability of actionable information to protect the vulnerable" (Full overview at http://www.unglobalpulse.org/about).

    read more

    December 01 2010


    Huge video leak of 2009 Moldovan protests and state violence

    [View one of the videos.]

    In April 2009, following an election widely viewed as rigged, protests erupted in Moldova.

    But closed-circuit video footage of the protests and subsequent violence has been leaked, and the Center for Future Civic Media was approached by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism to make available those 16 hours of footage, now available at dickgregoryforpresident.com.

    President Vladimir Voronin and the communist regime reacted violently to the protests, suspending the constitution starting with that night. The results: at least three dead youth, almost one thousand young people illegally arrested and tortured, over one thousand days of arrests issued, a president and prime-minister threatening to shoot the protesters and ordering the sequestration of students in schools.


    More than a year and a half after, nobody knows the names of people responsible for the abuses committed during those days.

    The site the Center put together allows users to code video content, such as the license plate of an unmarked secret police car...

    jeep-ul care a adunat tineri din piata, se vede numarul (MAI 0699) - min 4.38 sau Set Time 278.39898681640625

    ...or requests for help identifying a group of men:

    cine-s baietii astia, pe la min 4.30? baga 278.9989929199219 si apasa Set Time

    Already we've heard of requests to use the footage in court cases alleging that state agents killed protestors. Overcoming the technical challenges of sharing such a volume video is almost reward enough, but to help hold accountable those who would misuse state power, that, in large part, is what civic media is here for.

    June 25 2010


    FNCM conference plenary videos now available

    Please to enjoy the visual fruits of last week's Future of News and Civic Media conference plenaries. Below--available for viewing, downloading, and reusing--are the three plenary videos...

    Announcement of the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners

    Available for download at MIT TechTV.

    "Crowd Building" with Gabriella Coleman and Karim Lakhani

    Available for download at MIT TechTV.

    "Data into Action" with Nick Grossman, Ellen Miller, and Laurel Ruma

    Available for download at MIT TechTV.

    C4FCM demo videos will be available early next week.

    June 17 2010


    April 01 2010


    At PBS IdeaLab: "Sourcemap Makes Data Visualizations Transparent"

    The latest C4FCM post from the Idea Lab blog:

    While pitched as a way to create and visualize "open supply chains," Sourcemap's real virtue is that the data itself is fully sourced. Like the links at the bottom of a Wikipedia article and the accompanying edit history, you know exactly who added the data and where that data came from. You can take that data and make counter-visualizations if you feel the data isn't correctly represented. Sourcemap's very structure acknowledges that visualization is an editorial process and gives others a chance to work with the original data. For example, here's an example of a Sourcemap for an Ikea bed:

    Read the rest at PBS MediaShift Idea Lab: "Sourcemap Makes Data Visualizations Transparent"

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