This post is part of a Q&A triangle between three offices at MIT: the Global Challenge and IDEAS Competition, 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.
The Center for Future Civic Media creates and deploys technical and social tools that fill the information needs of communities. We are inventors of new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; we are a hub for the study of these technologies; and we coordinate community-based test beds both in the United States and internationally.
CoLab: If you could envision a dream project for the Center for Future Civic Media, what would be the key elements of the project?
Andrew Whitacre (of C4FCM): The elements are pretty easy to define, because we have a mandate from our sponsors at the Knight Foundation: our researchers have to make technology that is open source and that meets the information needs of geographic communities. Or more plainly, we have to create easy-to-use tools that help locals discuss and act on issues affecting them.
Because of that, we can’t imagine a singular dream project but rather a dream suite of projects, one that could be adapted, expanded upon, re-tested, even disproved, rebuilt, and recombined based on the changing needs of citizens.
CoLab: C4 has a meeting every Thursday at 3. Could you give us a feel for what these meetings are like? What really makes a C4 meeting good?
Whitacre: Our Thursday meetings are your best chance to participate (we also have other public events during the semester, but they’re more traditional talks). These meetings are informal, have anywhere from 10 to 25 people, and feature delicious food. They start with researchers giving updates on their work, but then we open the floor for discussion or invite a guest speaker to present. Sometimes the conversation veers into the incredibly geeky, as when we hung out with OpenPlans’ Nick Grossman to show off urban mapping software. Other times, we’re grabbed by the collar and reminded of the often-intense importance of our research–for example, being invited to post leaked footage of street protesters in Moldova and helping timestamp the evidence of the government’s violent response.
Again, the meetings are open, but they don’t happen every single Thursday. Email me at email@example.com and I can add you to our mailing list for updates.
CoLab: What project is a promising example of the future of news?
Whitacre: Here at the Center, it’s all exciting. The future of news is DIY, yet without the cliched antagonism between professionals and amateurs. A shrimp boat captain can hold an oil company accountable by making his own freely available maps of an oil spill. An advocacy organization for Boston’s homeless can help their constituents maintain community ties. A neighborhood can fight for local businesses by proving how much of their money stays local.
But whether here at the Center or elsewhere, the exciting things aren’t about reporting “news” per se–instead it’s about how people are making news possible by providing the raw material in new ways.
Check out the other posts involved in this Q&A triangle, which were / are going to be published between January 6th and 11th: