What if we approach a design project not with the intention of fixing a problem, but supporting the people who want to tackle it? What if, as designers, we take to heart our role as conveners, creating systems that bring the experts in a problem space together to take on a shared challenge?
From 2017-2018, I worked as a researcher at the Emerson College Engagement Lab on a project that examined how legacy institutions and grassroots organizations are using media to convene people around shared interests and challenges. With generous support from the MacArthur Foundation, I visited with activists, educators, and designers in Boston, Chicago, and Oakland innovating and deploying civic media practice.
In the introduction to the edited collection Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice, Gordon and Mihailidis define civic media as “any mediated practice that enables a community to imagine themselves as being connected, not through achieving, but through striving for common good” (2016: 2). The report I published with Eric Gordon at the Engagement Lab outlines four key strategies that highlight how people design media systems that successfully bring people together. The report also offers metrics that help articulate and measure what a successful civic media project looks like. As we highlight in the report, civic media projects should strive toward creating social infrastructure in a problem space, where social infrastructure is defined as that which creates the long term social support systems and institutions that people can leverage around tackling shared challenges.
Since the publication of the report, the metrics have been used by a host of community journalism organizations across the United States, Europe, and the U.K. as a means to understanding the trajectory of their mission. A white paper of how this helped the organizations was recently released by the University of Oregon.