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Civic media as a tool for place-based community building & organizing

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This session stems from a gathering of a few folks from the urban studies & planning arena at MIT (and branched out to other C4 folks) who are excited to share how we've been implementing digital storytelling/ interpretive history / participatory media for community building in various non-profit and university-community based initiatives including:

  • MIT@Lawrene's Story documentary ([1]) and SIMILE timeline adaptation for "collective" historical storytelling ([2])
  • Snapshot Framingham photo hunt for network building [(])
  • Mapping the Food Environment in Springfield's North End ([3])
  • MIT@Lawrence StoryMill at Union Crossing- 3 proposed mechanisms for storytelling to build community around a space (
  • Community Innovator's Lab "democratic" storytelling technique and community voices (
  • Ceasar McDowell's dropping knowledge project (
  • E-Democracy.Org
  • PlaceBlogger / H20Town


  • how to collect individual stories in a larger narrative; how to represent a diversity of voices with one piece
  • how to "sell" old school community organizers/builders on using new participatory tools
  • advantages of power building by making media WITH people instead of FOR people
  • how to train youth and adults on the ground in communities to make their own media as a tool for community development and leadership building
  • aligning existing network or community organizing techniques with new media tools for sustained, genuine use by community members
  • using new media as tools for reflective practice and institutional memory building

Tools used:

  • Google Maps
  • Wordpress
  • SIMILE Timeline


  • Alexa Mills, Community Innovator's Lab
  • Ceasar McDowell, MIT DUSP and dropping knowledge
  • Linda Ciesielski, Sung Kim, and more - Students in the MIT@Lawrence practicum
  • Danielle Martin, MIT@Lawrence
  • Steven Clift, E-Democracy.Org
  • Lisa Williams, PlaceBlogger / H20Town
  • and anyone else who wants to join us!

More on the example projects that will be discussed:


This is essentially what we do with E-Democracy.Org's local Issues Forums at the neighborhood level. We are plotting our next generation technology needs and we are very interested in building interest in local generation of multimedia content.

Some context:

  • Outreach into immigrant neighborhoods - the power of paper sign-up

forms for local online activity:

  • A low income Native American majority community finding its voice:

  • Government holding an online public input session on a neighborhood

forum instead of creating their own destination with little use:

  • Organizing "rural voices" with social media unconference:

  • How we simply share photos - the question is how to get everyday

people to make this a habit:

  • We currently use an open source Google Group like tool called

GroupServer - key lesson equitable e-mail and web publishing means we have double the participation with 15%+ of registered users posting at least once a month compared to these stats: I am interested in what technology tools are coming out of MIT that might be game changers with local communities online down the road or how to get citizen media folks to actually share usable code not just use open source.

  • In general, we are finding that folks are more likely to move from

talk to action at the very very local level. Therefore, to move the field we are interested in supporting/improving sites like MySociety.Org's to make the thousands of unknown "local up" online efforts discoverable from global/national promotional efforts.