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Citywide information-sharing

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Notes by Mica Pollock (OneVille PI, 2009-11)

Communication we hoped to improve

Somerville is full of people who actively forward information on youth and family opportunities to one another via email listservs (typically, in English); some host blogs and calendars, or run cable, radio, and newspaper networks. But as one person put it in a public meeting we held to explore the issue of citywide information-sharing, "Right now we have 40 or 50 places to share": lots of information in many places, rather than any single "hub" for ongoing opportunity-sharing related to youth and families.

We found that many people were interested in or working on experimenting with solutions for citywide information-sharing, particularly multilingual, lower-tech solutions to better circulate information and opportunities available for young people and families in the city. We wanted to support such citywide circulation of information but had the capacity just to get started on this piece of the work. We hosted an open brainstorm and supported some production of multilingual tools (e.g., public videos) enabling more youth/families to hear about community resources and events.

Our work, and our ¡Ahas!

In July 2010, we had a meeting of "mediamakers" from Somerville and brainstormed some citywide issues of communicating opportunities and information related to young people.

The conversation was full of great ¡Ahas! about improving communications across a city! Anonymized notes can be found here.

After this brainstorm, group energy was for a community calendaring project of some kind, for event-sharing. So, from there, the OneVille Project attempted to assist community calendaring by supporting the district's communications director to develop the district's calendaring further, since the district was furthest along as a possible "hub" for community calendaring of child- and youth-related activities. (She also had the District using Twitter actively!). In the end, she spiffed up the district's calendar on her own.

To try a new way of circulating public information, we then supported a multilingual video effort by Consuelo Perez at Somerville Community Access Television, sharing out services for young children available at several community organizations. Bilingual staff at the organizations recorded their information in both languages. The editor, Nina Hasin, experimented with ways to mix pictures with translation to bring the information alive. A next idea -- to run the video in public places -- hit up against the idea that there weren't many public screens. Would a paper bulletin board in public places, like in front of Market Basket supermarket, be just as good for sharing information on services available for families?

In 2011, we learned about related civic media projects underway at the Center for Civic Media at MIT (http://civic.mit.edu/). Leo Burd, a friend then at the CCM, then made our hotline for the Parent Connector Network, using his VOIPDrupal software. It's possible that such infrastructure, which supports multilingual info-sharing via voice-messaging, computer, and text, could eventually be useful at a citywide scale. Leo worked on a similar project at a citywide scale in Lawrence [[1]].

CCM has also been trying to make electronic signs outside of businesses in Somerville, sharing bus information. CCM hosted a next conversation about community calendaring in fall 2012.

We also learned of a really exciting example of citywide info-sharing in Brazil, when its creator was in residence in Boston for a bit in 2011: the Catraca Livre effort (http://radarurbano.com.br/opencitylabs/?page_id=25). The Catraca Livre model relies on youth and adult bloggers circulating information on free opportunities in their city via a central hub as well as their individual blogs. We also met Emerson College colleague Eric Gordon, whose Community Plan-It game is being piloted in the Boston Public Schools, engaging community members of all ages in dialogue about school improvement issues (https://communityplanit.org/en-us/).

With five other working groups going, we ran out of capacity and time to further pursue the citywide aspect of "communication infrastructure" work in 2009-11. But we now believe firmly that it's crucial to design citywide info-sharing infrastructure in every city, for sharing opportunities related to youth and families; everywhere we go, we hear about youth and families unaware of what's available (even for free) for supporting young people. We had capacity only to begin citywide work in our pilot phase, but we met a lot of people working on the issue; for example, see the new and growing Somerville Family Learning Collaborative: http://www.somerville.k12.ma.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=17870.

Broader initiatives clarify the importance of such a focus in each community (http://www.knightcomm.org/the-community-information-toolkit-version-1-0/).

Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Tackling Similar Things Where You Live

To ask in any community:

In this community, do most people know about resources, opportunities, and services available for youth and families?
If not, what channels would help them get this information?