Affording the ‘Right to Research’: Doing Critical PAR with Open Source Technologies

Today I’m participating in a panel and facilitating a workshop with the Public Science Project at Rutgers University’s Representing the City: Technology, Action, and Change.

More info on the symposium from the The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University:

Date: October 19th, 2012
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Location: Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy is pleased to announce Representing the City: Technology, Action, and Change, a day-long symposium exploring the possibilities and challenges of information technology in democratic planning practice for social justice.

The symposium features a morning panel of five organizations that utilize digital data technologies as a catalyst for urban community engagement, a keynote lunch, and a series of afternoon workshops that will expose participants to new technologies and tools for social change. Opportunities for dialogue, debate, and discussion will be available throughout the day.

Symposium Schedule:
10:00-12:00 Panel discussion (EJB Special Events Forum)
12:00-2:00 Lunch and keynote speaker (EJB room 369)
2:00-4:00 Workshops (various EJB classrooms)
4:00-5:00 Optional participant reflection and discussion (EJB Special Events Forum)

Participating organizations:
Center for Urban Pedagogy: The Center for Urban Pedagogy is a NYC-based nonprofit that uses design and art to demystify the urban planning and public policy process in order to improve civic engagement and contribute positively to urban communities.

Detroit Digital Justice Coalition: DDJC works to bring digital access to low-income/marginalized communities in Detroit, Michigan. The organization is based on principles of access, participation, common ownership, and community health.  Their work centers around ensuring that all community members have equal access to media and technology, as producers and consumers, that non-English speaking members are able to communicate as well and as effectively as English speakers.  Digital justice is thus a platform for communities to come together and discuss problems and generate solutions. The organization also works with inner city school to help design and integrate digital media into the curriculum.

MIT CoLab: CoLab works with community partners and labor to explore the intersection of democratic engagement, shared wealth generation and cities efforts to become more socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

Public Science Project: The Public Science Project conducts and supports participatory action research with a commitment to the significant knowledge people hold about their lives and experiences and a belief that those most intimately impacted by research should take the lead in shaping research questions, framing interpretations, and designing meaningful products and actions. The organization holds workshops, trainings, institutes and salons open to community members, graduate students, and academics on a range of participatory methods. OpenPlans is a social enterprise developing open source technology solutions that make cities run better. Based in New York City, OpenPlans is a non-profit with a team of 60 software engineers, designers, urban planners, analysts, educators, and journalists. We develop open source software tools, we catalyze and support communities of interest, we help city governments engage online, and we build capacity and new connections between different groups. We work in partnership with cities and community groups.

Lunch keynote speakers:
Elvin Wyly is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia.  He has studied and written extensively on the production and reinforcing of urban social inequality using an approach that includes both critical social theory and multivariate quantitative methods “designed to engage state and corporate institutions on their own terrain, with their own data”.

Alan McConchie is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia with an interest in critical GIS, volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), and user-generated cartographies.

Afternoon workshop sessions (2:00-4:00pm)
Space is limited to 10-20 participants per workshop. In your RSVP please indicate if you would like to join a workshop and, if so, which one(s). The symposium organizers will do their best to match participants to the workshop of their choice, but selection will be based on a first come, first serve basis.

Leveraging Community Knowledge
At CoLab, we strongly believe that planning is a participatory discipline. People should be involved in any decision-making process affecting their lives. Communities possess valuable knowledge and insights about the challenges they face. However, it is difficult to harness local knowledge if we do not have the necessary tools to communicate and to visualize it. In this workshop, we will introduce participants to Stakeholder Mapping and Participatory Visioning methodologies aimed at leveraging communities’ knowledge.

The Public Science Project
Affording the ‘Right to Research’: Doing Critical PAR with Open Source Technologies
In this workshop participants will be introduced to doing critical participatory action research (PAR) with open source technologies. Three PAR projects currently being carried out by the Public Science Project will be profiled with specific attention to the different ways open source technologies are being utilized to afford greater public participation in collaborative research and analysis. Workshop participants with laptops or web-enabled smart phones will be able to participate in practices of distributed data collection, collective data analysis, and online mapping while the workshop organizes discuss how these practices are socially coordinated and technologically facilitated. The workshop will conclude with a discussion of how to how to evaluate the methodological, ethical, and political appropriateness of various open source technologies for specific PAR projects.

How to Grow New Narratives 
Members of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) will share how they used Twitter for participatory data collection in Detroit Future, a program designed to cultivate a healthy digital ecology in Detroit.  Participants will understand how this strategy was used to document deliverables for a federal grant, while also fostering a new online narrative about Detroit, its residents and its future.  They will learn how this community-led narrative successfully countered prevailing narratives about the city which had made long-time residents and community organizers invisible.  DDJC members will teach participants how they can lead their communities through a similar process of participatory documentation and storytelling using social media.

Tools for Community Engagement
Participants will engage in hands-on activities to directly experience how tactile tools can be used to communicate complex issues to lay audiences. Participants will learn about the process by which the toolkit was designed by CUP and its partners.Ask everyone! Online mapping tools for community input
Ask everyone! Online mapping tools for community input
Naama Lissar and Mjumbe Poe from OpenPlans will talk about Shareabouts (, an open source mapping tool they have been working on recently. Shareabouts and other online maps make it easier to extend the reach of an urban planning project, allowing cities and community organizations to get better outcomes by gathering place-based ideas, suggestions and comments from the people who know the city best. Using several community-led mapping projects as examples, workshop participants will explore how online mapping by neighborhood groups can effectively support aspirational community-led activism, and its limits. The session will cover organizational and technical challenges to setting up and using online tools, including what data is effective to collect, and how it can be used.