Public service is a cornerstone of improving community life and diversity of participation around technological issues. Generally I take two approaches to service. First, I collaborate with local governments to advocate for responsible and responsive use of technology. Second, I use community-oriented design to bring residents together with students and technologists to draw attention to and alleviate pressing social problems.
Local Government Collaboration
Local governments are increasingly interested in using data and mobile media to improve life for their residents. My interest in the “civic tech” movement drew me to advocate for a responsive and responsible government by working and volunteering in the public sector. From 2015 – 2016 I was a Data and Design Research Fellow for the Los Angeles Innovation Delivery Team, which was funded through a $2.55m Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. My responsibilities included quantitative and qualitative methodologies, data manipulation/analysis, and re-thinking civic processes through user-oriented design. Previous to working with the Innovation Delivery Team I was the first Civic Data Fellow for the city of Los Angeles. During this time I worked with the city’s Chief Data Officer (CDO) to identify departmental needs and create a white paper advising on how to approach digitizing city services. This effort received $150k in funding from the city’s Innovation Fund and is currently being executed by the city starting in fall 2015.
I am currently on Long Beach’s Technology and Innovation Commission, a group of seven local experts who advise the city on policy issues around new technologies. As of fall 2015 we are working on crafting the city’s open data policy. Other initiatives I’m leading with the commission include re-thinking the suite of mobile media the city offers.
Over the last several years I helped forge lines of community outreach with Los Angeles’ predominantly African-American Leimert Park neighborhood. The Leimert Phone Project began when Ben Caldwell, who runs the community art space Kaos Network, noticed an unused payphone nearby. This sparked a discussion: could this familiar urban object be re-imagined as a nexus for communication? How might coming together around technology surface resident concerns about the need to avoid gentrification and retain local culture during a time of change (a Metro line stop for Leimert Park is under construction)? We acquired a dozen payphones and looked to the community first to develop new ideas about how to foster awareness about local culture. This was a truly participatory process where ideas flowed “from the ground up.” Early prototypes included browsing and downloading local music direct to devices; viewing local art; and using payphones as part of a decentralized game in urban space. More recently, the picture above shows us at a workshop at the Digital Media & Learning (DML) conference where we launched a PiPhone kit I designed and assembled, enabling other communities to do similar forms of community-oriented design.
I’ve also run several workshops and courses that were open to community members and university students. In particular, my advisor François Bar and I created a course ASCJ-420 “Hacklab: Re-imagining the Payphone” that ran in Spring 2015. Here we tackled technical skills (soldering, hardware) to generating ideas through design exercises and everything in between. We were able to bridge cultural and technical literacies through communication and community-based hands-on work. We were able to bridge cultural and technical literacies through communication and community-based hands-on work. Students received an actual payphone to “hack” and were guided through soldering a PC board that interfaces the technology of old payphones (buttons, speakers, microphone, coin relays) to a Raspberry Pi, a low-cost ($25) computer. Simultaneously they were guided through designing their re-designed payphone to improve community life. For more information please see the course overview and the class syllabus.