Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Creating a "manifesto" for the Tech for Engagement community

June 27, 2012, 10:49 a.m., Posted by Daniel Latorre

Earlier this month as part of its Technology for Engagement Initiative, Knight Foundation gathered thought leaders to talk about the best ways to use new tools and platforms to bring communities together around important issues. Attendees were asked, where is this nascent field going, and what issues should we be exploring?  Here, Project for Public Spaces' VP of Digital Placemaking Daniel Latorre introduces the Tech for Engagement Manifesto his work group started.

A few weeks ago we were all face to face with laptops down and smartphones mostly in our pockets. An amazing feat for a highly wired group. Asked to lead a manifesto break out group towards the end of our unconference, the civic activist in me gladly accepted such a happily ludicrous task to attempt to do in 30 minutes. What you see below is the product, let's call it an alpha, of five attendees' hack at synthesizing the values we heard at the summit along with some input from the wider summit group over email afterwards.

We were inspired by prior works like the Cluetrain manifesto and the Agile manifesto.  They are great examples of how, at various points in time, a community of practice turns to each other and feels compelled to define its values. Defining the fuzzy edges of practice is what any cultural group does to clarify its purpose, identity... its meaning in this world.

The intention we all had was to seed this and have it fleshed out by you, the larger community of civic technologists.  So here it is. Let's define our hard-learned values. Where should we go? Well, as Alan Kay once said "the best way to predict the future is to invent it." 

Let's be bold in our aspirations and constructive critique.

Let's note the skillful puzzles we face today.

Let's aim for wise tensions worth struggling with.

Check out what we've started and add/edit/remix over in this Etherpad or in the comments below.

"The Tech For Engagement Summit 2012 Manifesto v.1a"

Acknowledging deep challenges, we admit that our world is broken, under-engaged and our community fabric is frayed... yet, right now, we also have powerful technology and social tools to meet our civic needs. Our potential uses and improvements to our civic spaces are still largely unrealized. This is our challenge today.

Facing this challenge, in the last few years we’ve been advocating, studying, testing, building, managing, opening, iterating and creating new practices for applying these powerful tools.

Here’s some of what we’ve learned so far:

  • We have a talented community of leaders, but need to grow the size and diversity of our leaderful tribe.
  • Our problem isn’t just about access, there’s a larger gap in skillful practice that we need to close.
  • We have content and connectivity, but need to focus on increasing relationships between people.
  • We have innovative partnerships, but need to increase our depth of collaboration and trust.
  • We’ve focused a lot on engagement within digital interaction, but need to better connect the online with offline social interaction. There is a place context to each city we deploy tech for engagement.
  • We have good common data, but need to increase our understanding, accessibility, and standardization of it.
  • We have general metrics, but need to improve our quantitative and qualitative measures of success.
  • We have good civic tools, but need better user experiences.
  • We’ve designed civic tools, but need to increase community input as we iterate them, designing them with, not for, the community.
  • [More from the wider community - add in the comments or on the Etherpad]

Related Tech For Engagement posts: 

Four ideas for the future of hackathons
Gaming city planning: Community PlanIt in Detroit 
Narratives and gaming: design principles in civic engagement
Friend your neighbor vs mowing her lawn: how technology can deepen engagement
Beyond clicktivism: exploring ways technology can engage citizens in improving their communities