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.

TED Prize engages people in designing the City 2.0

June 27, 2012, 10:24 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Update: Live from TEDGlobal, organizers announce the TedPrize will raise its grant awards for The City 2.0 by 10 fold - to $1 million.

A man who plans to turn thousands of plastic water bottles into an amusement park for children is one of the first recipients of the City 2.0 TED prize, which includes $10,000. 

Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire, a 29 year-old eco-artist from Uganda, first started exploring his idea while studying at Kyambogo University. He'll use the prize money to grow his local TEDx community, help sustain a local eco-artist loan program supporting women to develop their business ideas and expand the amusement park from its existing single plane-shaped sculpture into a permanent park.

Early this year, TED unveiled the details of its annual prize in support of “one wish to change the world.” This year, the award went not to a single person, but instead to an idea: The City 2.o – the city of the future. 

With Knight Foundation support, the platform,, allows people everywhere to help create their own future city. Residents are able to propose – and lead – projects to upgrade their own cities on issues important to them – from transportation to public housing, recreational space and more. 

As part of the site, TED held an open call for new projects with plans to divide the $100,000 TED Prize into ten $10,000 awards for the best projects which represented "inspiring ideas worth spreading," (TED's mission). 

Four other winners have also been announced including Jason Sweeney, whose web and smartphone based platform allows people to crowdsource and geo-locate quiet spaces in their community. Another winner aims to help democratize the design movement by helping people build their own homes using locally-sourced materials and open sourced design. The remaining five winners will be announced monthly.

Four ideas for the future of hackathons

June 26, 2012, 8:40 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation



Photo Credit: Flickr user hackNY

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. During the summit, a group considered the future of hackathons. Three of the group's participants, Eric Gordon, diector of the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College, and Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood, co-founders and co-chairs of the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, share their insights.

Perhaps no event in the young, Gov 2.0 movement has generated as much excitement, built as many connections, or led to as many alpha versions of apps as the hackathon.  Often more sprint than marathon, these one day or one weekend development sessions have united developers around specific challenges, new data and the lure of pizza.

With a few years of hackathons in the rearview mirror, however, it is useful to reflect on how this platform for engagement and creation can be enhanced to better meet the challenges that cities and their citizens face today. 

Too often, these hackathons have not led to solutions that address the biggest challenges of our day – issues such as the educational achievement gap, health disparities, and economic inequality.  Too rarely have the good app ideas started through these sessions been taken across the finish line and sustained after the weekend has ended.  And, too many of the leanings and too much of the code from these sessions is forgotten or not shared with a broader audience.

During the recent Knight Foundation summit on Technology for Engagement, a group of us considered how the hackathon could evolve to build off its success and address these concerns. 

The conversation centered on the interest in shifting the hackathon away from developers building quick products in response to general guidance.  Instead, hackathons could become opportunities for developers to learn about civic issues by engaging deeply with community groups and, in turn, enable community groups to learn about what’s possible in terms of technology by engaging with developers.

The group suggested four ways to advance that approach.