development

Three Ideas: Testing Legislation, Newsroom Archives, and Technology Playgrounds

I took advantage of my holiday time off to catch up on my Instapaper read later list. As I read I try to tweet out the best articles, or key ideas I’m grappling with, but some pieces demand more than a tweet (but less than a full blog post). Here are three articles whose ideas I’m still mulling over and that I think deserve more attention.

Washington Post – Stop guessing whether a bill will work. Instead, test it.
Political reporter Dylan Matthews proposes a federal agency dedicated to running experiments on public policy proposals before legislation is adopted. The idea here is to test what will and won’t work in the real world and bring that research to bear on political debates. While I like Matthews’ idea of testing legislation, I also wonder how this might be built into solutions journalism that would be dedicated to helping us address wiked problems. This idea also seems like a powerful way to counteract the trend of hindsight journalism. It may not be an either/or, I’d like to see both governments and news organizations taking up some of these ideas and challenges and adopting a model of creating legislation that looks a bit more like agile development and participatory community planning.

Reporters’ Lab – Creating a newsroom ‘answer machine’
I’ve long been deeply interested in how news organizations can better leverage their archives to help serve the public, add context to current events, and drive new traffic to their site. Tyler Dukes’ proposal for using news organizations’ archives to help create a newsroom “answer machine” is superb, while not without its challenges. He focuses on how this type of project could help improve reporting but I can see wonderful applications of this kind of app in politics and education as well. For another great project focused on better using media archives be sure to check out the recently launched Pop Up Radio Archive.

Designing for Diversity – Designing Creative Technology Playgrounds for Families
I have been thinking about the role of play in my own work as well as in the lives of my two sons. My life has been animated by a healthy tension between my fascination with technology and my affinity for wilderness and the outdoors. Where these two passions intersect is in the realm of play and exploration. Whether it was dismantling kitchen appliances and putting them back together or building wilderness shelters and treehouses, I loved to make things and engage actively in the world – both natural and manmade. I want to nurture that same passion in my sons, regardless of what their interests are – music or machines, art or airplanes, trees or technology – I hope they’ll approach it all with playfulness and a sense of wonder. This post, a summary of a discussion at MozFest in London, touches on some of those themes.

Houses and Homes

My wife and I are in the middle of buying our first house, a 150 year old farmhouse on half an acre of land. As we talk about moving into this old home with all its history, I was reminded of the summer of 1995.

A few months before my senior year in high school my family took a two week vacation in Colorado. We flew into Denver and rented a Winnebago. It was to be a two week road trip around the state arriving back in Denver with enough time to visit my parents’ old neighborhood. They lived in Colorado for most of the seventies, until just after I was born, and they hoped to end our trip with a visit the first house they bought together.

On the last day of our trip my dad wound the big Winnebago through the city streets of Denver. However, when we got to their old block the tight rows of small houses that they had describe to my sister and I were missing. In their place was a monstrous grocery store. The gray cement building stretched across three blocks in one direction and its parking lot extended for two blocks the other way. My dad drove slowly around the perimeter of the building, gawking in confused disbelief. Tears streamed silently down my mothers face and filled the big vehicle with a tense silence. (more…)