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What Could You Do With An Actual Crowd?

A List of 32 Creative Crowd-Driven Journalism and Civic Projects

At Newsgeist — a gathering a journalists, technologists and community organizers — a group of us gathered in a small classroom at Arizona State University to talk about how journalists could mobilize large groups of people to do amazing things together. We brainstormed a huge list of models and ideas from creating public and live action games to to human-powered data vizualitions and community dialogue projects.

Below is an annotated list of 32 ideas for IRL engagement mentioned during the discussion, with links to examples or background on each. We know this lists just scratches the surface of participatory public events, so add other ideas in the comment section.

The Museum of Westminster Street

  • Turning a street into a museum about itself. Westminster Stories is a collection of facts, memories, and stories about two blocks of a single street in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. It is a creation of The Museum On SiteThe Museum On Site is a Providence-based organization dedicated to helping people understand their worlds through site-specific, free public experiences that share ideas and information in accessible and stimulating ways.

Ally of Doom

  • The Alley of Doom is a Washington, DC-based pop-up game that lets you recreate — and re-envision — Indiana Jones’ famous boulder run from Raiders of the Lost Ark. On September 29, 2012, in an alley off of U Street, NW between 14th and 15th around 130 people participated. See a videoand listen to the NPR coverage.
Photo by Bossi, used via creative commons

The Funk Parade

  • A celebration of Washington DC’s U Street’s history and present-day role as a home to live music and the spirit of coming together for the city. More than 50,000 residents participated in 2015. The ROBOTDISCO at the Funk Parade was “a tech-craft and DIY robot costume arena for reimagining the future…and building robot costumes.” Participants made LED art, 3D printed robots, got to meet a giant cardboard velociraptor.
  • See also Buildwith.org — a site by Laurenellen McCann devoted to “build with, not for” civic technology.

Human-Powered Infographics

Candy Chang’s participatory planning and community visioning projects.

  • I Wish This Was is a participatory public art project that explores the process of civic engagement. Chang posted thousands of “I wish this was ___” stickers on vacant buildings across New Orleans to invite residents to easily share their hopes for these spaces. Approachable platforms for collective dreaming, the installations enabled introverts like Chang to share just as much with their community.”
  • Before I Die is a participatory public art project. Chang covered a house with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the prompt, “Before I die I want to _____.” The wall quickly filled up with responses. Now over 1000 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 70 countries. Revealing the community’s longings, anxieties, joys, and struggles, the project explores how public space can cultivate self-examination and empathy among neighbors and compassionately prepare us for death and grief.”
  • Neighborland — A toolkit for civic projects modeled after Candy Chang’s work — Neighborland is a online and offline platform that enables organizations to collaborate effectively with residents.
Photo by Elvert Barnes, used via creative commons

Team Activities and Team Building

Models from the Center for Investigative Reporting

  • Eyes on Oakland (participatory art) — Driving around Oakland in the Mobile Arts Platform, a van that we’ve retrofitted as a roving newsroom and mobile art installation, to interview residents about their attitudes toward the information law enforcement collects on them and the access (or lack thereof) they have to that information.
  • Alice’s Miracle (a play) — CIR spent 15 months investigating the rampant and excessive use of chemical fumigants used to grow strawberries. The reporting was turned into a play and taken on the road.
  • Off-Page Project (poetry + journalism) — “The Off/Page Project combines the analytical lens of The Center for Investigative Reporting with the groundbreaking storytelling of the literary non-profit Youth Speaks. Living at the intersection of youth voice and civic engagement, the Off/Page Project provides a multimedia platform for young people to investigate the issues and stories that would otherwise be silenced.”

Role Playing

Images via the Center for Investigative Reporting

Tours — how can we connect journalism and information to how people move through spaces and places?

  • Detour app — “location aware audio walks” — See how they partnered with RadioLab in Austin.
  • Storytour — “StoryTour (founded by a former AP journalist) is an in-person magazine that brings its audience offline to experience stories firsthand through on-the-scene storytelling around New York City.”
  • Roundware — “MIT OpenDocLab Fellow Halsey Burgund is exploring how the techniques and technologies he has developed to create immersive, geo-located audio installations can be adapted by documentary storytellers.”
  • Boardwalk Stories — “Audio walking tour app brings to life the stories of Hurricane Sandy survivors and challenges listeners to rethink coastal living as they pass sights impacted by the storm. It features 12 stops along the boardwalk, including a newly completed stretch destroyed twice, first during Sandy and again in the fire a year later.”
  • Hackney Hear — “Triggering audio via GPS-location, Hackney Hear provides an innovative way to explore and rediscover London Fields through the stories of residents, local writers and musicians.”

Live Action Games

  • Like Assassin or Werewolf. How might we connect these games to news, journalism, exploring place, learning new things, etc…?

Listening/Call And Response (online and off)

  • ISeeChange — “iSeeChange is a community climate and weather journal. Our groundbreaking environmental reporting platform that combines citizen science, participatory public media, and cutting-edge satellite and sensor monitoring of environmental conditions. The team is working with media and scientific partners across the country to help audiences document environmental shifts in their backyards and connect to the bigger-picture climate changes transforming all of our lives and livelihoods.”
  • Hearken — A technology platform and participation framework for “unlocking your community’s curiosity” and involving them in the reporting process before, during and after publication. Hearken let’s community members ask questions, vote on which questions they want to see answered and then invites community members to help report. (Read more from the founder and check out this video — note WBEZ Curious City is the local version of Hearken)
  • The Listening Post — “The Listening Post uses cell phones, public signs, and roving recording devices to capture and share voices, information, and opinions from around New Orleans. The goal is to create and expand conversations around important local issues.”
  • The Race Card Project — Asked for six words from Tuscaloosa students in connection with Nikole Hannah Jones’ coverage of modern-day segregation for ProPublica. Created videos and images of students for social sharing.
Photo by frankieleon, used via creative commons

The New York Public Library’s Community Oral History Project

  • “An initiative taking place at NYPL branches that aims to document, preserve, and celebrate the rich history of the city’s unique neighborhoods by collecting the stories of people who have experienced it firsthand.”

CBC Community Journalism and the G20

Off The Bus

  • A “pro-am” reporting project from the Huffington Post designed to mobilize communities to cover the presidential race from a local perspective. “It sounds impressive: twelve thousand people. But the challenge was not persuading them to sign up. It was figuring out what they were willing and able to do after that, and then cost-effectively coordinating their efforts so that they added up to real journalism.”

Investigative Hack-a-thons

  • Ghost Boat — An open, collaborative, public investigation into the disappearance of a boat carrying 200+ migrants. Led by journalist Eric Reidy and editor Bobby Johnson at Medium. In addition to online participation the team is holding in person events to work though the information, including one recent workshop at CUNY.
Photo by jesikah ross, used with permission

Social Events

Coalition Building

  • Capital Public Radio — Coalition building as investigative reporting. As part of their “View from Here” documentary series Capital Public Radio creates coalitions and event signs MOUs with their community.

Thanks to Molly de Aguiar and John Keefe for help compiling this list. All examples here are used by permission of the participants at Newsgeist who suggested them.

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