Knight, MIT explore changing nature of civic engagement

Journalism / Article

Above: Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media

New digital tools are expanding opportunities in civic engagement and Knight Foundation can’t wait to explore how at this year’s “Insiders and Outsiders,” the 2013 MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference in Cambridge, Mass.

Over three days beginning June, 23, participants will examine the changing nature of civic participation through the lens of both government “insiders” and individual “outsiders.” In a digital world where social change runs through both social media and state legislatures, the lines between insiders and outsiders becomes blurred. Discussions will focus on this shifting nature and what opportunities it provides to address pressing social issues and to make government more responsive to citizens.

Hosted by MIT’s Center for Civic Media (which collaboratively creates, deploys and assesses civic media tools) the conference is the leading gathering of media innovators shaping the future of news and information.

It’s also where at 10:45 a.m. ET on Monday, Knight’s President Alberto Ibargüen will announce the winners of the News Challenge on Open Gov. Winners will give quick rundowns of their innovative projects, which seek to improve the way citizens and governments interact. Michael Maness, Knight’s vice president of journalism and media innovation, will also talk about the foundation’s Prototype Fund.

You can tune in to watch the winner’s announcement via livestream, as well as the rest of the conference at If you’re following or participating in the conversation on Twitter, be sure to use the hashtags #civicmedia and #newschallenge.

A 24-hour hack day sponsored by the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project precedes the conference and kicks off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. Join an all-star cast of developers, entrepreneurs, journalists and media thinkers working to build new tools for liberating data sets and to create a collection of newly opened civic data. You can follow along by checking in on their wiki page, HackDash or by using the hashtag #datahack on Twitter.  

Monday’s activities begin at 9 a.m. ET with a welcome from Ethan Zuckerman the director of the Center for Civic Media. Zuckerman will then lead a panel discussion on Inside Out: What’s the Right Approach to Change with Sue Gardner of WikimediaBirgitta Jonsdottir of the Icelandic Parliament and the OpenGov Foundation Co-Founder Darrell Issa.

After lunch, a panel will discuss Opening Open Government. Panelists include both government insiders and outsiders, including Kate Balug, Office of New Urban Mechanics; Christine Gaspar, Center for Urban Pedagogy; Mark Headd, city of Philadelphia; Hilary Hoeber, IDEO; and Seth Wainer, city of Newark.  

That afternoon Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft, will moderate a panel on civic spaces. With the realization that civic spaces can never be neutral territory, participants will consider their shifting nature and the risks of being both visible and invisible. The second half of the session will involve small group discussions that explore open civic spaces. The discussions will focus on building maker/hacker/innovator spaces; data spaces for social good; mapping; how to foster better communications during crises; and how to create more public spaces in Boston.

We will end the evening with dinner speaker, Harper Reed, former chief technology officer at Obama for America. Those who aren’t in the room will be welcome to follow along as MIT students live-blog his talk. (June 21 update: Unfortunately Reed is unable to attend the conference. Alternate programming is being organized for Monday evening. Stay tuned to #civicmedia for more information.)

There’s even more on the final day.

Tuesday’s events begin at 9 a.m. ET with an exploration of transnational citizenship. Civics Beyond Borders will be moderated by Media Lab’s Sasha Costanza-Chock.

At 10:30 a.m. ET, Matt Stempeck will discuss how disaster relief has gone peer-to-peer and how society might integrate creative public responses with formal institutions to create a better aid system. Panelists include Willow Brugh, Geeks Without Bounds; Caitria O’Neill, (a 2012 News Challenge winner); Mischa Shattuck, Open Humanitarian; and Sean Bonner of Safecast.

After lunch, MIT Center for Civic media students and collaborators take you inside their world to showcase their latest projects.

The afternoon’s final panel will explore today’s newsrooms and whether they can be drivers of civic engagement. The Newsroom, Inside Out, will be moderated by Elise Hu of National Public Radio. Speakers include Emily Bell of Columbia University, Jennifer Brandel of WBEZ, Laura Ramos of Gannett and Dan Schultz, a Knight-Mozilla fellow.

And be sure to catch the close of the conference with Knight’s Maness at 4 p.m. ET.

See you on the inside. Or the outside. It’s your call.

By Megan Zimroth, media innovation assistant at Knight Foundation