Introduction – Knight Foundation
Brook Park Chickens

To build a better South Bronx, Lily Kesselman turned to some chickens. And a site called Change By Us, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Kesselman thought that building a community chicken coop would solve two problems in her neighborhood, considered among the poorest in the United States. It would give neighbors access to healthy food while educating kids about its origins.

So she posted her idea, literally typed it onto a faux Post-It note on Change by Us, a site launched by CEOS for Cities to help New Yorkers share ideas and put them into action. On the site, neighbors are supposed to recruit volunteers for their projects, and find some efforts to support themselves. The best ideas with community traction get minigrants from the city of New York, which Kesselman ultimately did.

Two volunteer days later, the coop was built and operating. Now 14 volunteers a week help tend to the birds, earning half of the eggs from their day of the shift, while kids visit on field trips and have planted seedlings to produce feed.

For Kesselman, Change by Us introduced her to other grassroots projects going on in her neighborhood and helped open up the city of New York, as an institution, to her.

Yet sites like Change by Us, the first in the emerging civic technology movement, raise larger questions for social innovators: How can we use technology to facilitate more social connections – not just for individuals but for groups and communities?

Can technology help us reveal the aspirations of thousands or even millions of people? Can it help them connect to like-minded folks, co-create solutions, and coordinate efforts to bring about the ideal outcome? What would these tools look like and how do we foster and sustain these innovations?

“Your identity as a citizen should be reflected in your devices because your devices reflect your life and your priorities.”

– Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America

These are just some of the challenging questions posed at the 2012 Technology for Engagement Summit, convened by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Close to 70 academics, funders and innovators took part in the 24-hour session to speak across sectors about successes and failures and how to advance the field.

Participants set the agenda themselves and organized discussions around topics that had the most resonance.

This report shares their key insights, recommendations and action steps addressing these important themes: the role of technology, design principles, business models, measurements of success, the role of government and how to build the field.

We hope you’ll be able to draw inspiration for how you can contribute to the nascent field of Technology for Engagement.