Big Picture

As I prepare to defend my Thesis tomorrow morning, I have been looking over some of the papers I’ve written over the last 3 years.  I wanted to get a sense of what I’ve been reading and writing about, so I decided to take every paper I wrote for my Master’s degree, every note, every memo, every research paper, every discussion paper, every literary review, and put them into 1 document.

It turned into a roughly 480 page (around 121,000 word) document.  So roughly 100 pages per year of graduate school.  Then I wanted to get a good visual of what I’ve been working on, so I put it into a word cloud generator.

Here’s what International Communication and Accessibility looks like visually:

World Cloud 2And another way:

Word Cloud 1

And one more if you prefer things vertically:


There it all is.

A couple things that jump out at me:

It is incredibly reassuring to see that the most commonly used words that I’ve typed over the last three years were “government”, “community” and “people.”  The core of my Thesis is exploring ways to better connect those three groups, be it over issues like land tenure – which I wrote about extensively – and on both the local and global level, which both seemed to have been used around the same amount.  I also explored a lot about systems and process, which when combined with the government and community, allows an easier grasp over what I was really looking at this whole time.

A couple things I wouldn’t have guessed:

– I wrote about sugar more than I would’ve assumed.  I think in discussing Mintz’s “Sweetness and Power”, but still.
– I wrote about my actual Thesis, HeartGov, less than I would’ve guessed.
– I use a lot of P words (politics, power, process, people, projects, public), but not much about potholes.

There it is.  There I am.  And here we go.


What We’re Celebrating Today

The 4th of July is about many things.  It’s about BBQing, drinking with your friends, Twilight Zone marathons, watching Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, and Bill Pullman save the world.  It’s about long weekends and the beach and celebrating the Summer.  It’s also about independence.  It’s also about freedom.  I think between grilling meat and planning our vacations we lose sight of that.  I think we forget what that means sometimes.  To me, it means:

Instead of being upset that a Supreme Court decision upsets you, celebrate that we have a Supreme Court.

Instead of being upset that other people in our country have different opinions than yours, celebrate that we are allowed to share our opinions and debate them.    
Instead of complaining about shortcomings our country suffers on the Internet, celebrate that you have a computer and open Internet (for now).  
Celebrate that we can argue.  
Celebrate that we can express our opinions.  
Celebrate that we can partake in making our country better.   
Celebrate that we live in a free country.
That’s how I’m celebrating Independence Day.  And with BBQs and watching Jeff Goldblum.  

User Testing

I sat in my regular neighborhood bar, in my regular bar stool, on my regular night.  I sipped my regular drink, and listened to an irregular pair of women.  They were talking about boys, the Mets, thongs, times they were arrested, times they should’ve been arrested.  And I sat next to them, laughed to the point of including myself into the conversation.  Once it was established that I was a regular and knew the bartender, I was ok in their book and it was acceptable for me to laugh at them, not just with them.  When it came time for the “so what do you do” round of questions, I was ready.  I wasn’t ready for their response.

Usually when I tell people that I’m finishing a degree in a program that I made up there’s a bit of confusion and speculation, and I’ve figured out ways to distill it over the years.  Usually when I say I’m working on a text message based platform designed to connect local government and communities, I have to give examples.  This was the first time I was able to not need to do any of that, and just show them.  I said, here, text this number.  What do I text it?  Whatever you want.  They both texted “hi”.  Then they got their responses.  One went “wow!” the other went “love gov!  Do you see!  It says love gov!”  The one put her phone away and continued to focus on her drink.  The other read the prompt.

“Tell me your idea.  But what if I don’t have any ideas?” It can be any idea you have, I said.  But I don’t know anything, she said.  Sure you do, what’s important to you?  She paused and then said, “can I say I don’t like charter schools?”  She had no idea that charter schools is and has been the exact example that I used to say when talking about this.  She had no idea that I was given the advice by many people to use this as a platform specifically for education, or that schools came up over and over again in conversations I had about the prioritization of issues.  “If that’s what’s important to you,” I told her.

We talked a little more about the project, about the scope, about the idea, then went back to the Mets, thongs, boys, times I was in the back of a cop car.  The next morning when I checked the database, I saw a text: “please don’t open any more charter schools let’s support our public schools!”

So far so good on the testing front.

You Can Always Go

Music has a way of taking us back to certain places, certain times.  It has a way of hitting us when we don’t expect it, to pull at strings we didn’t know were still there.  It has a way of connecting thoughts and emotions, and digging up feelings we had trouble expressing.

Last week, I was walking around the Salt Lake City airport just after midnight, in the midst of finding out it was delayed because Delta forgot to book a co-pilot for the flight, and I had a sudden and strong feeling.  I wanted to, needed to, listen to “Downtown” the 1964 hit by Petula Clark.  I didn’t know why.  I didn’t know where it came from.  So I downloaded it and listened to it.  Delta said they found a pilot.  And listened again.  He was on his way.  And listened again.

Then it hit me.

I was in the airport on my way to catch a delayed red eye back to New York from an almost week long experience at the first ever Field Innovation Team Bootcamp.  FIT is a new organization dedicated to innovating around emergency relief in the disaster space, with a focus on the survivors.  How do we utilize technology to make survivors lives better?  How can we use technology to save people’s lives?  How can we rethink the ways we prepare for disasters?  These are some of the questions we asked.  But let me back up, before I even got to Utah.

After Superstorm Sandy hit, FEMA deployed the then-new Innovation Team, led by a woman named Desi.  I met Desi and the team in a class I was taking, and we brainstormed design solutions to emergency relief issues that were coming up in the recovery efforts.  The ideas weren’t just responding to problems, but thinking about how we approach the processes in disaster relief.  Thinking about how to make process smoother and easier for survivors.  Thinking about how to engage the community in volunteer efforts.  Not a new way of thinking about issues, a different way.  How to connect institutions to meet need.  How to think differently.

I kept an open dialogue with Desi about my Thesis project, about different ways of thinking, about the work she was doing with the Innovation Team.  We stayed in touch as my project progressed, and talked about the implications of establishing a culture of using SMS to connect to institutions so that in the event of an emergency, a system would already be in place to send and receive information.  As my project evolved, and Desi evolved the Innovation Team outside of FEMA and into its own entity, I became excited about the idea of working with a group that was built on the idea of rethinking ideas.  Rethinking connections.  All with the focus on making people’s lives better.

So when I was invited to attend the Field Innovation Team’s kick off Bootcamp, I was eager, excited, and a little nervous.  I was invited out to Bootcamp to present my Thesis, to run some video work, and to meet the rest of the team.  But what could I offer in the ways of adding to the conversation about disaster recovery?  Besides some volunteer experience after Sandy, I had never been in the thick of an emergency response.  My Thesis was a non-emergency specific project.  My background was in public service, television production, and bartending.  That concern was quickly quashed, almost immediately after stepping off the plane.

I was picked up in a van with 2 other FIT members after landing: one was an ex-astronaut, one was an ex-FEMA worker who now teaches improv exercises to those pre and post disaster in order to get them in an “always ready” mindset.  The first night I met designers, robotists, coders.  And we all immediately realized that we all needed to be there.  No one over the course of the week had an ego or any kind of doubt that everyone who was there didn’t need to be there.  The varied backgrounds and experiences all revolved around the common thread – how can we better help people.  How can we utilize the skillsets we each bring to the table to make people’s lives better in the disaster space.  The stunning lack of pompous attitude allows a space for everyone to share openly, and built fast-drying cemented bonds of trust between us.

Now I know why we were all assembled.  The humility to walk into a situation and say “I don’t know everything, I’m here to listen” is exactly the ethos we want to deploy if and when we deploy into a disaster.  It was the common thread through the week, it’s what ties together engineers and designers and artists and first responders.  We’re here to listen; we’re here to help.

That’s when it hit me.  In the airport just after midnight after a week of ideas and conversations and little to no sleep.  Where can you always go when life is making you lonely?  When you have worries, where can you turn?  Where are you always gonna be alright?  Where can you forget all your troubles, forget all your cares?

Downtown.  Or hopefully in the future, FIT.


Here’s me presenting my thesis ❤ Gov (




(editor’s note: I wrote this essay in 2011, but with the vote happening tomorrow in Crimea it felt somewhat relevant)


In 1517, using only a piece of paper, a hammer and nails, a man started a revolution.  Using the most advanced technology available to him, Martin Luther printed out his infamous pamphlet “Ninety-Five Theses”, nailed a copy to a church, and distributed it throughout Europe.  The core of his protest was against corruption and hypocrisy found within the Church; corruption in both the ideology and the system itself.  His protest grew and eventually spawned the Protestant Reformation, leading to various subsets of Christianity throughout the world still being observed today.  While the players and targets of protest have changed over the centuries, it is nearly 500 years later and Luther’s process is still used – only now instead of paper, nails and a hammer we are forming protest movements with laptops, cell phones, and blogs.  As Luther used current technology to the best of his ability, the current standard of protest movements has evolved alongside technology.  But how has technology influenced the way these movements are formed?  How do they interact with national governments and global institutions?  How has the stage been altered because of technology, and who are the current actors involved?

When the Bretton Woods conference was held in 1944 the world was facing the violence brought on by World War 2.  Once the War ended and the dust settled, the world was left with a series of global organizations, which perhaps went unnoticed.  Alison Van Rooy writes, “Until the 1980s, few outside the world of international agencies knew what the World Bank was or did.  There had been earlier outcries, of course, most notably over projects that affected indigenous peoples and/or fragile ecosystems.  In 1973-4 for instance, work began to establish a dam on the Chico river in the Phillipenes…boycotts, armed clashes, and militarized zones marked the years that followed before the Bank beat a silent retreat in 1980…But it was not until the mid-1980s that the broader public became aware of the protest around Bank-funded large infrastructure projects” (Van Rooy 50).  At this point in time, the actions of the World Bank and IMF were really only seen by those who were being directly affected by them.  The only protests were held by those who were in the affected countries.  In 1973 there was no technological outlet to expose global forms of corruption or protest.  Personal computers entered the market in 1983, and news could be spread worldwide via printed newspapers, but there was no platform for instant information.  However, technology was on the cusp of creating a platform of global connectivity.  It wasn’t until 1989 that the World Wide Web was launched, and not until 1995 before it was commercialized and completely opened up to the public.  Once technology evolved through the Internet, so did global protests both practically and conceptually.

In her article “Power Shift”, Jessica Matthews explores the rise in technology and its effect on global governance.  “Widely accessible and affordable technology has broken governments’ monopoly on the collection and management of large amounts of information and deprived governments of the deference they enjoyed because of it.  In every sphere of activity, instantaneous access to information and the ability to put it to use multiplies the number of players who matter and reduces the number who command great authority” (Matthews 204).  What technology adds to the public discourse more than just connectivity is a supply of information.  New pockets of information, new worlds, and new actors were brought out to public knowledge.  However, the broader concept of a ‘network’ is one that carried deeper implications.  Matthews continues, “Networks have no person at the top and no center.  Instead they have multiple nodes where collections of individuals or groups interact for different purposes” (Matthews 205).  The ‘network’ introduced a new concept to the global arena – that of a group of people with no singular leader.  Now forming were bodies of actors without a direct leader, but formed around an ideal.  This concept of a network of people operating outside of government’s systems is first noted in 1992 with the “50 Years is Enough” protest.  Van Rooy explains this protest as “the creation of a long-term focused coalition drawn from around the world” (Van Rooy 51).  This protest, which was formed to mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of the IMF and World Bank was focused in “efforts to oppose and reform Bank practice on structural adjustment lending (SAPs) brought together a very wide set of players…an assembly of NGOs rather than an organization of its own, the 50 Years network is made up of some 100 US agencies and another 160 partner organizations in other countries” (Van Rooy 51).  This was one of the first globally connected protests, drawing together organizations from around the world without a singular leader.  The World Bank would eventually meet formally with the protestors, a clear signal that this type of organization for protest was effective, at least in the sense that it raised attention to global issues on a global scale.  The concepts employed in the 50 Years protest set the stage for what many consider the first global, fully electronic protest.

In March of 1997, an agreement was reached in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which would allow for easier access for foreign investors to its member countries.  This agreement, known as a multilateral agreement on investment (MAI) was an outrage to many countries, and “A massive Internet campaign was waged along with many of the usual lobbying methods, and combined with negotiation difficulties on the official side, the agreement foundered in April 1998” (Van Rooy 56).  The effect of the online protest?  “On the last week of April 1998, civil society organizations all over the world were celebrating.  Through Internet activism…they achieved an unprecedented and massive victory over the most powerful countries in the world.  An estimated 20 million of their members launched a global initiative to stop the MAI.  Canadian Trade Minister Sergio Marchi remarked that ‘the lesson he has learned is that civil society – meaning public interest groups – should be engaged much sooner in a negotiating process, instead of governments trying to negotiate around them” (Van Rooy 56-57).  A victory on the global stage, allowed by the available technology.  Now that information was accessible, governments and global institutions began to realize they were going to be held accountable for their initiatives.  The protests themselves moved outward as well.  From a protest against a singular dam, now protesters were taking on the institutions themselves.  The network and ability to communicate instantaneously around the world allowed for the protest discourse to grow and tackle global issues.  The momentum of the MAI protests found its way to Seattle in 1999.

In November of 1999, Seattle was host to the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference.  The purpose of the conference was to discuss trade negotiations for the coming years in developing countries.  Not only were the discussions held between the various delegates a failure, but the protest held around the conference itself marked an historic moment in the arena of global protest.  The protesters, many of whom had helped organize the MAI protests, faced a harsh police presence by the Seattle police force.  Pepper spray, rubber bullets, stun grenades, were all reported to be barraged unto the protesters.  Eventually the conference had to be moved and would not be held again until 2001.  The resistance faced in Seattle was the first physical resistance to a movement that began in the ‘Internet-sphere’.   People from around the world gathered together, stood together and fought together for the first time due to the ability to globally coordinate through current technology.  The network that began years before was stronger than ever, and due to the media attention the protests in Seattle saw, this ‘network of protest’ was now available and accessible to the world.  In fact, the network found its way into Prague shortly after Seattle.

Many organizers from Seattle made their way to the Czech Republic, and as Chesters and Welsh write, “The Prague protests were the first occasion in Europe where anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist groups from diverse social and cultural backgrounds attempted to work together to mobilize against the same target in a particular geographical location” (Chesters 46).  The protests in Prague took on a life of their own, as people from around the world found themselves experiencing degrees of culture shock.  One aspect to the ‘Internet-sphere’ is that culture is not necessarily taken into consideration.  The local must still be taken into account when framing the protest, something that was not taken into consideration in Prague, and at times it was seen as uncoordinated and disorganized.  Chesters and Welsh remind us, “Protests with a carnivalesque or dramaturgical elements are complex social events expressing multi-layered cultural meanings which are symbolically coded and enacted with the potential to resonate or clash with wider social representations and perceptions.  The action against the WB/IMF bank meeting in Prague on 26 September 2000 contained all these familiar elements but brought together national protest repertoires from across Europe and beyond.  Such events are typically known and framed through their appearance within the public sphere in print and broadcast media” (Chesters, 43).  Perhaps too eager following the Seattle protests, the protests in Prague incurred many violent confrontations, many due to miscommunication and fundamental differences in culture.  Still considered a success in the world of protesters, the protests in Prague opened up communication between Czech and parts of Europe formerly inaccessible, in addition to opening a dialogue with the local government regarding social issues.  As the protests evolved, technology evolved, and the interactions with local governments also evolved.

Within this ‘network’, as Matthews calls it, facilitated by technological advances we have seen governing bodies clash with the protests violently.  Luis Fernandez tells us of a non-violent confrontation in Miami, 2004.  The protest was formed around the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and the city of Miami was preparing for the protesters.  As the conference crept closer, tension mounted between the city officials and the protesters gathering.  An ordinance was proposed that would essentially make a protest illegal.  “The proposed ordinance outraged activists organizing in Miami.  Mobilizing quickly, they sent out national bulletins via activist e-mail lists, asking people to contact city commissioners and urge them to vote against the ordinance.  The result was thousands of phone calls and e-mails to the city of Miami…as a result, the city commission postponed the voting date for the ordinance and asked staff members to rewrite questionable sections” (Fernandez 71).  While they did postpone and revisit the language, the ordinance still passed and banned gatherings of either or more people in one area, with discretion left to the police force as to determine what a protest was and what wasn’t.  Arrests were made, the protest went on, and while not as violent as Seattle, what Miami shows us is the local government’s attempt to use its own legal systems to negate any system the ‘network’ attempts to create.  Fernandez gives us another example of this, two years earlier in Calgary.

In 2002, Calgary hosted the G8 Summit.  Fernandez notes, “housing was a particular issue at the G8 protest in Calgary because the town was too small to house thousands of protesters…Organizers turned to private land as an alternative.  They tried to lease land from the Stoney First Nation, a native tribal group with land close to Calgary.  On the verge of signing a deal, activists learned that the Canadian government’s security had given the Stoney 300,000 US dollars for the rights to the land.  Protesters were left scrambling to find another location…In reality, the government probably paid to prevent anti-globalization protesters from being housed so close to the meetings” (Fernandez 87).  Here again we see the local governing body’s ability to supersede the authority of the protesters using its own self-imposed authority.  The issue the ‘network’ of protesters ran into was at its own core.  While the protest itself might be a network of connected parties, they are still privy to the laws of whichever state they are currently residing.  Technology can bring people together; it can create accessibilities, but it still is trying to find its footing when facing policy.  Governing bodies seemed to figure out how to deal with the network – take away its physical space.  Without physical space to protest, the protest could not exist.  At least, this was the rationale held by the Calgary and Miami governments.  But again, we will see how technology dealt with this issue and created its own space.

“Today’s globalization movements came together from other histories and peaked at Seattle in 1999 to create heterogeneous, leaderless, multi-tactic, and ideological phenomenon” (Van Rooy 60).  The network, the leaderless movement of people which faced confrontations of physical space, moved into cyberspace.  Through networks of online medium – Twitter, Facebook, video blogs – the network no longer needed the physical space which governments had just figured out how to take away.  However, this transition was still not without violent confrontation.  Throughout the Middle East from 2010-2011, in what is now known as the ‘Arab Spring’, technology was at the center of the violence faced by millions.  Beginning at the end of 2010, protests throughout the Middle East – in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabi, among others – began to bubble.  Issues ranged from food pricing, unemployment, lack of government transparency but the recurring issue was the people’s right to protest.  When the protests grew violent and the death toll tallied, the protest took to cyberspace.  On Twitter, Facebook and video blogs, people started documenting the protests in a new medium.  Now, for the first time, protests could be organized and even held without a physical presence.  A Facebook group could now act as a form of protest.  A Tweet could act as a form of resistance.  Videos were posted to blogs and public websites that aired the issues and aired testimonies of police brutality.  The various governments were unsure of how to respond to the emergence of this new form of protest.  In Egypt, the regime banned these online spaces.  A man, Khaled Said, was even dragged and beaten to death in the streets for posting a video to his Facebook account.  The resistance held strong, and eventually some governments realized they could not ignore the growing protest.  Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Bahrain all saw political reactions to the protests and the repercussions were, and still are, felt throughout the Middle East.  The protesters’ ability to organize and coordinate completely in an online space set the global stage for the updated protester’s ‘network’.  This network would next be tested and expanded in the United States, a few blocks north of Wall Street.

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which began in the summer of 2011, began as a peaceful occupancy of space.  Much like the protests in the Middle East, OWS ranged in a variety of issues and was held together using an electronic fabric.  Through Twitter and Facebook, rallies were organized, marches were coordinated and the occupancy of Zuccotti Park grew.  The protest gained momentum and eventually did face police violence and issues of their physical space.  Much like in Calgary and Miami, local governing bodies found ways to alter the physical space of the protests.  However, like in the Middle East, this did not influence the core of the protest.  Journalist Nicholas Kristof commented on the movement, “Yet in a larger sense, the furor over the eviction of protesters in New York, Oakland, Portland and other cities is a sideshow. Occupy Wall Street isn’t about real estate, and its signal achievement was not assembling shivering sleepers in a park.  The high ground that the protesters seized is not an archipelago of parks in America, but the national agenda. The movement has planted economic inequality on the nation’s consciousness, and it will be difficult for any mayor or police force to dislodge it” (Kristof).  As Kristof asserts, the current state of global protests cannot simply be hidden just by moving it physically.  If the Arab Spring and OWS movements have taught us anything, it is that technology now allows a global platform for protests that cannot be torn down by a singular governing body.  The network, leaderless as it may be, is one with a unifying power that will only grow as our technology grows.

Times certainly have changed since Martin Luther nailed his protest against the church walls.  But the means in which he carried out his protest, the process not the content, has progressed accordingly.  Protesters have used the available technology to further their agendas and their abilities to coordinate.  As technology has allowed the world to connect on a global level, so too did the connectivity of protests grow.  As technology allowed nations to travel and create global institutions around the world, so too did the global protests expand.  We are all living in the ‘network’ that Jessica Matthews describes.  Until this concept is met and understood by both the global institutions and the national governments, it seems apparent that violence will be met by these protests.  These protests will continue to evolve and grow, and as long as technology remains a constant staple in the global arena it will support the discourse for global protests.  The next iteration of global protests remains to be seen, but it is worth checking your e-mail for updates.





Works Cited

Chesters, Graeme and Ian Welsh.  Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos.  London and New York: Routledge, 2006

Fernandez, Luis Alberto.  Policing Dissent:  Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement.  New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London:  Rutgers University  Press, 2008.

Kristof, Nicholas.  “Occupy the Agenda.”  New York Times 19 Nov. 2011: SR11.  Print.

Mathews, Jessica.  “Power Shift.”  Foreign Affairs.  1997

Van Rooy, Alison.  The Global Legitimacy Game: Civil Society, Globalization and Protest.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.





Fitting Myself In




In putting together my Thesis project, I wanted to place my project in the current climate of what was out there.  So I mapped it out, using 3 metrics.  Locality: does a platform focus on ultra local issues or broader policy issues?  Tech: does the platform utilize high tech or low tech?  Conversation: does the platform encourage reporting (information sent in one direction) or collaboration (create a space for conversation to take place in a two way communication).  

I put my project, ❤ Gov, up against various platforms which look at information sharing among groups of people.  311, U-Report,, Wikipedia, and community town halls.  

Where I aim to situate myself is a locally based, low tech, collaborative tool.  


Getting Myself Stuck in the Middle

Recently for my Thesis class, we were asked to write a paper about our Thesis as it pertains to interdisciplinarity.  What are the disciplines you’re drawing from?  What are the similarities between them, where do they contrast?  It was an interesting exploration, where I found, by the end of it, I had sandwiched myself between two strong disciplines – policy and design.  If and how I make my way out the other side remains to be seen.

I’ll share my paper to see if you see what I mean:


I firmly believe that the world is comprised of thinkers and doers.  There are those who brainstorm ideas, who think of things in a different way, who understand issues and have the mind to figure out what needs to be done about them.  Then there are those who execute those visions, who manage projects, who know how to utilize resources and get the best out of what they have.  I think these two groups often clash, when the thinkers want to think the doers just want to do.

On one side we have policy – filled with bureaucracies, structures, administrations – and on the other we have design – filled with flow charts, white boards, organized chaos.  What I am doing is looking at public policy issues through a design perspective.  This breaks down into two tracts: a) solving civic issues using technology (utilizing technology in the engineering of a system), and b) approaching the process of and maintenance of those solutions (using design models as opposed to bureaucratic models).

A big question in this space right now is “how can we engage people?”  How do we reach people for input into civic issues?  How do we keep people engaged through the process?  How can people organize themselves around issues utilizing technology available to them?  The metrics for projects that look at issues like accountability and engagement are also debated.  What is success?  Is success just usage?  Is success just implementation of a project?

The process of how a project or program is designed is also a debated one.  Should ideas be created by an entity such as the World Bank and then implemented onto a community, or should the idea come from the community?  The PlayPumps project is a well-documented design project, which failed.  The idea was to build merry go rounds that hooked up to water pumps in Africa, so that water would be pumped from children playing.  The goal was to allow women to not need to spend as much time pumping, and to make water more accessible.  However, the cost of the pumps was too expensive for most villages, and those that were installed were eventually failures because the children didn’t play with the pumps.  So women ended up pumping the water using the merry go rounds.  Besides the logistical failures of not meeting their goals, the design was never talked about with the communities who would be using it, which is something UNICEF has admitted as a mistake.

Most of the evidence in this space is based on projects and pilots that have been implemented and tested.  They range in scale and context.  International organizations such as UNICEF and the World Bank have tested programs in South America and Africa.  Municipalities in the United States have tested programs on a city level.  A project such as participatory democracy has moved from the developing world to the developed world, making the mobility of ideas a notion I want to explore.  Do ideas have to come from one part of the world?  Do ideas have to come from the top of bureaucracies?  Using the PlayPump as an example, UNICEF has altered its methodology based on its findings, now looking at a more bottom up approach to community driven ideas.

Professionally, I worked in the Department of Public Affairs for 3 years in the City Comptroller’s office.  I dealt with a variety of constituency issues and intake, and was the public face for the Comptroller in communities in Brooklyn, and around different issues.  This meant attending town halls, CBO meetings, business association meetings, and phone calls from people directly.  I started in 2010, and in 2012 was given a promotion to Deputy Director.  The reason I bring that up isn’t to brag, but it means I saw and worked in two levels of bureaucracy.   I have a solid foundation of understanding behind the train of thought that government runs at a slow and inefficient manner.  I have a good understanding of how local entities operate within the context of New York City’s bureaucracy, which I believe gives me a good understanding of how local entities operate within the context of American cities.  I have been the link between a community and the government resources they need.  I have been in a community meeting where my boss announced, “ok, if anyone has any more problems, please go talk to Asher.”  I have heard the complaints, I have seen the process.  I do not have the field experience of a non-American city or a rural setting.  It is important to keep these contexts in mind, and I will rely on field reports of projects in these contexts for insight into how context plays a role in these kinds of tech projects.

I’ve always had a different way of looking at things.  My background is in writing and film making, so my approach to most problems is different than a normal policy approach.  I have more of a design approach, in that I tend to map out issues and projects, working out a flow chart of the beginning, middle, and end.  I also keep the mantra of “know your audience” in mind when designing any project.  This leads to a more user-based design, rather than a system-based design.  Knowing my goal and knowing my users are two key components of my design thinking.

Getting the two sides on the same page in a sustainable manner is often a task.  Combining them allows a space for a project such as my Thesis to exist.  A small group (namely, myself and an engineer) to ideate and create a project and implement the project.  Even if you have the best idea in the world, you need to be able to implement it so it effects change in people’s lives.  And even if you’re completely embedded in a culture and ready to change a system for the better, without the proper tool to do so, change is difficult to achieve.

Both sides have a tendency to be stubborn.  Policy makers like the comforts of structure, designers like the freedoms of chaos.  A designer, such as Clay Shirky has expressed frustration with the layers of administration necessary to implement a project.  A policy maker, such as Jumaane Williams has expressed frustration with a designer’s lack of understanding of the context of his community when trying to implement a project.  The common ground between the two sides is that they both have a willingness to help, so the end goal is still the same.  It’s the process that needs to be rethought, reimagined, redesigned.

I think that by focusing on a low tech solution, with a bottom up implementation plan, this Thesis has the ability to bridge these two disciplines.



Why No One Voted

I don’t usually hold back my opinions, as most of you who know me, know.  Especially when it comes to matters of public issues, political debate, elections, and general interests in the public ether.  I think debate is good.  I think well spoken opinions are good.  What I think hurts us in the political process are biased opinions that stray focus from real issues.  This is why I was relatively quiet when it came to this past election cycle in New York City.  But the election is over, and now you’re going to hear from me.  


I did talk about how important this election was – here for example.  This election cycle saw the most turnover that we’re likely to see in this City in, well, the foreseeable future.  Not only is there new leadership at the top, but half the Council are freshmen come January 1st, 2014.  And that’s what made it so important to get out and vote.  So New York City came out, right?  The issues were bubbling – Stop and Frisk, taxes, schools, teachers, fire fighters, waterfronts.  Surely people knew what they were doing, right?  


There are roughly 3 million registered Democrats in NYC.  Roughly 700,000 voted.  Roughly 250,000 voted for Bill deBlasio.  That means that roughly 1/6th of registered Democrats voted in who will, most likely, be the next Mayor.  That number gets even more depressing if you think of it in the context of the 8 million people who live in NYC.  Why is it that we’re so eager to argue about issues, to complain about cracks in the streets, to say New York is changing too much, but seemingly don’t want to do anything about it?  Well, I see a couple reasons.  


First and foremost, the crop of Mayoral candidates was flat out unimpressive.  For an open seat, something that hasn’t happened in 12 years, you would think that maybe someone would emerge who’s impressive, with a proven track record, who can inspire people to rally around him.  That person just didn’t exist.  Bill DeBlasio convinced people he was that person, but I’ll get to why he isn’t in a bit.  


It’s really easy to blame the plurality of people for not voting.  And I do.  To a degree.  But at the end of the day, you still have to vote.  You still need to waste your lunch break and go to the polling place which is disorganized and wait in line and go vote hoping to get a sticker only to find out that they ran out.  And if you aren’t inspired to do that, you’re just not going to.  Part of that responsibility is on you.  You should be engaged.  You should be informed.  But part of that has to be the responsibility of politics.  Of parties, of the City with a capital C, of the candidates.  They should inspire you to want to vote for them, you shouldn’t be berated by people like me to coax you into voting.  Voting should be a prideful act, not one you do out of shame.  


So what did NYC have to chose from?  Well we had a pervert, a corrupt puppet, a man who’s about as inspiring as watching grass grow, someone under FBI investigation, and a two faced man who spent more time parading around his Black son than talking about issues.  I don’t think I need to spend a lot of time talking about Anthony Weiner.  C’mon.  Christine Quinn has been stealing money and leveraging politics in and from the City for years, we’ve just never known because Bloomberg is really good at covering up stories.  Amazing was 100 billion dollars can do.  Bill Thompson thought it was a good idea to go on the NYPD side of Stop and Frisk to try and get White votes, assuming that Blacks would just vote for him.  The result?  John Liu, who’s probably the best suited for the job in terms of pedigree and lack of ties to special interests, stood on a platform of best practices in government, but at the end of the day couldn’t answer questions about his own campaign’s finances.  Without clarity, there were no matching funds, which meant no ads.  Bill DeBlasio rested on a platform of being tall, White, liberal, and having a Black lesbian wife, and a son with an afro.  “Mr. DeBlasio, could you talk to us about your affordable housing plans?  Have you met my Black son?  He has an afro.”  

The moment when I think disenfranchisement was most keen was at the last debate, seen here —

The Final Mayoral Debate

If you watch the debate, the only person up there talking about issues, talking about what he’s going to do change the City for the better, was Anthony Weiner.  I’ll wait for that to sink in.  If you based your decision ONLY on this debate, and your metric was 1) clear points, 2) ideas for how you’re going to address issues, 3) strength in convictions, then we would have elected a man who has a sexting addiction and a worse PR plan than Brittney Spears.  In a landslide.  Every other candidate was slinging mud like they were at a rainy Woodstock.  No one said what they wanted to do, no one said what they wanted to change, no one said how they would do it.  It was just politics in the worst way.  No wonder no one went out to vote.  Why would I lose my lunch break to go out and vote for some douchebag who just wants to talk about their opponent’s shortcomings.  


Real leadership needs to come from ideas.  Real leadership needs to come from the ability to put blinders up around the political noise that inevitably comes from running for office.  It’s not like it would be a surprise that Thomson would get attacked about Stop and Frisk.  Or Quinn on her slush fund.  Or DeBlasio on his ties to big real estate development that no one seems to think is a big deal.  Or Liu on his campaign finance.  But if you want to be the leader of New York City you need to be able to rise above that.  You think this is the last you’re going to be personally attacked?  As the leader of a City which should be a small country?  Where’s the backbone?  Where’s the integrity?  No wonder no one came out to vote.  


All that being said, some great things are happening at the local level that people need to see.  Thankfully we elected Scott Stringer as the next Comptroller.  Lord help us that 49% of people still voted for a man who used government money to sleep with prostitutes.  But that aside, Scott Stringer is going to be a fine Comptroller, and we don’t have to worry about his character.  Carlos Menchaca won his district, ousting an absent Councilwoman, adding real spirit to a rising community.  Antonio Reynoso won his district, beating possibly the most corrupt politician currently in NYC, who also happens to be a pervert who deserves to be locked up.  Some progressive campaigns didn’t win, but some did.  Some people are entering the fray and have bright futures.  Gale Brewer is going to be the next Manhattan Borough President, and I think has a real chance to do something with the office.  Eric Adams will (soon) be the next Brooklyn Borough President, giving a nice deprive from Marty’s gusto, I can see Eric bringing some real change in Brooklyn.  He’ll also get to work closely with Ken Thompson, the new Brooklyn DA, who is going to bring a new voice and new reform to the legal system.  


So is it that big a deal that leadership at the top of the City is still murky?  That only 16% of people decided who gets booed at Knicks games?  With a City Council half full of rookies and half full of tenured, powerful voices like Dan Garodnick, Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is the Mayor really going to matter?  Honestly, probably not.  Think that DeBlasio is comfortable with 16% of registered voters coming out for him?  Think that no one else is thinking, hey maybe in 4 years and my controversy dies down I can make a stronger challenge?  Think that Adolpho Carrion isn’t thinking, “gee, if the Hispanic vote mobilized for me, I would win in a landslide”?  DeBlasio is going to spend the next 4 years running NYC to the middle of everything, and while he does, real change, real leadership is going to emerge from our communities, from our Councilmembers, from the rookies, from where it really needs to come from.  


If there was ever a time to be on the cusp of being involved and informed, now is the time to jump in.  The numbers were low this time around?  Fine.  But don’t make me make you vote in 4 years.  



Why September 10th is so important

On September 10th, NYC will see it’s most important Democratic Primary – one could argue – ever.  Sure, everyone will talk about the Mayoral race, which is important.  People will talk about the Comptroller race (probably for the wrong reasons) and maybe the Public Advocate race.  And that’s great.  But I wanted to show what the real importance is.

Below is a map I colored in.  The red are all the Council districts which have Councilmembers who are term limited out.  That’s 20 seats, out of 51.  That’s a massive chunk of New York City that will see political turnover, that we know of.  At least 20 new Councilmembers.  At least 3 new Citywide elected officials.  

If there was ever a time to learn about your community in NYC, this would be it.


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