November 5, 2021
Public engagement is increasingly a priority for municipalities around the world. Community engagement teams are newly installed to build relationships directly with constituents and institutions are incorporating the rhetoric of collaboration and codesign in their public communication. “Smart city” efforts are incorporating urban sensors and discussion tools to gather data and opinions from stakeholders. And still, public sector institutions mostly lack the tools, training, and experience to listen to historically marginalized communities in ways that their voices impact how decisions get made, implemented, and assessed. Barriers of low trust and disrespect between community and governing institutions and misalignment of priorities, lead to antagonism and competition as opposed to the collaboration necessary to meet diverse and critical needs.
This talk introduces the paradigm of deep listening as an institutional imperative for truly smart cities. Listening is not just taking information in; it is relational. It suggests that cities provide opportunities and resources to effectively gather and translate stories into institutional languages that impact practice and policy decisions, and that they create and refine tools to incorporate insights and plan with communities. Deep Listening is presented in five parts: 1) Knowledge sharing: Creating the baseline rules and technical infrastructure for data and information sharing between institutions and communities; 2) Holding space: Designing digital and physical spaces for open and safe dialog among stakeholders; 3) Co-production and sharing of imaginaries: Creating tools and platforms for local storytelling that are informed by science and legible to decision-makers; 4) Sensemaking with a diversity of perspectives: Developing easy to use tools for institutions to make sense of a variety of inputs from communities; 5) Evaluation and monitoring support to assure accountability and to assess quality of information: Creating tracking technologies and protocols that hold institutions and communities accountable to plans. Research from case studies in Boston, USA and Cluj-Napoca, Romania will be presented.
Eric Gordon is a professor at Emerson College, director of the Engagement Lab and Assistant Dean of Civic Partnerships in the School of the Arts. He is also a research affiliate in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. His current research focuses on emergent, values-based governance structures in the smart city and the ethics of data access and sharing. Additionally, for the last ten years, Professor Gordon has explored how game systems and playful processes can augment traditional modes of civic participation. He has served as an expert advisor for local and national governments, as well as NGOs around the world, designing responsive processes that help organizations transform to meet their stated values. He has created over a dozen games for public sector use and advised organizations on how to build their own inclusive and meaningful processes. He is the author of two books about media and cities (The Urban Spectator (2010) and Net Locality (2011)) and is the editor of Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice (MIT Press, 2016) and Ludics: Play as Humanistic Inquiry (Palgrave, 2021). His most recent monograph, Meaningful Inefficiencies: Civic Design in an Age of Digital Expediency (Oxford University Press, 2020) examines practices in government, journalism and NGOs that reimagine civic innovation beyond efficiency.