Contextual Maps for Civic Engagement – Transcription

She started reminding us that we were in the territorial lens. She was talking about how hard it is to find that information. Here is what it is, we were in this area where several Native American territories overlap. Here are the areas in the Cheyenne. While Boulder started as a mining town, and Denver with the trains going east, Denver was founded south across the river from Cheyenne. But these maps hide that history, they say, this is how the world is while it is diversing us from that. These maps, the territories, expose us to that. And this map, of Native American languages, expose at the hypocrisy that we are in America, we should speak English. And the tools that we use and show show how to shape the world and how people understand it. And this is how people design. I’m not geographer, I’m a social impact strategist and I show how our tools interact with the world. I don’t have the tools to teach you all, I want to share this socially. I want to build a framework and how how the technology and the maps should be held. This view should be pretty familiar to us, and pretty efficient in getting us from point A to B. And this mapping is great for – (speaker far from mic). What if I wanted to map from a different figure? What if I had two hours to – (speaker far from mic)? What if we did not create maps that get people from A to B, but help them better know their neighborhoods and on the communities? At the surface – (speaker far from mic) – this gives us white flight, moving people from their restaurants, to their neighborhoods to their grocery stores without paying attention to anything in between. This is a lot easier than getting to the town center. And for many, these stores with big parking lots are chains, and they are promoted to us on the mapping apps because the algorithms that a lot of them use use engagement metrics, and these metrics are often defined by – (speaker far from mic) – using the same prejudices that cause gentrification, removing businesses and mom-and-pop shops. And this data is incomplete. While they cover federal elections, they get a lot fuzzier around global governments. You can mind your congressman, or your senator, but not your city or council member. That is problematic because civic engagement is not the relationship with our communities, it is whether you know the people at your local store, it is about using the city park. Civic engagement is about using the resources, and recognizing them as such and participating in and having meaningful governance. So, before we talk about solutions and rolling them, I want you to think about what democracy is and what makes it worthwhile. So, democracy is where communities make decisions together. Democracy is about the legitimacy of decisions. It is about us having a say in the rules that govern us, to make sure that our needs and our interests are considered and cared for. So, let me say that again: Democracy is about legitimacy, not efficiency, not about choosing one person to make all the decisions and get the job done, it is about consultation and consistency. So, when we limit their participation to a few books, we make democracy is too 2 dimensional, our ties to governments are too fragmented. So – (speaker far from mic). I will walk you through an example. A developer wanted to build a new property on an under utilized block. For context, this is roughly the same population density, as in Manhattan. So, as part of the planning, the commissioner put up signs next to the park, to tell the public of the plan, and there were town hall meetings. Nobody responded, nobody attended. They went ahead with demolition. People responded and wondered what the hell was going on. So she asked the public commissioner. This was a week before the demolition was going to start. Before three days, she organized all of her neighbors through this structure. And then, the commissioner started holding more public meetings. In those meetings, they find out that the park was under utilized because it doesn’t have the facilities that they neighbors wanted. So the developer came up with a new plan. They got federal funds to build new facilities in the park. And, they also gave the developer a chance to build a different building with public commercial space that revitalized the neighborhood. After complete, they are using the park every day. So putting in maps didn’t tell us how to navigate the construction, but that work was being planned and put into the pipelines. The town hall was on Tuesday. That’s why I say democracy isn’t just about voting. It is about being seen, heard, and respected, and better empowering people. So what if we took this map of monuments in the U.S., and then included notes on what department was in charge of up keep, and the officials in charge of governing it. So, in red is North Carolina senate district 14. If you know North Carolina politics, you know that the republicans control the state government. Partially because, as this map shows, they gerrymandered the hell out of the state and distributed multiple blocks across many communities, so they would not be big enough to win in any areas. That is called stacking. In 20 and 22, they did not just split neighborhoods, but houses. And to determine where these people vote, they took aerial photography of the house and guessed where the master bedroom was. So, with districts like this, how do you talk to your neighbors about who or what to vote for, when you don’t know where you are supposed to vote? Gerrymandering doesn’t just disenfranchise people, but it nullifies the basic form of civil discourse, the neighborhood. The party in power hires the mapping firm for $9.5 million, and they put together an algorithm that passes state regulation and cuts the map in a way that benefits them. What does it mean to require public input in redistricting, what are tools for substantive public input actually looks like, and is actually useful? And it can’t just be us as the experts building these tools, and telling people what they need. Because too often, leadership in tech is about disrupting everything. As the one designing and building the new world, we are implicit in our world view in how those who come from completely different life experiences from our own. And that means we are reinforcing systems of oppression, which means that you make the complexity easier to access, and leaving marginalized communities further behind. How do we build tools for everyone, and for us to understand how our daily lives are shaped by community decisions and policies? How do we shape those policies and the people that are making them? When people are connected to their maps, they are connected to their homes and have better control over their politics. How do they build on that and support more work like it? How do we help distant communities share their stories? How can we do it in a way that respects people’s agency and their labor in a way that respects privacy and ownership? We have to prove that we are worthy of these marginalized communities trust. Because this knowledge belongs to people, not the corporate interests that gobble it up for themselves to self-monetize. Right now, our culture thinks of themselves and governments as the one thing that needs to stay out of the way. We think of it as a thing that hinders society and innovation. That is not right. Government and governance, it is the waterer, it is our roads, it is our duty to each other. But building maps are not going to solve this problem. Democracy is a huge problem, and mapping is only a tiny part of it. But you do need to make civic engagement or substantive. And this behavior isn’t something that we can just nudge people toward. Not only do people tend to get resentful, it is dangerous when we do not go through the implications of what we are pushing people to do. And that’s why we cannot just solve the problems, we have to find partners. We cannot build just for people, but with people. Technology alone is not enough. All it does is amplify power. It does so by connecting people. So the question is, are we going to amplify the oppressive system, or the people fighting? How do we build new spaces for collaboration where people are not just yelling at each other, but understanding one another? So this is something that the people in this room can do. This has to be done with people working on public data, in journalism, in technology, activism, it has to be done with policy makers. We need to be working across disciplines. We need to build relationships with our communities. And this is how we raise your words, for the social worker, and the steel worker. This is how we bring up the everyday voices we all need to hear above the white supremacists on CNN. It is how we build a healthy democracy and stave off the charlatans. When we hear one another’s stories, we understand one another, we love one another. We cannot take each other’s stories and ignore them. That’s how we raise each other up as we create this democracy. So go, find the story tellers, find their story, and don’t just make spaces for others, make spaces WITH others. My friends, don’t stop telling your stories. (Applause).

Are there any comments?

Hi, thank you for the talk, it is really interesting to see what is happening. A lot of the example slides that you have on are ideas that I would like to see. Those are really fun ideas, and I think it would be really, really awesome to have some of that implemented. With that question for that, that would obviously be an enormous effort.


Are you thinking putting into OpenStreetMap options for that, or how would you implement that?

I would ask communities whether or not they actually want it. These are just random – (speaker far from mic) – after Emily’s talk in New York. And I was like, this would be interesting for me. But I’m not sure it is actually interesting for someone else. But let’s go into communities and see what Peyton Manning want and build it.

Hi, my question is more of what forms do you think are best to improve civic engagement? Because you mentioned that the neighborhood was a really important level.

Uh-huh. I do research around something that, in academia, or actually in political science, we call deliberative democracy, or participatory democracy, which is where the residents or the citizens come and help shape, like – we have a policy budget. And then the citizens come in, and then they start saying, what actual questions do we need to answer, and what data is available, and what data – what more data do we need to capture to answer this question? And it brings all of these in, and we’re not just getting them open data. We are working with the community to figure out the question so we can figure out what data we need to capture. Thank you. And it is involving everyone, substantively, in every part of the decision. And there are ways to do that at scale, some of them are problematic, others work better, others are experimental. But talk to me afterwards.

Thank you for your talk. Which communities are you working with, in North Carolina, or others?

Most – so I have mostly been doing research, and most of my research has been around the Go Zero civic hacking project. Recently, I have been focusing on Taiwan since I’m Taiwanese.

So for anecdotal reasons, would you be interested in sharing with us what they want to see mapped in their communities, based on the research you’ve done?

My research there has been – so we are engaged in communities whose territories have been exploited by major businesses as well. So luckily, Taiwan is relatively rich. So they have a lot of resources for a lot of things, but they are fighting legal battles more than data battles. And the biggest thing, they are needing facilitated discussion, or decision-making in their processes, and they are trying to work for that and figure that out.

We only have time for one more question.

I wanted to add some more food for thought, a new trend and the solution for gerrymandering is to get mathematicians involved in creating algorithms to redistribute voting blocks and using census data. I’m wondering if there are any other – anything else to maybe consider for the algorithm that can’t be found on the census data.

So my first job was working in science policy, where we brought together mathematicians and legal scholars working on districting. And this is my – the more I think about how districting happens, if their district is one where it is literally a coin throw, that is a fair democracy that is rolling the dice. So I say, get rid of districts.

Thank you very much, everybody. One more round of applause. (Applause).