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Center for Future Civic Media

The Center for Future Civic Media is “developing the emerging ‘Fifth Estate’ of participatory news, media, and civic change. Civic media is any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of among its residents. Civic media goes beyond news gathering and reporting. Learn more at http://civic.mit.edu.

The Center for Future Civic Media supports research at MIT to innovate civic media tools and practices and test them in communities. Bridging two established programs at MIT—one known for inventing alternate technical futures, the other for identifying the cultural and social potential of media change—the Center for Future Civic Media is a joint effort between the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. It is made possible by a four-year grant from the Knight Foundation. (Read their Knight Foundation proposal pdf).

The Center for Future Civic Media is working to create technical and social systems for sharing, prioritizing, organizing, and acting on information. These include developing new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; serving as an international resource for the study and analysis of civic media; and coordinating community-based test beds both in the United States and internationally.

These three activities are vitally interconnected. We study the existing uses of civic media to identify best practices and urgent needs; connect those insights to the development of new tools and processes; partner with local groups to put these tools and processes into the hands of community builders; and monitor the results to inform the next phase of development.

We use the term civic media, rather than citizen journalism: civic media is any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of civic engagement among its residents. Civic media goes beyond news gathering and reporting. MIT students are experimenting with a variety of new civic media techniques, from technologies for protests and civil disobedience to phone-texting systems that allow instant, sophisticated votes on everyday activities. The Center amplifies the development of these technologies for community empowerment, while also serving to generate curricula and open-source frameworks for civic action.

Transforming civic knowledge into civic action is an essential part of democracy. As with investigative journalism, the most delicate and important information can often focus on leaders and institutions that abuse the trust of the communities they serve. By helping to provide people with the necessary skills to process, evaluate, and act upon the knowledge in circulation, civic media ensures the diversity of inputs and mutual respect necessary for democratic . Some of what emerges here looks like traditional journalism, while some moves in radical new directions.

About Comparative Media Studies

From the start, the CMS program has been invested in understanding the ways everyday people make meaningful use of media technologies and content—both old and new—in the course of their everyday lives. Henry Jenkins, co-director of CMS, coined the term “participatory culture” almost twenty years ago to refer to the earliest signs of the emergence of a do-it-yourself media culture. CMS promotes a philosophy of “applied humanities” research which has resulted in significant new developments in the fields of games and learning, new media literacies, consumer relations, and humanities computing.

About the Media Lab

Known around the world as a center for cutting-edge research, the Media Lab develops new technologies that will, sooner rather than later, be a part of our daily lives. A place where the future is lived, not imagined, the Lab blurs traditional boundaries between disciplines, designing technologies that empower people to express themselves and understand the world in new ways. Lab researchers are dedicated to inventing a better future, creating machines and technologies that not only augment human capabilities, but also relate to people on more “human” terms.

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