Annual Reporting: (2012) Digital Justice in the District
Throughout most of 2012, I worked on a couple of projects that I’d started while at Bread for the City. (I left Bread in March of 2012, but in both of these projects I saw the promise of opportunity to develop powerful information technologies for marginalized communities in the District of Columbia. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I did what I could — which was unfortunately just not sufficient. But through failure, I learned.
In this work, the framework of ‘digital justice’ shaped my perspective.i
The Broadband Bridge initiative
My primary project of 2012 dealt with DC’s broadband infrastructure — the series of tubes that comprise the internet and associated technologies that are used (or not) by the city’s residents. I served as a kind of de facto lead coordinator for the Broadband Bridge, a community-based initiative with roughly three goals:
a) educating people about broadband technology and its place in their lives and communities
b) educating public officials about policies that would support the development of community broadband
c) building locally-owned internet infrastructure
The Broadband Bridge’s goal was to leverage the DC government’s broadband infrastructure as an anchor of wireless networks that community members could build and maintain themselves. In addition to mere access to the internet, we were interested in how the development of such community wireless networks could catalyze the organization of other technology opportunities needed in underserved communities throughout the District.
In pursuit of that vision, we organized Discovering Technology Fairs (AKA DiscoTechs, as inspired by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition) to playfully explore technology’s potential to reshape individuals and communities. We presented our vision for a digital future at DC’s Community Broadband Summits. And we produced a diverse set of testimonies for public hearings.
Unfortunately, our efforts were not constructively engaged by the District Government, and the Broadband Bridge is now dormant (although there are some promising community wireless network initiatives that persist in the District). But DC still sits on one of the most powerful municipally-owned fiber optic networks in the world, and that is rightfully public infrastructure. Sooner or later, I believe this resource can be leveraged to promote equity and justice for the residents of in our nation’s capital.
Read more about the Broadband Bridge at the following links:
1) A profile in Washington City Paper.
2) Testimony delivered to the Government Oversight Committee.
3) A comprehensive memo that I drafted upon exiting the project.
4) A brief essay about our DiscoTechs published in Volume 4 of the Detroit Digital Justice Zine. ii
Community Resource Directory Data
My second project of 2012 involved community data — specifically, information about what services (health, human, social, legal, etc) are available to people in the District of Columbia. Through an ad hoc group sometimes referred to as the DC Community Data Commons ( Google group here), I facilitated conversations among local service providers, government officials, information system developers, and local ‘civic hackers’ about this challenge. ( Early blog post here.) Together, we developed a vision for an open platform that would make a ‘co-produced’ service referral directory openly available for use in a variety of contexts — and we took baby steps in this direction by consolidating multiple databases into a ‘common data pool.’ This project recently placed among the winners of the National Conference on Citizenship’s Civic Data Challenge. (Also notable: while working on this project, I became a founding member and ‘Chief Reality Officer’ of DC’s local civic geekery, Code for DC.)
I’ll share more about this project in my review of 2013. Meanwhile, see the project’s page here.