Cities are complex places that can lack the infrastructure and processes to stitch together their constituencies. Today, cities are innovating, but many times that innovation is laser focused around data, big data and getting more data. This only gives us a glimpse of the reality regarding citizen experiences within a city. In short, big data by itself is insufficient for innovation.
In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues we must bring together the public to gain a holistic picture of the problems in our cities and the solutions needed to build communities that are economically healthy.
Fiscal scarcity and competing policy demands bring with them a tendency toward favoring utilitarian solutions that do the most good for the greatest number of people. Discussions of urban innovation are sometimes limited by concerns that in an environment of scarce resources, communities cannot afford to focus narrowly on sub groups with unique needs.
In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues just the opposite. Not only does the old adage that the measure of civilization is how it treats its weakest members still stand, McDowell contends that designing for people living on the margins can create powerful positive change that flows outward and up.
Last year, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, I was facilitating a group of students and faculty at MIT reflecting on the impact and meaning of the bombing. The participants ranged from people who had been at the marathon site to those who witnessed it on TV. All experienced the lock down that occurred in Cambridge and felt the impact of the death of eight-year-old Martin William Richard, and many of them shared something deeper, the trauma of being an unwilling victim and sometimes perpetrator of planned, unexpected, unwarranted or thoughtless violence. From a former Israeli solider, who asked “do I kill these 4 men in my line of sight because of the threat they may pose?” to a woman who survived a brutal rape, the bombing made visible the deep trauma so many people live with from day to day.
But something remarkable happened that evening. As we sat in circle listening to each story a young veteran spoke up about his experience with violence in the streets of LA and the deserts of Iraq. He spoke with a deep passion that disrupted the quiet reflection of the group. “We can’t just sit around and talk about this. If things are going to change we have to shift something fundamental in ourselves in order to stop the massive violence in our world.” He continued, “For me it is the following commitment I have made to myself and that I tell each person I am engaged with I Will Not Harm Your Children.” Then he stopped.
Ten years ago when I was going through a critical stage in my life, a friend asked me what I would consider to be my dream job. My answer was pretty simple. I wanted to lead an organization whose primary work was to design processes for complex collaborative efforts aiming at advancing social justice, equity and democracy. I wanted to do this in an organization where issues of power, privilege and race were central, not only to the work we did in the world but in how we engaged with each other to do that work.