New article: Mobile Design as Neighborhood Acupuncture: Activating the Storytelling Networks of South L.A.

urban-acupuncture-in-journal-of-urban-technologyWe have a fun paper out this month on “neighborhood acupuncture” in the Journal of Urban Technology. The broader special issue was on urban acupuncture, described by the editors as: “a localized intervention or treatment… used for the revitalization and (re)creation of a city by targeting strategic points, poking or activating networks into action.”

Co-authors: George Villanueva, François Bar, and Sandra Ball-Rokeach.


A delicate touch is required to empower neighborhoods using civic media. Funding is persistently scarce. Especially in marginalized neighborhoods, blunt designs can be counterproductive and even entrench complex problems. New metaphors may be needed to guide design and empower local neighborhoods. Urban acupuncture is used as the basis for this study, emphasizing a light-touch strategy that has shown success in Brazil with urban transit, and more recently in Europe with urban design. We specifically propose “neighborhood acupuncture” to address the local level, tapping the sociology of place-based communication. To investigate the implications for systematic design, a case study is probed in South Los Angeles using mobile media for community mapping. Using qualitative methods, three tactics were investigated for the potential to “poke” the network into action, including one to bridge diverse storytelling networks. Each tactic ultimately seeks to build the capacity for collective action around neighborhood issues. Acupuncture is broadly argued to sustain two design shifts: first to help approach neighborhoods as ecosystems, and second, to design for circulation rather than any single technology platform.

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Webinar on Histories and Futures of DML

Here’s a video of our webinar yesterday with Connected Learning TV. Panelists were: Nichole Pinkard, S. Craig Watkins, Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito, and me. Our hosts and organizers were the amazing Sangita Shresthova, Gabriel Peters-Lazaro, and Andrew Slack. Premise:

How can reflecting on histories of DML inform our thinking for the future?

…a conversation… on the early days of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub and the annual DML Conference, which began six years ago. By recounting the histories of DML, participants hope to surface new paths forward; they’ll also discuss the #DML2055 component of this year’s conference, a futures-oriented experience for all attendees.

This webinar is part of a May 2015 series titled Equity by Design: A DML 2015 Showcase, in which themes from the 2015 Digital Media and Learning conference are highlighted.

video excerpt: reclaiming assessment

I just discovered this short (3 min) video from our panel earlier this year on “Impact Design.” I’m increasingly on a mission to help reclaim assessment, including to improve quality, shift power relations and increase impact. The focus was on documentary film and impact media at the Media That Matters conference in DC:

My co-panelists were Brigid Maher (moderator and director of “Mama Sherpas”), Dana Chinn (Media Impact Project), and Luisa Dantas (Land of Opportunity). I hear echoes of this conversation in educational games, civic media and community journalism.

For more, see all videos from the conference.

Report: Impact with Games — a fragmented field?

cover-fragmented-field-report1-smI’ve co-authored a new report on Impact with Games: A Fragmented Field, along with Games for Change and the Michael Cohen Group.  From our abstract:

This is the first report in a series on game “impact types.” We begin with the problem. Our field needs a better way to talk about impact — a deeper conversation that is more fundamentally inclusive and multidisciplinary, yet still evidence-based. This report is a first step, revealing the basic fragmentation and documenting its harm.

Inside we reveal five types of fragmentation, each pointing to specific opportunities to improve the coherence of our field.  Specifically:

five types of fragmentation for games and impact

Read and download the full report on the project website:


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Panel at G4C: “Optimizing for Impact AND Creativity”

g4c-festival-12-thumbI’m thrilled to be hosting a session next week at the Games for Change Festival in NYC on reclaiming evaluation to empower artists and our audience. Fellow panelists include:

Official description:

Can we reclaim evaluation to better empower artists, our audience, and marginalized voices? What tricks of impact design can filmmakers borrow from games and vice versa? This session taps experts in ‘impact design’ who are trying new ways to maximize impact. A key focus is on shifting the hidden power relations inherent in assessment, to develop approaches that increase creativity (not stifle it). Seeking to democratize assessment and optimize it as a tool for quality rather than judgment, the panel will highlight several ambitious assessments and provide tips for teams and the field.

Join us Tuesday April 21st, 2015 at 11:15am!

New article: urban planning meets tech design (with payphones!)


With our team at the Leimert Phone Company, I have a new article in the Journal of Community Informatics.

Using a case study of our “payphone redesign” project, we propose a model for how to plan a technology — not just design one.  For more, see our announcement of the article or the article itself (free). Full citation:

Stokes, B., Bar, F., Baumann, K., & Caldwell, B. (2014). Neighborhood Planning of Technology: Physical Meets Digital City from the Bottom-Up with Aging Payphones. Journal of Community Informatics: Special Issue on Community Informatics and Urban Planning, 10(3). [abstract or full article]

Video of our game launch: Sankofa Says @IndieCade

Check out the new video of our urban game Sankofa Says. The game launched in October 2014 as an official selection of IndieCade, the leading independent games festival.

How it works: Sankofa Says is a real-world game that brings people together on city streets. To succeed, players join flash rallies at local landmarks, make phone calls to answer riddles about local history, and tell truth from neighborhood fiction.banner-image1c

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Video on my talk: Games to Empower Neighborhoods

The video is now up from my talk at American University on Games to Empower Neighborhoods: How a new kind of game is building local networks and promoting sustainable business. The talk features the games Macon Money, NYC Commons, and contrasts with 311-style apps like See-Click-Fix.

games-neighborhoods-poster-thumb-copAbstract: A new class of civic games is affecting the real world. Real-world games can go beyond education and training by attempting to get something done, like raising funds or building trust across race and class divides. Different models are needed to understand the impact of such games, especially for local empowerment. Results will be discussed from a particularly bold experiment by the Knight Foundation, where a new game was created to structure economic activity, and fight socio-economic segregation. This talk offers a new way to understand how game-based activities can drive economic development alongside community empowerment, and how to evaluate some of the unusual risks of algorithmic policy.

Afterward, a nice summary of the talk was posted by Pat Aufderheide of the Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSi); and the Commons Lab wrote about the talk with more quotes, which was reblogged by the Governance Lab at NYU.

See also: my prior article on Learning within Real-World Action (2012), published by IJLM from MIT Press (see full cite, with Jeff Watson and Susana Ruiz).

partners1This research was only possibly thanks to the generosity and prior work of Madeleine Taylor of Network Impact in partnership with Anne Whatley of Cause Communications (see also their excellent report for the Knight Foundation).

Co-sponsors of the talk included the Serious Games initiative at the Wilson Center, the AU Game Lab and AU Center for Media and Social Impact, and the AU Library.

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Talk at AU on Games to Empower Neighborhoods (live streamed)

AUSOClogoJoin my live-streamed talk on November 18th from DC! I will be speaking at the Media Innovation Lab at American University.  The talk begins at 11am ET as part of their faculty forum series in the McKinley Building (School of Communication).
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Launching game Sankofa Says @IndieCade

Dear friends of the Leimert Phone Company,

We’re thrilled to let you know that our new game, “Sankofa Says” is an official selection of IndieCade, the leading independent game festival, launching this week, Oct 10th and 11th in Culver City. We are in the big games category.

Sankofa Says is a place-based game that brings people together on the streets of Culver City. To succeed, players join flash rallies at local landmarks, make phone calls to answer riddles about local history, and tell truth from neighborhood fiction.

Every adventure requires hitting the streets, meeting new people. Even locals will encounter a few surprises. With a little luck, you will discover strange cinema history, play with public art, and even help tell the story of Culver City yourself.

We hope you’ll stop by our booth in the IndieCade Village at the corner of Main Street and Culver Blvd in the heart of downtown Culver City, after noon on Friday Oct 10th and all day Saturday Oct 11th. Come play with us! Invite your friends!

–Benjamin, François, Karl, Nicholas, Alex , and all the essential Leimert Phone Company’s artists, technologists, organizers and activists, without whom none of this would be possible (see full list!).