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!).

New Jobs & Cities: Berkeley and American U/D.C.

That’s right: two new jobs!  A fantastic sequence.  First, I have started my postdoc at UC Berkeley.  Then a year from now I will head to Washington D.C. to join the faculty at American University in 2015.  Here’s more:


(1) Currently I am a postdoc scholar at UC Berkeley’s School of Information — often called the “I School.” My time is split between my own research on civic media, and teaching for Berkeley’s new MA in information and data science. My research continues to investigate real-world games and civic learning. My teaching at Berkeley will focus on a course on research design for big data, at the overlap of computer science and social science.  One of my goals for this year is to reflect on how graduate pedagogy can best support hot new fields (e.g., where pushing past the hype requires balancing technical innovation with organizational learning and field-level strategy).


(2) Then in the summer of 2015 I will move to Washington D.C. to join the faculty of the School of Communication at American University (AU) as an assistant professor.  For a civic scholar like me, D.C. is an extraordinary node in the conversation on civic innovation, and as bonus, AU has some of the most civically engaged students in the nation.  A big factor in my decision to join AU is their new dean Jeff Rutenbeck, who has a rare understanding of games and has already launched a new MA in game design.  The Center for Media and Impact was a big draw too.  There are too many incredible faculty to list (!), and so I will post more as specific collaborations emerge.

(P.S. — Did I mention that dissertation was officially accepted and filed?  I defended back in June at the USC Annenberg School, and in June all the formatting changes were finally accepted.  Hurrah!  My dissertation investigated how real-world games can empower neighborhood networks, including for collective action and sustainable development.  More on specific research findings to come; for now, another round of thanks to my co-chairs François Bar and Henry Jenkins, as well as committee members Tracy Fullerton and Sandra Ball-Rokeach.)

Presenting at Serious Play

serious-play-conf-logoWith Tracy Fullerton, I will be doing a “Critical Conversation” session on Wednesday July 23, 2014 at 5pm. Our topic is the Reality Ends Here game, and the session considers the game’s learning goals and evaluation strategy (hint: network analysis, drawing on my dissertation research). The conference runs for several days, this year held at USC. In the conference organizers’ words: “The Serious Play Conference, now in our 4th year, is a leadership conference for professionals who embrace the idea that games can revolutionize learning.” See also the conference program.

Our session at G4C on Impact Types

Update: Video of our panel is now live! (per 5/20/2014)

Session description (original post):

g4c-2014At our session this week at Games for Change, we will be announcing a new project to frame “how games have impact.” The idea is that the field is fragmented, and unnecessarily so. Funding from the Packard Foundation agrees that a typology of sorts might be worth investigating. Can we start bringing the disparate research together with how assessment practitioners actually approach their jobs? More to come, but for now here are the details:

Title: Impact from Games? Pick the Right Field First!

Presenters: Benjamin Stokes, Tracy Fullerton, Gerad O’Shea, Shelley Pasnik

Description: What kind of impact is possible with a game? The secret is that successful games have *different* kinds of impact. Too often, the success factors and indicators are mucked together. Perhaps it is time we stop confusing behavior change with advocacy campaigns, let alone success in crowd-sourced labor! For the first time, with funding from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, we are aiming to spell out different big picture frameworks for “how games have impact.” On April 24th, we are launching this public discourse: come away with starting points to evaluate your next game, and maximize its impact.

p.s. — Here’s the slide we used on “impact types” to push past the usual surface discussion of learning-vs-outreach:

Presenting on Reimagining Payphones as Urban Planning (at USC)

usc-annenberg-symposiumThis Thursday March 27th, I will be giving an update on our research with the Leimert Phone Company at the USC Annenberg Symposium. Details are below. I will be co-presenting with collaborating researchers Karl Baumann and Andrew Schrock.

Reimagining Payphones: Urban Planning via the Leimert Phone Company

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Berkeley brown bag on Games that Build Networks

berkeley-logoJoin me on February 12th at the UC Berkeley School of Information for a brown bag seminar. I will be discussing my research on games that directly shape real-world networks. 12:10pm-1pm in 107 South Hall. For details, see their announcement.