Engagement Lab partners with local institutions in Boston Civic Media Consortium

by Ross Cristantiello / Beacon Staff • February 24, 2016

Catherine D'Ignazio, assistant journalism professor.
Courtesy of Catherine D'Ignazio
Catherine D'Ignazio, assistant journalism professor.
Courtesy of Catherine D'Ignazio

Members of Emerson’s faculty have partnered with other colleges and organizations around the area to form the Boston Civic Media Consortium, a network aimed at advancing research on multiple levels throughout the city.

It’s currently based out of the Engagement Lab, according to Catherine D’Ignazio, a chair of the faculty members of the group and an Emerson professor.

While the network is still in its early stages, it’s already influencing Emerson students in certain classes. Speakers from Public Lab, a member of the group, recently spoke with students in D’Ignazio’s Data Visualization journalism class about do-it-yourself environmental science. D’Ignazio said she hopes to see more classes using the consortium for lectures, field trips, and new projects.

The two main goals of the network are to bring together college educators and connect the various affiliated colleges and organizations with their surrounding communities, D’Ignazio said.

D’Ignazio said she came up with the idea with Eric Gordon, founding director of the lab, and Paul Mihailidis, associate director, when they realized civic media education at Emerson was similar to that at other local colleges. The three decided a partnership between these institutions would be mutually beneficial. Eventually, the lab pitched the idea to the New York-based Teagle Foundation, a group which works to fund innovation in liberal arts education. It agreed to finance the consortium for three years, they said.

The consortium has held two conferences since it began in October, both focused on developing collaborations between educational institutions and community organizations. D’Ignazio said the aim of the consortium is to figure out how a “college or university becomes a better citizen in its own backyard.”

Right now, the BCMC consists of over 10 colleges and at least 30 community organizations, according to D’Ignazio. Some members include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. In addition, the Mayor’s Office and the Boston Public School Department represent the city government.

“We’ve cast a pretty wide net,” D’Ignazio said. “We definitely hope to form a solid core of members.”

D'Ignazio said the consortium’s long-term goal is to create classes that are collaborations between multiple local institutions.

At the moment, one of the projects that this network is focusing on is a set of guidelines for researchers who are working with community organizations. In Boston, since there are so many universities, a lot of groups tend to be over-tapped and over-surveyed, according to Becky Michelson, a project manager at the Engagement Lab and a coordinator for the consortium.

“The overall goal of this project is to determine how these types of collaborations can be more mutually beneficial,” Michelson said, “so that community organizations can also get something out of [being researched].”