Cultivating Healthy Digital Ecologies
Detroit Future, an initiative of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, was a city-wide movement to build a more just, creative, and collaborative Detroit through broadband adoption activities.
Origins at the AMC
The idea for the Detroit Future programs was seeded at the 2009 Allied Media Conference in Detroit. That summer, grassroots media organizers from around the country discussed how we could use BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) funds to cultivate "healthy digital ecologies," in which people not only had access to the Internet, but had the skills to use the Internet and other communication tools to transform their lives and their communities.
Detroit Digital Justice Coalition
Later that summer, Allied Media Projects convened a meeting for Detroiters to discuss how we could bring our visions for healthy digital ecology to life. We founded ourselves as the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition and drafted principles of digital justice, organized around themes of Access, Participation, Common Ownership and Healthy Communities. The participants in that initial meeting included a wide spectrum of community organizations representing youth, elders, low-income residents, environmental justice activists, technologists and artists. These groups brought essential perspectives on what BTOP’s “broadband adoption” mandate needed to look like for their diverse communities.
As a strategy for engaging our communities in the development of our vision for our BTOP proposal, we created the model of the “DiscoTech” (Discovering Technology Fair). At these events, we led workshops to demystify the Internet and digital technology, teaching everything from how to set up email to how to build a computer from recycled parts. We conducted surveys and interviews, asking people what kinds of training and communication infrastructure they needed in their communities. We used those surveys to generate ideas for programs that would meet the needs of our communities and help us actualize our vision for digital justice and a healthy digital ecology.
Launch of Detroit Future Initiative
In March 2010, we partnered with Michigan State University to submit a BTOP proposal. At the core of our proposal was an affirmation of the expertise of our communities. Rather than view broadband adoption as a strategy to address a deficiency in our communities, we sought to integrate digital media technologies into the successful work for community transformation that was already prevalent in Detroit, in order to make that work stronger.
In Fall 2010 we found out that we were awarded two grants: one to support a network of public computer centers and a second to launch digital media training programs. The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition empowered Allied Media Projects and the East Michigan Environmental Action Council to implement the digital media training programs and launch a youth media network, respectively. These programs – Detroit Future Media, Detroit Future Schools and Detroit Future Youth – composed the Detroit Future initiative. Thirteen DDJC member organizations would run the public computer centers out of their community centers. The Open Technology Institute was to document and evaluate all of the programs.
Throughout the three year duration of the Detroit Future Initiative, Allied Media Projects and EMEAC worked with the Open Technology Institute of the New America Foundation in Washington DC to conduct participatory documentation and evaluation of the Detroit Future programs using social media. We trained all DF participants to use Twitter to document their experiences in the program and beyond that, to spark online discourse about the future of Detroit using the #detroitfuture hashtag. Between 2011 and 2013 we archived and analyzed more than 10,000 tweets to measure the growth of relationships, conversations, and ideas across this city-wide movement.