Detroit Future Media 2011 Class at AMP
Photo Credit: Allied Media Projects
“Often the most holistic solutions come from places with fewer resources. When people are deeply rooted in their communities, they think about how technology and media can support local solutions,” says Diana Nucera, Co-Director of Allied Media Projects (AMP) in Detroit, Michigan.
Both AMP and the Open Technology Initiative (OTI) are members of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC), an alliance of organizations that received Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grants to run Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) and Public Computer Center (PCC) programs in Detroit.
On November 15th, an AMP team including Nucera, Adriel Thornton, and Anderson Walworth came to Washington, DC, where they gave a presentation at OTI’s offices, visited a field test of the Commotion wireless mesh platform in McPherson Square, and met with staff from their congressional representatives.
At OTI, Nucera described AMP’s guiding principles and its BTOP-related work in Detroit. She explained how AMP empowers students with the tools of technology and media production to organize, to teach, to work, and altogether to build a community-driven sustainable digital ecosystem.
Nucera started with the history of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC), which developed out of a workshop on the BTOP opportunity at the 2009 Allied Media Conference titled, "A Healthy Digital Ecology: Creating a Community Vision for Federal Broadband Funding." The workshop focused on how broadband adoption programs can help places like Detroit that need more comprehensive solutions than just a bridge across the digital divide. Following the conference, AMP convened a group of Detroiters to discuss how to collaboratively build a healthy local digital ecosystem, with or without the BTOP funds. Inspired by the Philadelphia Digital Justice Coalition, the group decided to form a Detroit coalition.
Participants used a collaborative, iterative process to gather community feedback and shape the DDJC’s guiding principles and its ideas about how technology could support a vision for Detroit’s future. Organizers grouped feedback into common themes, shared this work with the group, and then discussed until “everyone felt good [about the principles] and agreed that they would continue to evolve as we put them into practice,” says Nucera.
The resulting Digital Justice Principles solidified the coalition’s methods and its proposed community programs. DDJC also organized “Discotechs” (Discovering Technology Fairs) with the goal of “demystifying” technology for Detroiters from different walks of life. Organizers gathered information from people who attended the Discotechs to understand what trainings and communications infrastructure their communities needed, then crafted programs to meet those community-defined needs.
In 2010, when the NTIA awarded them with BTOP funding via a partnership with Michigan State University, AMP and its DDJC partners sprang into action with the Detroit Future programs: Detroit Future Media, which was the first program to launch, followed by Detroit Future Schools and Detroit Future Youth. The coalition selected 48 participants from over 250 applicants for the Detroit Future Media training based on their visions for the city and their potential to use technology and media skills for education and local job creation. From the start, participants exchanged ideas and used their newly acquired media skills to lift up their communities.
Detroit Future Media is a multi-week training program covering a range of digital media skills and concentrations in education, entrepreneurship and media-based community organizing skills. Nucera explained that the trainers in these programs are community-based artists and previous program graduates who want to share their skills with others. DDJC believes that peer-to-peer education and project-based learning techniques unleash the “power of creativity as a learning tool” across multiple learning styles and at all levels of programs and classes, according to Nucera.
After the first round of classes, AMP conducted an intensive reflection process. Program coordinators interviewed participants and asked them to fill out exit surveys explaining how their vision was coming to life through the skills they had acquired. They solicited input from local small businesses and community organizations about what kinds of digital services they needed most. They were also able to raise additional matching funds to launch a new round of program activities. In this way, AMP continues to reflect and grow, following a cyclical process of learning, listening and speaking to improve its curriculum and programs.
Graduates leave these programs with skills that can be used in the real world to organize, teach, and work. People are inspired and empowered to fulfill their visions for their communities. They are starting to form “an army of indy media makers,” says Nucera. The Detroit Future programs are now at the center of an intergenerational, diverse group of enthusiastic participants who are teaching, organizing, helping small businesses and starting their own small businesses across the city.
Following their DC visit, Nucera and her AMP partners traveled to meet with members of the Philadelphia Freedom Rings Partnership, another of OTI’s BTOP partners, in order to share this story and to learn more about Philadelphia’s BTOP story. While being locally rooted helps lead to holistic solutions, AMP is also showing how its process of learning, listening, and speaking can span geographies to build a stronger and more robust media ecosystem.