Currently, I am working on three ongoing initiatives, detailed below. (You can also see my 2018 University of Kentucky talk, “Co-Creating the Future of Work in Kentucky: The Power of Narrative for Imagining Sustainable Solutions,” for some color commentary on all three projects.)
The Future of Work in Kentucky. In a state where iconic and once-staple industries like tobacco farming and coal mining have been severely disrupted, and where key industries like traditional manufacturing, order fulfillment, transportation of goods–and the service industry that surrounds such transportation–are projected to continue to be severely disrupted in the years to come, what are potential positive futures for the state’s economy? What are the paths to getting there? What obstacles stand in the way? And what are some of the promising projects already heading in that direction? With the MIT Open Documentary Lab, we are exploring a co-created interactive documentary project addressing these questions. With the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP), Kentucky was named the first U.S. region to ever be accepted to the program in 2018. (More from University of Kentucky and Lane Report.) With the MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab, we are looking at ways to help workers (and employers) determine whether workers have an aptitude for, and an interest in, computational thinking. With the University of Southern California Annenberg School’s Civic Imagination Project/Civic Paths team, we are exploring how processes engaging a collective “civic imagination” might assist in finding answers to these questions. With the South Fayette School District in McDonald, PA, we are exploring a pilot project for bringing computational thinking into K-12 classrooms. With Western Kentucky University’s Department of Communication, I co-taught a class on the Future of Work in Kentucky in Spring 2018. And, with various entities in the state, we’re exploring additional experiments and partnerships in higher education, K-12 education, and workforce development that might help The Bluegrass State find innovative ways forward. More on some aspects of this initiative in The Boston Globe Magazine, WBUR’s Here and Now, The GroundTruth Project, and CXO Magazine. Also, listen to the audio podcast of our SXSW session on “reimagining a disrupted economy.”
Community Stories Lab. Dr. Andrea Wenzel at Temple University and I have been exploring, as Knight News Innovation Fellows at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, how political polarization and urban-rural divisions are impacting the lives of residents on a local level and processes for building/fortifying stronger local civic communication networks.
- In our first phase, that work focused on understanding how these issues have impacted the lives of people within Kentucky, and potential interventions–in partnership with journalism outlets in “The Bluegrass State”–to address such tensions. More at the Tow Center. See our initial report at Columbia Journalism Review. And here is a Financial Times feature on the research and trust in journalism in this region.
- Our second phase was a workshop with local participants in the research, news outlets, and community groups in Kentucky coming out of the research. Here is a recap of that workshop and a CJR piece on the tradition of society columns in rural Kentucky journalism, inspired by discussion from that event.
- Our third phase includes pilot projects with local newsroom partners in Kentucky.
- In February 2018, we partnered with The American Assembly at Columbia University, The Bowling Green Daily News, and civic tech company Pol.is to create the “Bowling Green Civic Assembly,” a three-part initiative focused on bringing the community together to discuss what would make the area a better place to “live, work, and spend time.” This work included a Virtual Town Hall (see here and here), an in-person Town Hall (see here, here, and here), and a community workshop to discuss results and envision next steps. See Jessica McKenzie’s thoughts on the process at Civicist, and find more on the process at the Bowling Green Civic Assembly site.
- Our “Rural Journalism Innovation Lab” initiative with The Ohio County Monitor in Ohio County, Kentucky, has focused on whether various types of experiments drive deeper engagement and support of local journalism in a rural place and connecting with/reimagining local community traditions like liars tables and society columns from community contributors. More on what we’re up to next at Journalism.co.uk.
- In related work, Andrea Wenzel and I are partnering with Latrell Crittenden at Thomas Jefferson University to launch our “Report Local: Local News Capacity Building Models and Community Trust” project. A brief description here.
The Artisanal Economies Project
This initiative to examine and understand the rise of artisanal economies in the U.S. aims to better understand how people have created artisanal businesses that are profitable as full-time endeavors or as side projects and the lessons they’ve learned along the way; the barriers commonly encountered in trying to create a profitable artisanal business; how ecosystems are forming to support artisanal economies, the various levels/roles people play in those localized or virtual artisanal economies, and what is currently missing in those ecosystems; and potential ways to help people see the potential for engaging in the artisanal ecosystem–as maker, as distributor, as curator, as customer. More at our website.