Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session

Course Overview

Imagine if networked computers and other devices could unleash full democratic real-time participation in official decisions by all stakeholders. To date, member-led debate and decision-making has always been subject to physical limits in space, time and numbers of participants. Current technologies and business practices can allow architects and planners to break through the traditional constraints to member involvement in the agoras of our public and private institutions. The implications for corporate transparency and accountability, as well as for more responsive government are provocative.

In this seminar, students will design and perfect a digital environment to house the activities of large-scale organizations of people making bottom-up decisions, such as with citizen-government affairs, voting corporate shareholders or voting members of global non-profits and labor unions. A working Open Source prototype created last semester will be used as the starting point, featuring collaborative filtering and electronic agent technology pioneered at the Media Lab. This course focuses on development of online spaces as part of an interdependent human environment, including physical architectures, mapped work processes and social/political dimensions.

A cross-disciplinary approach will be taken; students with background in architecture, urban planning, law, cognition, business, digital media and computer science are encouraged to participate. No prior technical knowledge is necessary, though a rudimentary understanding of web page creation is helpful.

This seminar will be project-based, and will apply user-centered-design principles in the creation of our final working online environment. To this end, MIT has identified various Massachusetts towns that will collaborate on this project to facilitate citizen-led local government decision-making (known as “Open Town Meetings”). Students will work with officials, activists and citizen-participants from these towns. In addition, MIT has concluded agreements with member-led non-profit organizations that will also act as beta testers and participate in the user-centered design process, including Students may propose additional organizations willing to act as collaborators in bringing their member-led decision-making processes online.

Design Requirements: Electronic Self-Governance Through Collaborative Filtering & Open Source Code

There are two basic principles guiding the design of this Participatory Governance Environment: 1. that collaborative filtering can be used to leapfrog the barriers to very large yet effective groups of individuals actively participating in the governance process; and 2. that Open Source Code can be used to ensure that ownership and control remains in the hands of those who consent to use and be governed through it. Our Design Principles Page details the reasoning and approach associated with these dual imperatives.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2002