Course Meeting Times

Sessions: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


One subject in Comparative Media Studies / Writing or Media Arts and Sciences, or permission of the instructors.

Course Overview

This project-based studio course focuses on collaborative design of civic media. In 2016, we’ll partner with worker-owned cooperatives. There’s growing interest in worker cooperatives as a powerful form of re-organizing the economy. Our aim is to build a stronger, more democratic, more just, and more sustainable economy! (For more info about worker cooperatives, see The United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC).

The Civic Media Co-design Studio provides an opportunity for students interested in working with community-based organizations to develop civic media projects that connect to grounded strategies for social transformation. We will build teams with diverse skillsets, including (for example) developers, designers, media-makers, researchers, members of existing worker co-ops, and community organizers, and support the teams through an iterative lean startup product development process. We provide design teams with template working agreements, to ensure that the products will be free and open source and that they’ll be run by triple bottom line cooperatives, and connect successful projects to the support networks they’ll need to grow and thrive. The studio is also a space for shared inquiry into the theory, history, best practices, and critiques of various approaches to community inclusion in iterative stages of project ideation, design, implementation, testing, and evaluation.

Civic Media Co-design Studio approaches communities not as (solely) consumers, test subjects, ‘test beds,’ or objects of study, and instead imagines them as co-designers and coauthors of shared knowledge, technologies, narratives, and social practices. Our goal is twofold: To develop an understanding of the ways that technology design processes often replicate existing power inequalities, while at the same time, moving beyond critique to travel as far down the path of community co-creation as possible, within the constraints of any given project. In the current version of the course, we want to help create a pipeline for triple-bottom-line startups, built on free and open source software, cooperatively owned by their workers, to disrupt exploitative models of work in current low-wage sectors.

Co-op Co-design Partners in 2016

  • Vida Verde. The mission of the Vida Verde Women’s Cooperative is to support Brazilian housecleaners in their professions while creating community and promoting healthy and environmentally friendly methods.
  • Placetailor. A Boston based design, build, develop, co-op founded in 2008.
  • CERO Cooperative. CERO Cooperative is an award-winning commercial composting company based out of Dorchester, MA. CERO transports compost to local farms where it is returned to the soil and then used to support the local agricultural economy.
  • Restoring Roots Cooperative. Restoring Roots Cooperative creates beautiful, peaceful, multi-purpose, food producing landscapes from residential yards and small businesses to urban farms and public libraries.

Course Goals

Students who take this course will be able to:

  • Understand and articulate the key principles of co-design
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the history, actors, trends, and critiques of co-design methods
  • Apply theoretical and practical tools of co-design in a real-world partnership with a community-based organization
  • Effectively use free / libre and open source project management tools to facilitate collaborative work in diverse teams
  • Make concrete contributions to the development of a real-world civic media project that is grounded in the needs of a community partner


Texts and discussion 10%
Process documentation 70%
Final project 20%

Student Assignments & Grading

Grading for this course is organized as follows:

  • 10% texts & discussion: You are responsible for engaging with all texts for the class, and coming to all course meetings prepared to discuss the week’s texts.
  • 70% process documentation: Expect to spend time (approx. 1-2 hours) each week on a written reflection / documentation of process that your group will post to the course blog. Reflections should focus on your group’s experience working on the co-design project, and may also tie in the week’s theme and assigned texts. Process documentation may use any media you choose (text, photo, video, audio, drawings, maps, etc.) to document the progress of the collaborative design project. Blog posts must be up by no later than noon prior to each session to receive full credit.
  • 20% final project: Presentation & write-up (case study).
  • Evaluations by the community partner will also be taken into account.

A Note About Blogging and Anonymity

All participants in the course are expected to post regular blog entries on a publicly accessible site (the course blog). You may, however, choose to remain anonymous (actually, pseudonymous) by publishing under a pseudonym not easily linkable to your real name.