Partnering with DePaul's Technology for Social Good Lab

One of the Goldin Institute’s core values is to build partnerships that are rooted in the power of communities working together to build solutions that can help generate local social change. The Chicago Peace Fellows have done this throughout the 2019 GATHER course, working to build community not only within their neighborhoods, but also among themselves and with civic partners throughout Chicago.

As part of the GATHER course, the Chicago Peace Fellows generated Asset Maps of their neighborhoods, asking friends and neighbors what they considered “assets” in their communities. After coming together as a cohort to discuss all the assets they identified in the 14 neighborhoods in which they work, a larger discussion was initiated around a “Living Asset Map” that could be city-wide, connecting grassroots leaders and nonprofits throughout the city with each other and like-minded organizations as well as other institutions and public leaders. 

To move this conversation forward, the Goldin Institute has partnered with Dr. Sheena Erete at DePaul University's Technology for Social Good Lab to research and prototype a digital version of a shared asset map of the 19 Community Areas designated for grants by the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities. Three undergraduate students sponsored by DePaul’s Steans Center will be joined by three graduate students to design an interface that supports asset-mapping by Chicago grassroots leaders and their communities.

The undergraduate students from the Department of Geography will use their expanding technical skills in digital map-making, incorporating data from the city as well as from the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the Metropolitan Planning Council to create base maps for each area before digitally adding the assets identified by the Peace Fellows during their progress through the GATHER course.

The three graduate students will work with the Technology for Social Good Research and Design Lab, where Dr. Erete is the director, to engage community organizations across Chicago in interviews and design workshops, enhancing the base maps created by their undergraduate teammates as a prototype an interactive digital tool that can connect grassroots leaders, increase their collaboration, and act as a citywide tool for peace building. Their work will begin this semester and stretch into summer 2020.

“We are excited to collaborate with the Goldin Institute because the Chicago Peace Fellows' work is rooted in their communities and leverages local assets, which we believe is the only way to grow and sustain healthy communities.” -- Jessa Dickinson, doctoral candidate, DePaul University.

During asset mapping workshops held by the Goldin Institute for the Chicago Peace Fellows, the Fellows identified layers not typically found on traditional asset maps. They became specifically interested in mapping less visible, but equally valuable, assets such as the tight networks of friends from demolished public housing buildings who continue to meet for annual reunions near the sites of their former buildings even though they have all been relocated to other neighborhoods, or the impact that a block leader might have on a neighborhood, or physical spaces like closed schools that are not currently in use but could easily be turned into space for after school programs, meetings of community organization, or partnership opportunities.

Encouraged by the relationships that they have found with institutional leaders such as the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago Trauma Center, the Fellows view this digital map as another item in their expanding toolbox to prevent violence, build peace in their neighborhoods, and make the entire city safer.

Key features of the new digital map’s design will be the ability to capture non-physical assets that exist in each of our communities, a user-friendly interface for grassroots leaders, and public access to add to the collective asset map of Chicago.

GATHER Advisor Dr. Ceasar McDowell Speaks on Ethics, Design and Democracy

Ceasar McDowell, a professor of civic design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a longtime senior adviser to the GATHER curriculum, gave an inspiring lecture in Chicago recently attended by several Chicago Peace Fellows as well as Goldin Institute board and staff.

Ceasar gave the 2019 Ikeda Lecture entitled “Dialogue in Demographic Complexity: Overcoming Our Discriminatory Consciousness” before a packed room of several hundred people at Depaul University’s Student Center on Tuesday, October 1.


As a teacher of urban planning and community development at MIT, Ceasar coordinates cross-department initiatives that leverage technology for community engagement, and he began his talk by talking about ethical principles for design, among them Design for the Margins, which he explained was a way to think about creating solutions that work for those who are in the most difficult situations.

[quote]“If you design for people at the margins, you automatically get the people in the middle. People at the margins are living with the failures of society.” -- Ceasar McDowell[/quote]

To illustrate this principle, he brought up the example of curb cuts, which were originally carved into American sidewalks after the Second World War to help veterans in wheelchairs get in and out of transportation. After being installed, however, curb cuts unexpectedly also helped strollers, bicycles, shopping carts and other persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, Ceasar added that properly following this principle also meant continuing to question solutions so that new solutions are constantly innovated.


Ceasar articulated other principles such as Design for Collaboration, Design for Equity, Design for Systemic Change, and Design of Ecological Solutions, for which he cited the example of the president of the Mitsubishi Corporation, who responded to a protest by the Rainforest Action Council by spending several weeks with the organization, and then taking back their ideas to the company, where he made changes to their procedures to reduce waste and refocus on human relationships, looking at families as resources.

Design for Analog as well as Digital, Design for Healing and Design for Empathy were other principles, though the latter, Ceasar cautioned, had a dark side. Empathy required reflection, or else it “enables aggression to those causing distress to the person we feel empathy for.”


[quote]“We have to support the things we want to change while we maintain the vision of the thing we want to be.”[/quote]

Truly practicing these principles, Ceasar said, requires living in transition. In that vein, he talked about a campaign he implemented at MIT in which they initially asked individuals “What do you want to know about the future of democracy?” But after getting many confused responses, they realized many people were ambivalent about democracy, so they modified the question to ask “What do you want to know about the future of America?”


After the talk, Ceasar took questions from the audience. In response to one young man who identified as African American and gay, Ceasar counseled him to be ready for extraordinary responsibilities.

[quote]“To act as a conscience of society – a moral compass – you have to act from that position even though it feels so unfair to carry that burden.”[/quote]

GATHER: For the Margins, not the Masses

DePaul University Professor Lisa Dush recently presented the Goldin Institute’s GATHER program as “A Learning Platform for the Margins, not the Masses,” at an April 1, 2019 "Research Meet and Greet" event for colleagues, members of the university community and special guests.

GATHER is both a curriculum for grassroots organizers and an on-line learning system that was designed by Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman working with a team of software engineers and advisors. Both the GATHER curriculum and the software were designed in collaboration with the Goldin Institute's network of community leaders in over 50 countries and the design is based on 17 years of experience empowering organizers in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances. As an expert of digital learning as well as a longtime ally of the Goldin Institute’s efforts, Lisa focused on the GATHER software’s genesis and development, analyzing its versatility as well as its potential.

Reviewing GATHER’s history and outlining the program’s future options, Lisa asked,

[quote]“Why were a scrappy group of less than 15 people able to create a learning platform with more novel features than an enterprise learning management system?”[/quote]

Lisa first worked with the Goldin Institute in 2011, teaching a workshop on digital learning and storytelling in Haiti, where Goldin was collaborating with Malya Villard-Appolon, a founder of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), to establish security for women in the wake of a massive earthquake that had destroyed the homes and infrastructure for much of the population the previous year. Lisa worked with leaders from five women's rights organizations in Haiti to teach digital storytelling so that they could tell their own stories in their own words using equipment donated by the Goldin Institute.

Lisa Dush working with the Goldin Institute to facilitate a digital storytelling workshop for partners in Haiti, in 2011.

Lisa discussed the evolution of GATHER from its initial concept and shared the role that faculty and student assistants from DePaul played in the process. Lisa noted that while the Goldin Institute is not a technology-driven organization, but the GATHER team progressed deliberately and brought in professional software developers to help realize the vision. The introduction of Apple’s iPad and other tablet devices in 2010 was a fortuitous development that sparked a "tablet-first" development strategy to make use of a mobile toolkit for community leadership.

Lisa Dush with Meg Palmer, a graduate assistant in DePaul’s MA program in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, who is helping Lisa with data analysis in a study of the Inaugural Gather Cohort.


After years of testing and development, GATHER was first deployed in the spring of 2018 with an international cohort, and Lisa began an ongoing, intensive research study that includes a study of the behind-the-scenes architecture of the software as well as feedback from users. She documented every step of the way, including the delivery of the specially configured iPads to “all sorts of crazy addresses.”

Global Fellows received iPad tablet devices with the GATHER platform pre-loaded for their use in taking the course.

When it comes to facilitating peer-to-peer learning, GATHER has significant advantages over existing learning management systems, which are designed principally to facilitate teacher-directed learning. Additionally, Lisa noted that enterprise LMSs’ devote significant effort to optimizing their platforms for learning analytics, rather than for student engagement and learning.

About GATHER, Lisa said,

[quote]“First, the platform is designed for a networked, global cohort of learners, so that they can learn together to scale up their work. Overall, you are constantly reminded that you are a community of learners.”[/quote]

Lisa continued, "GATHER’s interface makes the participants visible to each other in ways that are unavailable in other learning programs, while the use of a tablet encourages “walking through the world, engaging with your environment, sharing with your community.”

The GATHER toolkit, moreover, gives participants useful techniques through earned “tools” that can be brought along to real world situations. Lisa cited surveys which showed high satisfaction among the GATHER graduates, who pledged to stay in touch with each other and said that their work already had been positively influenced by the program.

Professor Dush shares the results of her research study of the GATHER Platform.

The Goldin Institute is currently engaged in a new GATHER curriculum designed to build the capacity of organizers based in Chicago neighborhoods, the Chicago Peace Fellows, a joint initiative with the Conant Family Foundation.

Jacquelyn Moore, a Peace Fellow with extensive experience in technology and finance who runs robotics programs for young people in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, said Lisa’s presentation accorded with her experience with the GATHER software thus far. As a new member of the GATHER community of learning, Jacquelyn said she particularly enjoyed getting to know the international alumni of the programming. Jackie shared:

[quote]“Even though the GATHER fellows in Africa are spread out across that continent, we here in Chicago often feel isolated from each other. Through GATHER, I’ve gotten to know people I could talk to.”[/quote]

DePaul University Partners for Strategic Storytelling

Throughout a ten-week period in the first months of this year, the Goldin Institute has been engaged with students in Professor Lisa Dush’s “Writing Digital Content” course at DePaul University, in a service-learning partnership. A senior advisor to the organization for the GATHER platform, Professor Dush invited the institute to engage with a team of four graduate students--Hannah Colwill, Rachel Landgraf, Delasha Long, and Adam Obringer--for the eventual development of a “Content Strategy Report” following in-person and virtual consultations with staff members.

[quote]Working with real organizations not only gives my students a way to apply concepts they’re learning, it also gives them ownership of an important project over the duration of the term. Organizations like the Goldin Institute exposes my students to all the great work being done by Chicago-area nonprofits.[/quote]

In this partnership, the emphasis is on documenting the important aspects of an organization’s content strategy that have not yet been documented: for example: Who are the organization’s key audiences? What are its key messages? What platforms is the organization posting on, and how often? What engagement are they getting, and how does that compare with peer organizations?

The Content Strategy report produced by the DePaul graduate students on behalf of the Goldin Institute included half a dozen major recommendations, as well as the development of “personas” to assist in identifying core audiences for the institute’s digital content, as well as a review of social media and website material, and a recommended calendar for dissemination of information via the organization’s multiple outlets.

Lisa Dush, an Assistant Professor in DePaul’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse

Dush, an Assistant Professor in DePaul’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse undertakes research on new media storytelling and organizational processes. Previously, she founded and led a Boston-based company called “Storybuilders.” Dr. Dush has worked with the Goldin Institute for several years as a Senior Advisor on the Gather platform and has led a "Digital Storytelling" workshop in Port au Prince for our partners in Haiti. 

[quote]Partnering with organizations like the Goldin helps my students to understand the challenges of executing a content strategy in a real organizational setting,” explains Dush. “There is nothing like getting to know a particular organization like the Goldin—including its mission, its priorities, and its constraints—to make real the theory we read and the ideas we learn."[/quote]


Haiti Update: Digital Storytelling Project

The Goldin Institute was excited to expand the Digital Storytelling Project by conducting an intensive week-long workshop in Port au Prince, Haiti in August 2011. In this workshop, Goldin Institute associates teamed with Professor Lisa Dush from DePaul University and her graduate assistant Heather Eidson to train seven local women in Port au Prince to complete their own stories from start to finish and share them with their peers on the final day of the workshop.

A consortium of women's groups in Haiti each selected participants for the workshop who were examples of courageous and thoughtful grassroots leaders tackling gender-based violence issues in Port au Prince. The stories were as unique as each individual participant but shared common themes of strength, perservarance and commitment.

The workshop followed the same principles as those taught at Chicago's DePaul University by Professor Dush. Three primary goals were met during the week in Haiti:

  • To teach the participants how to draft, storyboard, write and produce their own digital story using their photographs and recorded voice.
  • To bring together like-minded women who share an active voice in organizing against gender-based violence in and around the temporary camps that arose in post earthquake Haiti.

  • To familiarize the participants with the basic computer hardware and software used during the workshop so that they could in turn teach the method to others or create new stories of their own.

Digital Storytelling Workshop

Thanks to the generousity of many donors, the Institute was able to leave behind the equipment to produce future digital stories. The equipment included a computer preloaded with the software needed to produce a completed digital story, along with several cameras, a compact digital scanner and the recording equipment to supply the audio tracks for newly created stories.

Workshop attendees expressed an interest in sharing their new experiences and skills with others who might benefit from digital storytelling. We are confident that through our ongoing partnership with the women's groups, our colleagues now have a powerful tool for educating and raising awareness to the issue of gender-based violence.


[quote]The Goldin Institute team showed us how to construct a personal story with photographs–a work that we would not have been able to do without GI. I can say that the week will remain etched in my mind because I felt I learned many things and I am ready to go on to teach other women how to construct their own personal stories ... thank you very much for this work."[/quote]

- Workshop participant Getchine Lima


A special thank you to our partners at KOFAVIV and the IJDH/BAI, whose partnership made the week successful and meaningful. We continue to work with both organizations on the RAPP Project. The Goldin Institute Global Associate based in Port au Prince, Rose Getchine Lima was a participant in the workshop as well and her digital story will become part of her biography and posted at our website.

We were pleased to have a Chicago-based documetarian, Renato Velarde accompany us on the trip.  Renato has started post-production work on the hours of footage he filmed of interviews with many of our associates involved with the ongoing security project (RAPP), as well as those working tirelessly behind the scenes at our partner organization KOFAVIV. Renato also filmed a brief overview of the women's workshop during this time - please continue to visit our site for updates and clips to view of Velarde's work.

We owe a great amount of gratitude to those who supported this project from its planning stages to its successful launch. Together we can continue to make a difference to those still jeopardized by the violence that plagues the makeshift communities that were meant to only be temporary shelters to women and their children. To find out more about how you can become further involved, please follow this link.

[slide] [img path="images/lisa_juliette.jpg"]Professor Lisa Dush (standing left) gives overview of digital storytelling to participants through a translator.[/img] [img path="images/writing_drafts.jpg"]Participants begin work on writing their individual stories or 'scripts' on the first day of the digistory workshop.[/img] [img path="images/workingjoemike.jpg"]Goldin Institute associates Joseph Genslak, Gia Biagi and Michael Di Maria offer instruction to workshop participants.[/img] [img path="images/lisa_standing.jpg"]Program Coordinator Lisa Dush checks in on the progress of workshop attendee.[/img] [img path="images/trav_lisa.jpg"]GI Executive Director Travis Rejman and Professor Dush listen to participant feedback, along with translator.[/img] [img path="images/audiorecording.jpg"]Digital story 'rough cuts' come together with audio tracks being checked for alignment with pictures.[/img] [img path="images/mikejoegia.jpg"]The team from GI and four of the Haitian participants pose for a photo sometime early in the workshop.[/img] [img path="images/joe_olguine.jpg"]GI Associate Joseph Genslak reviews a story in progress.[/img] [img path="images/ren_adjusting.jpg"]Filmmaker Renato Valerde checks the frame of his shot while documenting the workshop proceedings.[/img] [img path="images/renwithgetchine.jpg"]Renato and Travis (far right) interview participant Getchine about her work in curbing gender-based violence.[/img] [img path="images/kids_kofaviv.jpg"]Young women pose for a picture outside the KOFAVIV facilities.[/img] [img path="images/groupfeedback.jpg"]Back at the workshop, comments are exchanged about the value of participating in the digital storytelling workshop.[/img] [img path="images/postcelebration.jpg"]A post-production celebration is shared amongst participants and instructors on the last day of review.[/img] [/slide]