Goldin Institute grassroots social change

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]

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

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]