#CityJamCLT: How jamming is changing the future of Charlotte

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At the close of the three-day Best Minds #CityJamCLT this weekend, every person in the room was on their feet in a standing ovation, many wiping tears from their eyes.

Why? Because mini jammer, 10-year old Anna, understood how special the weekend was to the community. Her message reminded the jammers what they had just accomplished in 48 hours.

“If you are here, you care about your city and making friends. You are engaged with your community and are never afraid to show it. You people are amazing. You are willing to spend your time and a day of your weekend (which face it, is a big sacrifice) to help your city and connect people to devices and close the digital divide. From deep in our hearts, we say, thank you.”

anna-yi

@weloveclt via Instagram

Bruce Clark, Digital Inclusion Project Manager for the James L. Knight School of Communications at Queens University of Charlotte, had tears in his eyes as he said, “This is why we’re here.”

“This is our future,” said Kendra Shillington, Founding Partner of event host Wethinknext. “Nobody asked Anna to do that. She was inspired by what was happening to share how she felt. And that is awesome.”

Best Minds #CityJamCLT came about when the two Charlotteans, dedicated to improving the community, decided to do something. Clark met Shillington last summer and the two connected on the idea that Charlotte needs a new way of working; a way to bring about real change.

The Knight School, along with sponsor AT&T, partnered with Wethinknext to host Best Minds #CityJamCLT. The results will inform the city’s Digital Playbook, Charlotte’s road map for universal digital inclusion.

So what’s in a Jam?

Well, you may have to experience it to understand. A Jam encourages innovations and, more importantly, creates innovators. Participants are encouraged to use tools from a method called service design thinking to explore everyday challenges. Jammers walk away with an understanding of these tools and the ability to bring them into their lives and work.

cityjam-field-research

“Design is a way to make things that are valuable for people,” Shillington says. “By tapping into empathy, creativity and the importance of human values, we can understand more about people’s needs and design for those needs.”

At #CityJamCLT, representatives from Queens University, Johnson C. Smith University, AT&T, Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library system, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the City of Charlotte, Code for Charlotte, local nonprofits and neighborhood organizations gathered to take ideas from prototype to playbook.

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Prior to the event, the hosting team spent months visiting neighborhoods affected by the digital divide to build an accurate body of knowledge to bring to the event. “An important facet about what makes this work unique is that it seeks to involve those whom solutions are aimed at in the process of creating those solutions,” Shillington says.

The research informed four main themes in digital literacy. From there, Jammers formed teams and were given specific personas based on a collection of individuals, and design challenges based on that demographic’s needs.

communicating-in-the-digital-age

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cityjam-brainstorming

Following 48 hours of intense jamming, teams presented prototypes including a mobile electronic engagement platform (MEEP), a micro-app for neighborhoods, a small business bootcamp, and smart wastewater treatment systems.

Clark told me that from audience feedback, the team that created the mobile electronic engagement platform (MEEP) seemed to have the most audience energy behind their idea and may have the idea that could be realistically implemented in a short period of time.

MEEP would bring portable wifi, computers, and digital literacy training to neighborhoods with a traveling bus in collaboration with existing community events.

Clark commented that all the teams ideas had realistic connections to things that are happening now and may have homes in other parts of community work like the Smart Cities initiative.

cityjam-participants

The founders of Wethinknext, Shillington and Netherlands-born Matthijs Numan, formed their organization’s vision around these four principles:

(1) We’re all on the same team.

(2) Find your own space to jam.

(3) Don’t stop believing.

(4) Create something that will make this world awesome.

Shillington says, “Every quarter we want to choose a poignant topic in Charlotte, and partner with organizations to help improve the social climate in our city. We hope to have four events on the calendar each year.”

#CityJamCLT builds on #GovJamCLT, Charlotte’s first jam, themed around civic engagement. “After GovJam people kept asking me ‘what was the result of the prototypes?’” says Shillington. “So I became dedicated making the prototypes real.”

best-minds-cityjam

Tom Warshauer, Community Engagement Manager for City of Charlotte, told me, “This was a phenomenal weekend—awesome people getting to know each other, forming real friendships, and sharing an enormous amount of information that’s really going to enrich the discussion around how we handle the digital divide and how we grow together as a city.”

Hyong Yi, Assistant City Manager for City of Charlotte, attended all three days of #CityJamCLT. He said, “It’s always great for citizens, residents, community leaders to give input into how they want their city to grow and change, and it’s fantastic that so many people were willing to give up their weekend to be a part of something like this.”

While the Knight School and City of Charlotte takes the seeds planted at #CityJamCLT and grows them into actionable solutions, the work begun by Wethinknext and our city’s Jammers will continue creating a place for us to change the future.

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