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A Summary of the #CivicMediaChat on Play and Creativity

December 04, 2015

By Becky Michelson


On 4/27/15 a group of academics, students, practitioners, and curious souls discussed the meaning of creative civic engagement projects including their advantages and challenges while sharing existing examples using the hashtag #civicmediachat. The full transcript of the chat is available via this Storify, with a summary of questions asked, tangents explored, and resources mentioned below.

> A2: When civic life is reduced to voting, youth are excluded. When play is seen as childish, adults are excluded. #civicmediachat > >

 — @ninabeth

> Image 1: A #civicmediachat tweet about adapting playful civic life to youth and adults, expressed by @ninabeth

The featured participants included authors of the Civic Media Project case studies Race to the White House and Terra Incognita: Serendipity and Discovery in the Age of Personalization to provide context for playful civic engagement. The arc of the chat began by broadly examining playful interactions and then more specifically questioning our relationships to algorithms, institutional barriers, and societal values of artistic civic disruptions.

> A4: If we don't make civic learning inviting & fun early on, how are we to get young people to do more than 'rock the vote'? #civicmediachat > >

 — @anterobot

> Image 2: The importance of appealing to youth in a fun way for lifelong civic engagement, expressed by @anterobot

The Questions at a Glance

Q1: What role do play and creativity have in civic life? Isn’t civic life typically associated with work? #civicmediachat

Q2: What is the role of youth in civic life? When are they marginalized and when are they central? #civicmediachat

Q3: “Race to the White House” was meant to spark interest in gov. Can play sustain interest in gov.? #civicmediachat

Q4: Can games effectively impact the real world? Does using play for productive means take away its fun? #civicmediachat

Q5: “Terra Incognita” is meant to broaden readers’ news horizons. Does global awareness create global action? #civicmediachat

Q6: Is it important to manufacture serendipity on the web? Do algorithms need to be challenged? #civicmediachat

Q7: What are the challenges in implementing creative projects towards civic ends? #civicmediachat

Q8: Art can disrupt expectations and norms. What are some of the most successful civic disruptions you can think of? #civicmediachat

Q9: How do formal institutions: governments, schools, public bodies see the value of play and creativity in civic life? #civicmediachat

Conversational Tangents

While participants mostly stayed on topic with answering the Twitter chat questions, several provocative tangents emerged. @_PuellaLudens suggested that academia is an institutional structure which “forgot how to have fun” while @jhaas implied that building awareness without providing action cues can be debilitating:

> @civicmediaproj Sometimes I think scaled awareness w/o a pathway to scaled action is a kind of torture for the sensitive. #civicmediachat > >

 — @jhaas

> Image 3: A need for growing awareness to be paired with growing resources for action, expressed by @jhaas

Support for a balance between awareness and entry point for action, expressed by @emidaugh

When the topic of critically engaging with algorithms arose, @ninabeth shared an example of assigning her students to like everything on Facebook to illuminate the effects of our programmed social media echo chambers. Meanwhile, @pmihailidis and @wendyfhsu discussed if and how transparent algorithms could be brokered as civic data by municipal bodies. As the conversation shifted to barriers to playful civic projects, many expressed a frustration with funding opportunities, evaluation hurdles, and limiting impact assessments.

Image 5: Institutional hurdles to playful civic engagement found in the government by @wendyfhsu

We are thrilled with the stimulating conversations, meme-ified jokes, and useful resource sharing that emerged. Thank you for your enthusiasm in promoting the chat and your patience with our first experiment with this type of convening! A special thank you to David Beasley, Communications Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project who provided extensive guidance for this event. Our next Twitter chat in early June will be, “Civic Media: Research Methods and Evaluation” and the following Twitter chat later this summer will focus on civic media curricula. Stay tuned and we hope you join us for the next chats.

Until next time:

> We solved it all #civicmediachat > >

 — @kanarinka

> Image 5: In conclusion…. Expressed by @kanarinka

Resources Mentioned in the Chat


  • Idea of “civic imagination” by Henrry Jenkins (Civic Media: Design, Technologies, Practice, Forthcoming MIT Press 2016)

  • Creative Destruction” coined by Joseph Schumpter

  • Theatre of the Oppressed movement started by Augusto Boal

Books and Selected Chapters

Organizations and Tools

  • PlayfulLearning: PlayfulLearning is a national initiative and free platform to help educators discover and share games for learning by the Learning Games Network

  • ED4Change: blog about education for social change

  • Storium: an online storytelling game

  • Quest 2 Learn: schools in New York City designed around play and game-based learning

Creative Civic Interventions

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