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Student Spotlight: Lauren Stott on How Civic Media and Public Engagement Make a Difference

January 15, 2019

Lauren Stott is a member of the 2017 cohort of the Civic Media, Art and Practice (CMAP) Program at Emerson College. We sat down with Lauren to talk about her experience in the program, how it’s shaped her path, and what she’s up to now.

What makes a city whole? How can a city be a place where every community member can get the things that they want and need? Coming from a background in government, Lauren Stott found that efficiency was a common measuring tool. “I kind of came from that background of ‘efficiency is critical.’ You hear that in government all the time: ‘how can we be more efficient?’”

Stott presents her final Thesis project to the CMAP Leadership Team.

But what Stott discovered through the CMAP program is that to create a truly whole city, you need more than just efficiency — you need the people in your city to feel connected and valued.

Stott’s career began in journalism. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Northern Illinois University in 2011, and went on to pursue her Masters in Public Administration at the same institution. “I started as a journalist, and then I moved into working in the public sector in local governments in Illinois, and I was starting to feel frustrated at the lack of community engagement as a priority in public projects.” Stott wanted to activate positive change in this area, but she felt that she did not have the skills that would allow her to do this. She went searching for a program that could support her in acquiring the knowledge to be able to activate meaningful change in this realm. “I found CMAP, and I thought, ‘this seems like a great way to learn about engagement,’” says Stott, “but what I learned [from the program] is not how to add community engagement to public projects, but how to develop public projects with public input, co-designing public initiatives that better serve community members.”

Through her work on the Smart Cities initiative, a collaboration with The City of Boston’s Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), Stott has learned a great deal about how to make community members feel more connected and supported. “What [MONUM] initially wanted was a resource matching platform for Smart City Projects…but what I found through interviews [with community stakeholders] is that technology wasn’t their main concern, it was more about making community connections, seeing locations where projects are happening, and just having a forum to say ‘this is my issue, maybe community members can help me solve it…[The CMAP program] has really transformed my thinking around what is the best way to serve stakeholders.”

> > “…what I learned [from the project] is not how to add community engagement to public projects, but how to develop public projects with public input, co-designing public initiatives that better serve community members.”

Stott cites the CMAP program’s emphasis on community partnerships and working directly with community organizations as unique part of the program. “I’ve gone through other school programs which have been great, but they’re really theory-based, and CMAP does have that theory component, but it really focuses on how can we get out into the community and what the needs are instead of just sitting in a classroom talking about them.”

Through her experiences in CMAP, Stott gained a greater understanding of community needs. “Learning about the idea of ‘meaningful inefficiencies’ and why play is important, and why maybe an interaction you have with a customer service person might take longer, but if it’s more joyful then it’s probably going to be a better engagement than it would be if it was ‘here’s your money, now you can go.’” Those concepts transformed Stott’s thinking around serving communities. “Civic media is important because it gives people that outlet to say ‘I can influence my community,” says Stott. In her view, a whole city is about everyone getting what they want and need from their community, whether that’s an efficient transaction, or a more joyful experience; cities need to be able to offer the right balance to suit everyone’s needs. “I know that’s hard, resources are limited, but in order for a city to be robust and for people to feel like they’re a part of it, they have to be able to shape it in some way. If you live in a city but you don’t feel like it’s yours, then you’re not going feel invested in it, or you’re not going to feel like ‘I care what happens in my neighborhood.’”

Another project that Stott worked on while in CMAP was the Journal of Civic Media, where she served as the editor. In considering what shape the Journal might take, the team looked to the styles of other journals, and decided what would best fit topics of civic media. “There’s super academic journal format that’s really rigid, and then on the other end there’s the journal with more broad, more frequent posts, with less of an academic focus. We kind of landed right in the middle,” says Stott. “It’s an academic journal, it’s peer reviewed, but because civic media has that spirit of more creativity and flexibility, we wanted it to be a little more relaxed, and with content that was accessible to right now; things that people are working on immediately.” The Journal just launched its first issue this month and is available for free at journalofcivicmedia.org.

Stott is now back in local government as a Management Fellow with the Manager’s Office of the City of Raleigh, NC. Her fellowship began in August 2018, and lasts a little over a year. As part of her thesis, Lauren talked with many stakeholders in the development of her project; now, Stott is forming connections within her new community of Raleigh. “I work in the City Manager’s Office for another couple of months, and then I’ll actually work in a department. I’m talking with some of the [city] departments to see if they have projects where I could do human-centered design and co-design with community members.” Building out from the foundation of authentic community relationships allows Stott to feel confident as a design professional who is trying to make things better for people. “I’m excited to hopefully put [CMAP] into practice.” says Stott.

Our Civic Media: Art and Practice MA program has a brand new name: Media Design! Learn more about the future of the program, or apply today (priority application deadline is March 1).

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