(Summer ’17) Aziria D. Rodriguez Arce, G
Aziria D. Rodríguez Arce (G, Comparative Media Studies)
Aziria will spend her summer in Buenos Aires, where she will be collaborating with the non-profit organization Wingu in developing interactive narrative tools that will help expand Buenos Aires’s civil society sector knowledge about data narratives and interactive storytelling for social justice. She plans to conduct co-design workshops and webinars with nonprofit organizations in Argentina where she will learn about the civil society sector communicational needs and also teach about the array of tools and new interactive communication technique’s being developed. The goal of this project will be to expand the civil society narrative and political arsenal by showing them novel storytelling and information distribution methods.
Check back for her updates!
Starting our Engines
I applied for the PKG Grant because I wanted to spend the summer working in Latin America expanding the use of information communication technologies, specifically those of an interactive nature, to foster engagement and to promote social justice in its non-profit sector. I found an amazing organization based in Buenos Aires, Argentina called Wingu that has tasked itself with helping other non-profit and social justice organizations integrate technology into their communication and structural processes to promote efficiency and effectivity in their services.
I wanted to understand the technology ecosystem and how it related to the civic and political stakeholders of the area. Furthermore, I wanted to know what uses were being given to information communication technology by the civic sector in the country. I believe that having an understanding of this phenomena would help me provide a better service to the organization I would be working with, in the hopes that we could spread the use of interactive elements in our process of communicating for social justice purposes.
Upon arriving at Buenos Aires and having my first meeting with Wingu’s organizational team, I became aware of the huge impact the organization is already having on the civic and non-profit sector as it relates to technology. Before talking to them I was aware of the wide array of services, capacity building and tools they had developed through the history of the organization but it was incredible to be able to understand the degree to which they were involved with the non-profit and civic arena, not only in Buenos Aires but in other parts of Latin America as well. Aside from being an opportunity to know more about the organization, that meeting also provided a space to nail down the work plan that we had developed before my arrival. In our discussion, it became clear that the use of interactive technologies and new storytelling techniques to promote civic engagement are deemed as novel and interesting starting point from which to engage audiences on social justice issues.
We started by developing a blog entry to discuss the positive impact that incorporating that form of communication could have on you non-profit or for your cause. Then we develop as a workshop with Wingu’s communication team and which we discuss several apps that provided interactive storytelling functions. After this two activities, I could see that there was a prominent interest in two interactive storytelling techniques: geo-localized storytelling and data visualization. Given that those were the interested of the organization, as well as other that had participated from the workshop we decided to collaboratively build 2 interactive narrative stories making use of the techniques detailed above as well as a webinar talking about the benefits of actually investing in this type of storytelling. Developing the interactive stories collaboratively would help members of the organization actually learn about the tools used to create them as well as storytelling techniques and this would better prepare them to transmit this information going forward in terms of capacity building.
I’m really excited about the path that lies ahead in terms of working with Wingu and developing these stories. I hope that me being here and working these months actually has an impact on how information communication technologies are seen and used by the people at Wingu and the organizations they serve. I’m really glad to be given the opportunity of working with such an amazing organization and look forward to having a great next two months in the city!
While working on developing my first interactive narrative for Wingu, I was also (on my spare time) watching AMC’s critically acclaimed series Mad Men™ and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the work being done at Sterling Cooper, the series advertising agency, and the work I was doing at Wingu. We could say I drew parallel’s because I was obsessing with the series and because I OBVIOUSLY wanted badly to be as glamorous and awesome as Don Drapper, but aside from those obvious reasons, I saw that great part of my work was trying to convey the idea of how interactive storytelling can play an effective role in talking about, and promoting social justice work to get people involved.
I had to pitch ideas on how interactivity and narrative could play a role in disseminating Wingu’s work with the non-profit sector in Latin America. Even though people at the organization had an idea of what interactive storytelling meant, we still discussed what interactive storytelling actually is and how its development process works. A big part of these discussions revolved around PROTOTYPING and the complete process of interactive creation. Certainly, an abstract idea is always a place to start, but things start to get interesting once you bring out something more concrete/physical to the table.
I have to say that during this process, I had two ah-ha moments. The first one, was finding out how much of the creative production process of interactive works (particularly one that is being developed for someone else) is done as an iterative discussion between the producer and the “clients” where concepts are fleshed out, and the want and needs of the projects are met with the stark reality of what is achievable in terms of production and organized planning. The second ah-ha moment was understanding how much the prototyping process can actually help in the development of any tool you are creating.
For me, understanding the importance of prototyping was the major take away from this process. Since I had to plan, prototype and implement the entirety of the work being done, it became really important to develop working drafts and prototypes that could be discussed with the team on the organization and were easy to change and improve. At first, it seems like investing time and energy in the prototyping process was useless but as time moved forward I became aware of how much time I would be saving in the long run by doing it. If I had gone directly to making the product in all probability, I would have to change really complex things in the product itself prototyping helped my bypass that and I’m thankful to have invested the time I did on actually doing it.
I feel like my work in Wingu thus far has had an impact on how people see creative technologies in the organization and its partners. In the non-profit sector, positioning yourself as a problem solver and doer can be the difference between fulfilling your organization’s mission, acquiring funds and volunteers, and making a difference, or not. Being able to show that you are invested in creatively solving problems and displaying your work is of the utmost importance. My time here has served as space to actually have does creative technological conversations.
The onus of my work has been to show that you do not need to have and expert technological background to actually develop and create creative technological solutions for your non-profit. Many tools and skills can be quickly adopted and learned just with a good internet connection. Being able to show that there are tools that can be efficiently implemented and used with little to no technical skill has shown people at the organization that I work with that there is something to be gained from actually taking the time to incorporate them.
I believe that given Wingu’s reach and network partners the work I’ve been doing here over the summer can actually reach a plurality of nonprofits and people in the civil society sector. Being able to put various blog post out there, doing group workshops and developing 2 interactive narrative works have actually helped spread out the word about the type of work that is involved in creating the tools that I’m developing. Moreover, I’ve seen a genuine investment in actually connecting the work being done with a wider audience and receiving the training that is necessary to push the work forward in the sector.
Finally, I would like to say that I’ve learned a great deal from Wingu in the past few months. Their approach to creativity and problem solving has been a really interesting thing to witness. I have actually been exposed to design thinking and agile methodologies that help produce interesting solutions to organizational problems. I’ve also learned about organizational structuring and team work in a young and entrepreneurial environment. Working here has been an amazing experience for my professional development and to get the opportunity to see work that’s being developed in Latin America and how much it is being influenced (to some extent) by the adoption of technological and methodological processes being developed globally.
Working these past months at Wingu has been an incredible experience. Having the opportunity to come to Buenos Aires has given me time to think about how I see myself as a Puerto Rican in relation to my Latin-American peers. It has also given me the opportunity to think about the work that is needed regarding the use of civic-technology in our countries and the role that the United States plays in the development and mindset of technological production in Latin-America. Coming from a space like MIT and place like the United States, I’m always questioning the role that big technological institutions in the US play in how the rest of the world sees technological production for the development of their countries and communities. Unfortunately, technological production is not exempt from colonialist, capitalist, racist and/or gendered views, etc and it’s really important when traveling to other countries to understand the role that we could play in reinforcing or deconstructing those views.
I like to think that my work at Wingu tried to challenge most of the mysticism that surrounds technological production as well as to engage in discussions that propose a more critical view of the role we collectively play in the development of our communication technologies. Yes, we are building interactive tools to deliver messages about social justice, but we also need to question why is that important, how do we make it more accessible and what role do we play in the construction and creation of those artifacts. I believe that having those conversations on par with engaging in creative and productive work gave me the opportunity to challenge my own assumption of developing interactive work and it also allowed me to grow professionally.
One of the most amazing things I’ve learned while working at Wingu is that open and clear communication is key to making any product development work; setting clear expectations and being able to be comfortable with questioning and feedback is a great way to learn about what needs to be improved at any level of production. Being able to work with a team of people that valued those characteristics made value even more collaborative work and made me think of ways in which those ideas could be incorporated in collective production work.
Finally, I think the most important thing that my community partners and I achieved during my stay was being able to discuss how our use of new technologies and techniques is helpful towards advancing social justices endeavors. It is important for the civic-tech and the non-profit sector to get involved early in the discussion that drives technological production so that we can advocate for technology that reflects the values we want our society to have. We want to develop technology that is centered on community needs!