Provost grant extends Citizen Interaction Design program

A pilot service-learning program to engage citizens and local government developed by the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) will extend its scope going forward, thanks to a grant from the university Provost’s office. The $378,000 grant comes from the Provost’s Transforming Learning for a Third Century (TLTC) initiative.

The Citizen Interaction Design program was originally conceived in 2013 as a three-year partnership between the School of Information and the City of Jackson (MI). The program combines classroom education with hands-on interaction between students and local government officials to design information-based solutions to community issues. Specifically, the students’ projects address new ways to improve communication between the citizenry and city government.

In announcing this grant, the university administration noted that, despite stiff competition, the proposal stood out as “a wonderful example of the type of work for which the Third Century Initiative’s Transformation program was created.” The purpose of the TLTC grant program is “to fund the most exciting and innovative ideas from across the University of Michigan campus to enhance engaged, action-based learning for U-M students,” according to the program’s website.

In the first two years of the program, students have developed over a dozen civic engagement projects which have been adopted by the city, such as:

  • Living History - provides owners of historic properties with information about the requirements of living in a historic district and an easy way to apply online for permits to make changes to property
  • DigJackson.com - a comprehensive multi-faceted information campaign and website that engages the community during a massive downtown redevelopment project
  • Distressed Property Report - located on the official City of Jackson website, this interactive portal contains up to date information on the status of distressed properties and offers citizens a method of reporting blighted properties. 
  • Open Data Ordinance, Portal and Policy - established an ordinance, implementation and procedure that led to Jackson being the first city in Michigan to adopt an open data policy.
  • Tips by Text - created an anonymous texting service for citizens to provide tips to police without revealing their identities.

City of Jackson community partners have been enthusiastic about the program. “The students brought resources and abilities that we could never afford without this program,” said Amy Wellington, of the Arts and Cultural Association. “For the professional-level work they did on the DigJackson.com website, the CID interns were better than the marketing consultants we hired,” praised Assistant City Manager Jonathan Greene.

The students also benefit from participation in the program, citing they gain a better understanding of local government and the challenges of designing for public sector organizations.

The project directors plan to use the grant money to hire a community engagement professional to work with the lead professor on the project to investigate the possibility of extending this partnership with other small cities in Michigan.

“This grant will allow us to expand the Citizen Interaction Design program to other partner cities in the state of Michigan,” said the program’s founder and director, UMSI Associate Professor Clifford Lampe. “While maintaining our ties with Jackson, this will allow us to reach out to new cities and to continue to innovate in the ways that students can productively work with cities and citizens.”

Posted May 15, 2015