Situated Engagement

[last updated March, 2012]

We call the theory behind this work "situated engagement," which concerns mobile designs for social change in local neighborhoods.  Increasingly, we know that civic engagement can be most powerful and authentic when tied to geography, and place-based communities.  

On one hand, mobile tools are increasingly available, from crowdsourced mapping, to apps for volunteering locally.

Yet we repeatedly encounter foundations and nonprofits desperately seeking models to set mobile strategy.  We propose situated engagement as a framework to ultimately increase impact by refocusing on a particularly kind of mobile media: one designed to prioritize engagement, and to situate that engagement deeply in specific physical and cultural communities.  

We have developed situated engagement partly through our own design research.  This began with the Mobile Voices project - a mobile platform built with immigrants and day laborers to use their own cell phones to report as community correspondents (see  When we added mapping, this work branched into ParTour, using the ecological analysis of hyper-local media from Communications Infrastructure Theory (see the Metamorphosis Project at USC), with applications as diverse as CicLAvia and RideSouthLA (more to come).

Simultaneously, we identified situated engagement by looking for exemplar projects.  As usual, we sought to look past the initial technology, and find the "social recipes" for how mobile achieved situated engagement.  Our initial research identified three distinct modes for situated engagement, based on longstanding traditions in civic engagement.  (This paper is currently out for review.)

More papers and details to come.  For now, let us know if you find the term useful!  Please do cite us if you use it.

Benjamin Stokes, Francois Bar, George Villanueva, Otto Khera, Teresa Gonzalez, Cesar Jimenez
University of Southern California, USA