Civic Computing a Focus of HCI '15 Workshop

Mon, 08/10/15

Researchers and professors from Georgia Tech were at HCI ’15 – Human Computing Interaction International – last week in Los Angeles to showcase a string of successful projects that applied computing to Atlanta's civic needs.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the conference is fitting for the diversity of topics in this story: research, education, entrepreneurship, real work operations,” said Research Scientist and Professor Russ Clark, a professor from the College of Computing and research scientist with the Institute for People and Technology, who presented Aug. 7 with Maribeth Gandy, Chris LeDantec, Blair MacIntyre, Beth Mynatt, and Matt Sanders from IPaT, the School of Interactive Computing, and the School of Literature, Media & Communication.

Over the course of a decade, Georgia Tech faculty nurtured entrepreneurial students through partnerships with community organizations, local start-ups, and university departments to teach the value of community service.  More than 1,500 students have participated in just one civic-computing opportunity alone.

Mechanisms for civic computing included:

Inviting Community Participation: Midtown Buzz

Midtown Buzz was a two-year partnership between Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Midtown Alliance to develop mobile apps that connected residents, professionals and visitors to an urban center under transformation. The community was invited to share their stories in the Midtown neighborhood, explore what areas would look like as new construction is complete, and get a taste of history behind key locations.  It allowed anyone to create new apps, test prototypes by others, or simply share data and ideas. The work culminated with the creation of Midtown Buzz Mobile as a gateway to those resources.

Data Transparency Helps Students Deliver: GT Journey

GT Journey shares real campus data with students to empower them to create new solutions for campus life. The initiative by the Research Network Operations Center (RNOC) hinges on Georgia Tech’s willingness to provide data -- which is normally not accessible to students -- in scalable and secure ways, and a student-led organization as intermediary between developers and data owners. By offering platforms and services over an extended period of time across a diversity of data sets, the project was able to provide authentic live data for all stages of prototyping, implementation, deployment, and extended research. Outputs included SeatMe by Ying Yao, a Georgia Tech student who crowd-sourced the best seats in a building or classroom based on user rankings, such as access to a power outlet, a comfy chair or the avoidance of Wi-Fi dead spots. GT Journey affirms the value of opening up data for community use in a campus living lab.

Convergence Innovation Competition

The long-standing Convergence Innovation Competition (CIC) pairs Georgia Tech students with industry partners for mentorship and resources as they create viable new products.  Competitors also are supported by 10-20 research assistants from RNOC, who shepherd teams through technical obstacles. The overarching goal is to create innovative products with a strong user experience, business case, and working end-to-end prototype ready for commercialization. Since the first competition in 2007, the competition has grown into a twice-annual event with more than 300 participants each year. Industry partners identify the most important benefits for them and then work to make those a reality. Their funding supports the events and prizes, and the people whose job it is to help students succeed.

Lessons Learned for Other Communities

In all, the Georgia Tech team presented results from five research papers about civic computing. The session was chaired by Mynatt, professor of interactive computing and executive director of IPaT.

By making civic computing a priority, innovative collaboration has led to new tools to reveal real-time wireless network performance in public spaces, augmented reality apps for touring historic graves and churches, ways to view public transportation in real time, and an app to help urban cyclists note amenities or problems along their route, among others.

“Civic computing is about participatory engagement with a community -- creating the opportunity and support for the engagement,” Clark says.