Cortico Corporation

Revitalizing Democracy through Constructive Community Conversation: The Local Voices Network

Civic participation

Revitalize democracy by reconnecting people with one another and their communities, capturing underheard voices and amplifying them at scale to build a healthier public sphere

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Lead Organization

Cortico Corporation

Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

“Divide and Enrage” may be a good business model for politicians and news/social media. But it’s ruinous for democracy -- dividing us into insular “tribes” hostile toward outside views. The loudest, most extreme voices now dominate our public airwaves and agendas, stifling “underheard” perspectives and constructive conversation. The Local Voices Network reconnects people to each other and their local communities -- creating and capturing conversations among ordinary people and amplifying their voices through local media channels. LVN scales within and across communities nationwide through technology (hardware and software that records and shares conversations); partnerships with libraries, community organizations and news outlets; and a volunteer corps of trained facilitators.By surfacing underheard voices in communities and the media, LVN becomes a civic lifeline for marginalized populations in “blue” cities or “red” counties -- a systematic way for them to elevate their voices into the public dialogue and their concerns onto the public agenda.

Problem Statement

LVN addresses two systems-level problems central to the erosion of American democracy. Nationally, politicians and news/social media have “divided and enraged” us into insular tribes hostile toward outside views and ripe for disinformation and dehumanization. The loudest, most extreme voices now dominate our public airwaves and agendas, stifling “underheard” perspectives and constructive conversation. Locally, budget cuts in newsrooms have decimated beat reporting, causing local media to lose the pulse of communities they can no longer afford to cover through stories that reflect our lived experience. These systemic problems have impacted all of us at a personal level: our civic roots have atrophied, eroding our sense of shared understanding and isolating us from each other and our communities. But the impact is most acute for historically and locally (e.g., political minority) marginalized populations in “blue” cities or “red” counties alike: if you never hear your voice or lived experience reflected back on you in the media or public dialogue, why would you choose to engage civically, especially across boundaries? And why wouldn’t you either disengage or choose 1) media that reflect your own realities and 2) tribes full of people who look, believe and act like you?This is the most influential, leverageable change for LVN to create by capturing conversations and amplifying them through local media channels: Helping the underheard to “speak and be heard,” and for all of us to “listen and learn” from our shared experiences -- reconnecting us with each other and our communities along the way.

Solution Overview

LVN reconnects people to each other and their local communities -- capturing conversations among ordinary people and amplifying their voices through local media channels. Here’s how: :: In each LVN community, we (alongside our community organizational partners) identify and train a diverse corps of volunteer conversation hosts with previous facilitation experience. :: Participants are drawn from our hosts’ networks or publicly through our local library/community/media partners.LVN small-group conversations take place around “Digital Hearths” -- custom-built recording/playback devices circulated by local libraries.:: A host checks out a Hearth from a library, holds the conversation at a convenient location and checks it back in for the recording to upload. :: Hosts guide conversations toward participants’ personal experiences, and play highlights from other groups to “cross-pollinate” perspectives. :: The recordings are transcribed and added to that community’s collection, which is explorable through our app by media and community partners (and all hosts/participants). Our primary sign of progress in a community is the quantity, quality and diversity of 1) LVN conversations held and 2) new or underheard voices surfaced in the system and the media. Over time we expect a new “infrastructure for democracy” to form in communities, with improvements in civic engagement, public agenda-setting and attitudes across political/cultural/social boundaries. The grant will allow us to expand LVN to capture one million underheard voices in communities across all 50 states during the 5-year period -- with deep impact for the underheard who participate and broad benefits for all who believe in a healthy democracy where all perspectives are heard.

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Project Funders

  • Reid Hoffman Foundation 2018
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 2017 - 2019
  • Craig Newmark Philanthropies 2019

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