The Citizen Interaction Design Program

An essential role of universities is to educate students to become active and engaged citizens, who will know how to take what they’ve learned and apply it as citizens to their future communities. A team of faculty from U-M’s School of Information has developed an engaged-learning platform — the Citizen Interaction Design program — that’s providing opportunities for students to reimagine citizenship in the context of designing new information and communication services for local municipalities. With the help of a Transformation grant, the project is expanding to serve more students and Michigan cities.

Project Background

Governments and other public sector organizations have started to adopt new information and communication tools for interacting with their citizens, and there are new civic media efforts that are designed to increase the efficacy of people in participating in their communities. Small cities, those with fewer than 100,000 citizens, are strong locations for innovation in civic technology given their relative flexibility combined with critical mass, but in the current funding environment often have trouble justifying investment in civic technologies, especially those that are experimental.

Since 2013, the U-M School of Information has been piloting the Citizen Interaction Design (CID) program to engage undergraduate and graduate students in a range of opportunities to work with city governments on the design and implementation of information tools such as apps, and web and social media sites to foster citizen engagement with government. This pilot focused on the community of Jackson, MI, and produced 18 different projects through intensive design courses, reading seminars and summer internships. Examples include: an anonymous police tip system, an open-data policy, a campaign to encourage vaccine use, as well as various apps and websites that share information about cemeteries, art in the community, what’s happening at the local farmers’ market, progress on downtown development, a listing of distressed properties, and bus routes and times.

Project Description

The team is expanding the CID program to include a range of cities in West and Northern Michigan and facilitate a range of engaged learning activities, for students from multiple programs on the U-M campus, that foster a sense of citizenship through the design of information tools and services. The specific aspects of the program include:

  • A lens of “Citizen Interaction Design” which combines design and engagement pedagogies in a specific context;
  • Multiple opportunities for students to work in different small cities;
  • A process to ensure productive, long-term, and renewable partnerships with small Michigan cities;
  • Flexible direct funds for student-led engagement projects; and
  • Early stage development of a network of Michigan cities, universities and colleges interested in engaged learning through Citizen Interaction Design.

“The two main questions we’re asking are: Can we replicate this in other cities and what can we do to make these meaningful experiences within the structure of the University of Michigan?” explains Cliff Lampe, associate professor of information.

“One of the nice things about going to a larger city like, say, Grand Rapids would be that we’ll have to figure out how to scale up, and learn what that would take. I also think we’re going to want to work in a smaller place than Jackson so we can figure out how to scale down.”

Transformative Impact

Information is of growing importance, and students trained in this new area will be pioneering incredible new areas. Students will be able to participate in activities with city partners ranging from one-day events, to internships to semester-long courses. This range of opportunities will help expand the overall number of students exposed to the idea of combining design and citizenship. It is expected with this expanded network, that 150 students from a range of programs and levels will participate in Citizen Interaction Design activities per year. The transformative nature of this program is in helping this variety of students reimagine their education in the context of citizen, and reframing how they participate in citizens in the future. The project team also hopes to build a network of partners — other universities and colleges interested in this work — to foster sustainability and lead transformation in other student populations as well.

Project Team

Kelly Kowatch, School of Information
Cliff Lampe, School of Information
Scott TenBrink, School of Information