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Chrissy’s Proposal #1: Online Asynchronous Graduate General Assemblies

Problem Statement

The Graduate Center has been having General Assemblies (GA) since the Fall of 2011, inspired by the Occupy movement, and Occupy CUNY, they meet weekly on Fridays.  Although attendance is not required at every meeting to be a part of the movement, students have commented on the listserv that the movement could make better use of technology so that the physical space was not privileged over the online space. A secure website with a social networking function and with lots of different features may help to solve some of these problems.  This website would also have to take the consensus and direct democracy models used at the GA into account, as well as dealing with the paradox of having it be open but also secure from surveillance.

Personas

Student who can attend meetings regularly: She is in the core group of students who schedules and workload work with the Friday meetings schedule.  She is also a participant in the working groups of the GA.  She is invested in the movement, but also want to make the movement open to all students while still maintaining a structure that allows them to maintain their level of functioning.  She feels stuck in the paradox of trying to use the meetings to adjust the movement to the include needs of people who don’t want to/can’t come to meetings.  She would like to know how she can hear those people’s voices.

Student who can’t make meetings: She is invested in the political ideology of the movement but cannot take on any more weekly commitments.  She often has ideas she would like to contribute or would like to network for smaller working groups.  When she attends the occasional meeting she feels self-conscious contributing to ideas the core members have been discussing and solidifying.  She reads the debates and discussion on the listserv and feels like if she could contribute on her own time participation might be more practical.  Sometimes she doesn’t participate on the listserv because she knows the follow up will happen in person at the meetings.  If contribution to the movement, like proposals for actions, could be done online without having to go to the in person discussion she would feel like she could lend her voice more to the movement.

The Chancellor: Members of his administration might use surveillance measures to see what is going on in the movement.  One might be happy to see a website where they could create an online persona to see what actions the students have organized in order to build up a police presence at the event.

Use Case Scenario

Student who can attend meetings regularly: This student would use the website in order to relay information from the in person meetings to the larger public.  However, this student would also have to try to decentralize the primacy of the in person meetings and not just relay information from those meetings, but use the site as a place where they also develop their group’s ideas.

Pros: This would allow the group as a whole to expand its membership, and hear more voices, which is a large point of the movement.

Cons: For some goals the movement is already incredibly successful.  The in person meetings are generally well attended by those who can attend and adding an extra step to this may complicate the situation, especially during the early introduction of the website.

Student who can’t make meetings: She would use the site to network for other people interested in building proposals together and use another aspects of the site to present it to other GA’ers.  Discussions would be asynchronous so there would be no need to participate at a certain time of the day, this would work well for her schedule.

Pros: She would be able to contribute to the movement on her own terms.

Cons: Since the site is designed to include people like her, there are no cons for this persona.

The Chancellor: As the site will be online, we won’t be able to verify visually who is accessing the site. The Chancellor may want to try to find out more details about upcoming actions, so he would go onto the site and create an account, or use an anonymous guest account to see what everyone is talking about.  Events often try to publicly shame him, and he’s starting to be a little self-conscious.  He’s going to go undercover as an online occupier to find out who will be making barn-yard noises at his next talk.

Pros: On some level having anyone be able to access the groups plans demonstrates the principle of transparency that is so important to the group.  Perhaps the Chancellor should have some access to the information on the site, as it pertains to him and the University he is apart of.

Cons: In contrast to the Pro of open access, anything online brings up the issue of functionality versus security.  If the people that we are giving open access to then try to block the actions of the movement there is a contradiction that needs to be resolved.

Full Version:

The full version would be run in someway like the commons.  It would use wikis, social networking, and have a blogging system to perhaps be linked with the current wordpress sites that publish news and events related to Occupy CUNY.  Because the commons already exists I can say that I am confident that a system like this would work.  What would have to be different is the level of security and privacy, especially for when discussing direct actions. There would need to be a way to have accounts, but preserve anonymity. Another component would be a skype-type feature for people to collaborate in real time.

Full Time Line

The time line for the full version would take at least a year with a team of skilled people.  I would not be able to build this myself at this point. The academic commons is open source so the structure of it could be replicated in some way.

Reduced Version

This version would use borrow from already functioning sites like wordpress.com or opencuny.org, wikispaces.com, and the already existing googlegroup, or chatzy.com.  People would have to use the listserv to share where there they collaboration would be occurring.  For people who do not want to use their full name there could be a few accounts that could be open accounts—guest accounts.

Reduced Time Line

This could be done immediately; it would be creating the culture to use the tools that would take longer.

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