Graham Center project aims to spark great debate
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 1:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 9:51 p.m.
Jake Barton’s media design firm has worked on the StoryCorps oral history project and an interactive element of the 9-11 memorial being built in New York.
Now he’s developing the Great Civil Debate Wall, another interactive project that will start with an installation at the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service.
“The goal is really to create constructive debate around very contentious issues,” Barton said Thursday at UF.
“I think it is a really tall order,” he added. “It is very hard to do and is seemingly, if you look at the research, becoming harder to do.”
The project allows people to offer opinions on public policy issues, getting their pictures taken and seeing images of people with differing opinions. A kiosk where votes can be cast and a wall where results will be projected is expected to be installed at the entrance to the Graham Center’s Pugh Hall home by October.
The center was awarded a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for the project and other efforts to study and encourage civic engagement. Center Director Ann Henderson said Florida’s lack of civic engagement — the state ranks 46th in a measure that includes volunteering and voting — shows the need for the project.
“We’re a perfect place to start this study in a big way because we have a big problem in Florida,” she said.
Barton’s New York-based firm, Local Projects, worked on the soundproof StoryCorps booths where everyday people interview each other, get a copy of the recordings and send another to the Library of Congress. For the 9-11 memorial, they’re using a mobile application and other interactive tools to collect and share stories and photos of the attack.
“We’re very interested in projects that create dialogue, that create debate, that create civic visibility and civic engagement,” Barton said.
The UF project will start with the Graham Center installation, but Henderson said another six installations might be installed around UF and eventually expand outside campus. The effort is also expected to include a website and mobile application, perhaps involving Facebook and Twitter, as a way to share opinions.
Barton said there’s a tendency in online media toward a “digital echo chamber” that reinforces existing opinions. The UF project is meant to be nonpartisan and not endorse specific solutions, he said.
“Our first goal, first and foremost, is to create the constructive debate itself,” he said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.