Civic Intelligence and Grassroots Technology

From civicintelligence

The template for the basic "perspective" chapter follows this paragraph. The original template (possibly revised) is in Introduction_to_Section_II. (After the chapter is further along — and the template structure is more-or-less finalized, we can remove this extra verbiage.)

The basic Plan has four parts:

(1) A Introduction to the perspective

(2) One or more case studies that show different facets of this perspective. Our decision was, as much as it's possible, not to artificially separate thinking and doing. At the same time we do want to present a variety of approaches, some of which will be better suited for think-work and some will be better suited for action (that plays out in the "real" (or material?) world.

(3) Conclusions

(4) Finally, a section that includes text book like end-of-chapter exercises, questions for the student, suggested activities, etc.

Are we talking only about grassroots technology here? I think I can think of cases that we'd want to talk about that weren't grassroots... ?

A Introduction to the perspective

Case Studies

One or more case studies that show different facets of this perspective. Our decision was, as much as it's possible, not to artificially separate thinking and doing. At the same time we do want to present a variety of approaches, some of which will be better suited for think-work and some will be better suited for action (that plays out in the "real" (or material?) world.

Case Study 1 Non Proprietary Civic Collaboration


Cooperative interaction with knowledge and information is central to civic development. The mechanisms by which they are constructed and delivered guide societies socioeconomic and cultural direction. It is therefore critical that complex democracies seek non-market, non-proprietary means of communication and deliberative problem solving. House, G. House (2011)

Yochai Benkler speaking to the emergent need of Non-Proprietary Civic Collaboration, states “Networked information economy provides varied alternative platforms for communication, so that it moderates the power of the traditional mass-media model, where ownership of the means of communication enables an owner to select what others view, and thereby to affect their perceptions of what they can and cannot do.” (Benkler, 2006) Posted by House

Case Study 2 The Bucket Brigade

Urban environmental issues, such as pollution, are often inflicted among low income neighborhoods that are struggling to deal with the day to day realities of basic survival. These communities are frequently not supported by their governmental representatives in the fight to maintain a healthy environment. Many neighborhoods spring up in industrial areas that are designated as mixed use, placing factories next to housing, resulting in poor air quality and contaminated ground water. Industry provides a substantial income for many cities creating a conflict of interests for governments to truly monitor their activities thoroughly. If the government is not actively holding industry accountable for the pollution they create then it rests in the laps of communities to advocate for themselves.

  • The Bucket Brigade is an organization, in Louisiana, that was featured in the film Blue Vinyl. Their mission is to provide their adapted 'buckets' to residents situated near industrial plants.
    "The EPA-approved “bucket" is a simple, community friendly tool that fenceline neighbors use to take air samples. Taking air samples is a powerful experience for community members who are used to being ignored, overlooked, and disrespected by corporations and government. Dorothy Jenkins, President of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy, used to call the refinery to complain about the odors. A low ranking operator would tell her not to worry, that the black plume of smoke that billowed for hours near her home was not harmful. Now Mrs. Jenkins has a bucket. When refinery managers and government regulators tell her that there is nothing to worry about, she answers, "Why, then, was there a benzene reading of 14 in my air sample, a reading that violates the state standards?" The bucket gives community members power to hold institutions accountable to provide a safe and healthy environment." (

Scenes in Blue Vinyl show community members using the 'buckets' to monitor the air quality in their neighborhood, that is situated next to a plastics plant. This basic, cheap and efficient technology empowers users by giving them the scientific evidence they need to consistently hold industry accountable. Arming citizens with this information also allows them to place pressure on governmental branches, such as the EPA, to join them in the eradication of city pollution.(EJ)

Sustainable Housing-Earthship Biotecture

“The spectacular growth in world population since the 18th century-and particularly during the 20th century, when it almost quadrupled-is obviously one of the principle causes of a radical change in the relationship between human civilization and the ecological systems of the earth. The impact of larger numbers of human beings would be far less, of course, if the average consumption of natural resources were less and if the technologies we use at present to exploit the earth’s bounty were replaced by better and far more efficient technologies that minimize the environmental damage we cause.” (Our Choice A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, Al Gore, P.225)
  • We do not have the natural resources for everyone around the globe to have a wood framed house, hooked up to national grids, and plumbed into city water lines. Yet that is what many of the worlds population is striving for. How can innovation in technology enable us to start making changes now? How can civic intelligence enhance our ability to learn, innovate and develop new technologies? As demonstrated in the documentary The Garbage Warrior, Architect Michael Reynolds came across this very issue when his ability to experiment with Biotecture earthships, was halted by state government.
Reynolds had spent 40 years building earthships.
"Earthship Design Principles
  • 1) Thermal/Solar Heating & Cooling

Earthships maintain comfortable temperatures in any climate. The planet Earth is a thermally stabilizing mass that delivers temperature without wire or pipes. The sun is a nuclear power plant that also delivers without wires or pipes.

  • 2) Solar & Wind Electricity

Earthships produce their own electricity with a prepackaged photovoltaic / wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to your electrical outlets. Earthships can have multiple sources of power, all automated, including grid-intertie.

  • 3) Contained Sewage Treatment

Earthships contain use and reuse all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells resulting in food production and landscaping with no pollution of aquifers. Toilets flush with greywater that does not smell.

  • 4) Building with Natural &

Recycled Materials House as Assemblage of by-products: A sustainable home must make use of indigenous materials, those occurring naturally in the local area.

  • 5) Water Harvesting

Earthships catch water from the sky (rain & snow melt) and use it four times. Water is heated from the sun, biodiesel and/or natural gas. Earthships can have city water as backup. Earthships do not pollute underground water aquifers.

  • 6) Food Production
Earthship wetlands, the planters that hold hundreds of gallons of water from sinks and the shower are a great place for raising some of the fresh produce you’d like to have in the winter, but find expensive or bland tasting from the supermarket.(
Hive energy roof.jpg His constructions are built using tires, cans, bottles and cement, they are completely sustainable, off the grid homes; enabling owners the luxury of not having bills, reducing their carbon footprint, and recycling waste materials in construction.
“In just ten years citizens of the U.S wasted enough aluminum cans to reproduce the world’s entire commercial air fleet 25 times.” (Container recycling institute)
Part of the process that Reynolds went through was one of active experimentation, both during and after construction. When the ability to build homes was stopped so did the process of innovation and learning. It is essential that such technology be explored and not become wrapped in time consuming red tape that can take years to untangle. Innovation can only be fully utylized when individuals and groups are given the freedom to explore new ideas.Of course many of these new technologies will threaten the old paradigm of energy delivery and therefore various industrial organizations face the prospect of losing money.
"Why have a corporate or political "middle man" between us and our energy needs? our vessel (home) must be designed to sail with the forces that exist beyond human control and exploitation."(Michael Reynolds,
Due to this it is essential that individuals, as consumers, actively involve themselves with city government planning commissions, ensuring that there be inclusive allowances for alternative living.


End-of-chapter exercises, questions for the student, suggested activities, etc.