Royster Lawton Fellow Charlotte McClintock reflects on her summer internship experience
“More than anything, this summer let me explore styles, modes, and methods of working and thinking about using technology to advocate for marginalized communities and uncover meaningful trends in important issues.”
I spent the summer working for two really stellar organizations using technology for good: Brightest and Caravan Studios.
Brightest is a technology platform for progressive organizing – bringing people together to create positive change. At Brightest I was charged with starting a research series focused on using data to inform progressive climate movements. I did everything from scoping stories to analyzing and visualizing data, writing data stories, and pitching them to news organizations. It was a stellar learning experience to be in charge of every aspect of my work – while I reported to the CEO, I was essentially my own boss and directed my own work. It was challenging at first to adjust to the responsibility of tasks I had never undertaken before, but I learned so much along the way. We published three data stories on climate politics and activism – one, comparing the predicted impacts of climate change to the states taking action, was even covered by Vice! It was an incredibly experience seeing my work in a national media platform.
Caravan Studios builds technology solutions that “help communities organize, access, and apply local resources to their most pressing problems.” At Caravan Studios I worked on using data and analysis techniques to understand trends in engagement with the Safe Shelter Collaborative platform. The Safe Shelter Collaborative allows domestic violence shelters to gather information about the location of shelter beds when they’re at capacity and would otherwise have to turn a survivor away. The platform allows a service provider to send a request to all other participating agencies in the collaborative. The platform has a really excellent participation rate – most requests are responded to within less than a minute, and most request have a ‘possible bed’ response within less than three minutes. I used their internal administrative data to write a report of exploratory insights looking at agency participation, demographic trends, and outcomes to understand how they might iterate on or expand their existing model.
More than anything, this summer let me explore styles, modes, and methods of working and thinking about using technology to advocate for marginalized communities and uncover meaningful trends in important issues. There are so many possible ways to engage with technology for good, and this summer taught me so much about what productive engagement looks like.
Caravan and Brightest both focus on designing with their clients and communities. Caravan uses a participatory design process and focuses on human centered design. Brightest constantly updates their platform to better suit the needs of organizers and movements.’ I learned that centering humans and human behavior in the design process is absolutely crucial to building useful tools and identifying necessary insights.
This summer taught me that technology can be a part of the solution, but is generally not the whole solution. Technology needs to be accompanied by changes in policy, in resources, in communities, and in systems in order to be an effective tool to move the needle. We need technology and data science to accompany community organizing efforts, policy advocacy, and the stories of affected communities.
On a more personal note, this summer really taught me about the importance of work life balance. Working remotely, especially on work you care deeply about, can lead to work taking over your life. I learned to take breaks when I needed them, walking to the park to sit in the sun, and learned the value of rest in being able to be productive.
I am deeply grateful for the experiences my Royster-Lawton fellowship has brought, and I’m so excited for the doors that have been opened as I’ve developed new skills and built new relationships.