Public meetings are important spaces for democracy where any resident can participate in civic life and hold public figures accountable. But how does the public know when meetings are happening? It isn’t easy! These events are spread across dozens of websites, rarely in useful data formats.
City Bureau first launched the Documenters project in Chicago, training 370 Documenters who have documented nearly 100 public meetings. With the support from the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, City Bureau piloted a Documenters project in Detroit in collaboration with WDET and CitizenDetroit. Together we trained and hired local community members to spend 73 hours documenting 12 education-related public meetings in Detroit.
The goal of Documenters project is to train community members with a range of journalistic skills, including social media reporting and on-site note-taking, in order to thoroughly document the public meetings in their community and in doing so participate in civic life and hold public figures accountable.
Over the course of two months City Bureau, WDET and Citizen Detroit coordinated 24 assignments across 12 education-related meetings in Detroit.
We hosted two free public trainings and a public forum modeled on City Bureau’s Public Newsroom that introduced the Documenters pilot program to Detroit. Those three events drew more than 50 people.
Documenters produced 12 live-tweet threads, 22 sets of meeting notes and gained a deeper understanding of the civic processes that affect education in Detroit.
Based on the feedback from those who participated in the forum, trainings and assignments, participants would like to see the project include a process for giving Documenters constructive feedback on their work and a more robust training program.
Several of the Detroit Documenters were given training and asked to live-tweet the public meetings they attended. Below are some examples.
Two images from when I arrived at the auditorium at MLK High School. The water fountain was jarringly, painfully familiar to me, as someone who used to work in Flint.— carilloneur (@grenadine) September 11, 2018
In contrast, look at this wonderful mural (one of several in the auditorium area). People are still here. pic.twitter.com/EnEl0OGLdT
Thank you for doing this work!— ok but (@whoisbreegant) September 11, 2018
Documenters collected and digitized all printed materials provided at each meeting.
Good morning folks! I’m currently at the DPSCS Finance Sub-Committee Meeting. Waiting till things get started to tweet out the details. #DetroitDocumenters #DetroitPublicSchools pic.twitter.com/c3477Q87Ub— SoulRepublic (@SoulRepublic) October 26, 2018
4.04 (approval of additional expenditures) included a discussion of where the funds will go. Appears it will go towards air and water testing and demo of Duke Ellington School.— SoulRepublic (@SoulRepublic) October 26, 2018
Note- this is also the same company (ATC Group) that provides hydration stations in DPS schools.
Documenters Mobile App
In January of 2019, City Bureau will release its Documenters mobile app. The free app will house all meeting notes, documents and observations from public meetings attended by Chicago and Detroit Documenters.
Review and Part 2
WDET, City Bureau and CitizenDetroit will review the past month’s experience using participant feedback and revise the process for a second iteration of the Detroit Documenters Project to launch in the spring of 2019.