Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

On behalf of Kelly Mendola


Human rationale, technology and the South Madison community work and will work in a triangular relationship to present our team with challenges and opportunities when we’re working to use communication technology to bond and bridge the area. Knowledge, skills and motivation are three components of human barriers that will present us with challenges, but if tackled well we can turn them into opportunities.


Knowledge and skills go hand-in-hand. Individuals need to gain knowledge in order to acquire different skills.


In terms of knowledge, I think of people’s knowledge about food in South Madison. Specifically with ethnic restaurants and locally grown food, most of South Madison doesn’t know about options beyond the restaurant and food options reinforced as good and/or available through the people in their fragmented social groups; therefore, they create a biased view of the only viable options. Pariser discusses this the concept of bias views thriving in segmented environments. Pariser discusses, “The Internet has unleashed the coordinated energy of a whole new generation of activists – it’s easier than ever to find people who share your political passions,” as personalization advances, it’ll be harder to reach a broad audience. We can counteract this by creating a hub that stores information about all options and shares all viewpoints, rather than keeping these things separate. People will then have a larger base of knowledge about what is available to them.


The main challenge I anticipate in terms of skills is South Madison’s technological capabilities. We have not researched the communities technological knowledge or skill-set yet, but most of the area appears to be of lower socioeconomic status, therefore they might not own or use a computer on a regular basis and engage in social media as often as a class of journalism students does. To start, we need to know what South Madison citizens know how to use, prefer to use and are open to learning more about. All the readings discuss how people seek information that reinforces views they already have. We can apply this to technological platforms and use technology that people already know and like rather than using technology that doesn’t appeal to residents. For those with lower technological competence to the average person, we can keep interactive options as simple as possible and provide basic instructions, for example “three steps to upload a video”. For applications that may be more complex, we could hold seminars on how to use these tools at the library or other promotional events for our campaign.


Judging by the lack of attendance at the festival, the greater population doesn’t appear particularly interested in engaging in community events. We need to find out what incentives will motivate them to get involved. Two potential partners that can help us find out what motivates people and that can help us get people to rally behind our campaign are kids and community leaders that people respect and like, like Robert Pierce and John. These two groups are trusted by the community and understand the community. If we can get them excited about our ideas, they can help spread that excitement to others.

There is plenty of room to growth in South Madison’s knowledge, skills and motivations in regards to food – the central concept of our campaign and the technology we hope to leverage our campaign with.


Knowledge, Skills, and Motivation

It seems people generally are not motivated to exit their comfort zones, to consume information that is not familiar.  In order to bridge South Madison and the rest of the community, though, we need to portray South Madison as familiar, even exciting.
We could present video and print pieces on our platform and on Twitter that give life to South Madison community leaders, artists, chefs, events.  As students, we have easy access to the student body; we could send out an email to all students with a fun video about a South Madison chef, for example.  The excitement from this video might bring students down Park St.  Twitter, I think, is also a good avenue for such pieces.  We could make a “South Madison Food” Twitter account, or something like that, and connect to as many Madisonians as possible.

Motivating to South Madison

One of the challenges human motivation presents us is the disinterest people have in actively seeking out unfamiliar information. If reading these articles made me realize anything, it’s that people are much more willing to seek out people, places and information to validate themselves and their opinions. In order to remedy this, I think we should try to foster a feeling that the South Madison area has traditions and cultures to make our target audience feel at home there. If we can, our audience might be more motivated to visit based on their perceived similarities. However, we could also choose to attract people to the South Madison area by labeling it as a new and exciting experience. Although changing people’s behavior is challenging, Pariser describes the sense of accomplishment we feel when trying new things stating “the experiences we have when we come across new ideas, people, and cultures are powerful. They make us feel human” (Pariser 224). We could try to capitalize on the invigoration that comes with trying new things!

Lack of knowledge goes hand in hand with lack of motivation. The message from the readings seemed to be that people would rather have their beliefs and opinions affirmed than seek out opposing ideals. However, when people refuse to hear or experience different viewpoints, they also miss out on the opportunity to evolve their opinions. Stroud describes this phenomenon saying “the logic is that if citizens are not exposed to information that conflicts with their beliefs, then they have no reason to change their beliefs” (Stroud 11). The lack of knowledge is only fueled by technology’s role in the problem. Personalization is making it increasingly harder for people to encounter information by chance. If users have not shared any information with these news aggregators which indicates a tie or interest to the culture of the South Madison area, then they most likely will not see our information come up in searches or on websites they use. As Pariser states “while the Internet has the potential to decentralize knowledge and control, in practice it’s concentrating control over what we see and what opportunities we’re offered in the hands of fewer people than ever before” (Pariser 218).

The best solution I can offer so far would be to use Twitter. Twitter appeared to be the social networking site that was the least centered around personalization. All of the tweets from everyone you subscribe to are displayed in a timeline with none left out. If we all had accounts that we actively used and started posting about restaurants in the South Madison area or the Farmer’s Market there, then it might catch our friends’ attention and motivate them to visit the area. When I use Twitter and see funny tweets about a place or occurrence it makes me much more interested. Also, I generally trust my friends’ taste in food and restaurants. So we could use our friends’ trust to spread the interest. It could also be fun to do a video series on our website where we eat at different restaurants each week and give our feedback about the experience. Kindof a “No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain” type of deal where we give some background on the place and then actually eat the food. Having our genuine opinions and experiences could be a fun way for both us and our target audience to learn about the South Madison area.

Connecting through video

Festivals bring people together and Thursday’s Celebrate South Madison was no exception. It was exciting to see community members come together to share food, converse, and learn more about area services. There were some great conversations happening about local issues and a sense of unity was apparent. Common chatter can start very basic, i.e.: “We have a lack of fresh produce available in our local stores” and, through further discussion, transform into something great like a weekly farmers’ market. The power of concerned citizens is undeniable.

Still, I found myself wondering about the residents that were not at the event.

It was frustrating. Were they unable to attend because of work, school, or other conflicts? Are they shut-ins? Do they think the festival is lame? Do they actually know about it? Do they feel disconnected from the community as a result of their absence? Do they even care?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I do have a suggestion for how to find out and answer other questions: Connect.

Everyone is on a different schedule and we might not be able to get everyone to one place at the same time to hang out and talk. Additionally, it’s not enough to set up an online account where only select people, or those with a specific knowledge of computers, can join in on the conversation. Although I think a forum for discussion online will be valuable, it will still leave out some people. After all, not everyone is able to share on those types of sites, and some people simply don’t want to take the time to learn.

Still, I do think it is possible to let everyone be heard through new methods of technology.

People love watching TV, and most people like the idea of being on TV. In addition to a social media page where community members can share thoughts via writing, adding photos, etc., I think it would be really neat to shoot videos of community members talking about particular issues or asking questions, and post them online.

We could set up a camera in a few secure public areas, such as the library, where people could record. A staff member could then upload the videos onto a shared site or social media space. This would allow those that lack computer skills to share their thoughts quickly and easily. The clips could also be played on a public access channel. To promote video sharing, we could even have a contest (a chance to win something is the best motivation)!

Topics of video posts could be chosen from a suggestion box located in the same place as the camera. For those unable to reach the filming location, we could allow previewed uploads from home or have trained volunteers film from additional locations.

While it’s not a stand-alone solution, I think it would make for some neat supplementary material and let those that can’t/don’t want to attend events still participate in the conversation, a key for development. It would be especially neat because you could see the person talking, not just read a message. This would allow viewers to better recognize their neighbors on the street and understand the tone they deliver their thoughts with. We could even closed caption the videos!

More importantly, I think it would make people want to participate because it’s fun! And enjoying the participation process is half the battle and taking this first step should lead them to try other types of technology, as well.


Celebrate South Madison: A Snapshot of Madison’s Culture

I had a really fun time at “Celebrate South Madison.” At first I was pretty skeptical, but overall I gained a lot from the experience. Even though the event was relatively small, I got to experience things I rarely see on campus. The different musical acts were very fun to watch and the food was really good too! More importantly, I felt honored to experience other people’s culture that they wanted to share with the community. On campus, we don’t always get that, so it was refreshing to see people proudly embrace their culture and heritage.

I think events like this can really help the community by giving people a chance to express themselves, learn about people in their neighborhood, and simply to just enjoy food and music with new friends. My favorite part about “Celebrate South Madison” was the welcoming environment. Even though I didn’t know anyone there and I felt like an outsider, people were very kind to me and they wanted to let me in on their lives. With that sort of environment, a community can strengthen together and form bonds that last a long time.

I think our main challenge is our lack of knowledge about the area. We don’t’ know which mediums we should use to reach our target audience, and we are having trouble pinpointing a specific angle to focus on. We definitely need to do more research, but going to the festival was a good start. I have already learned a lot about the area, and I’m excited to learn more. But I believe that if we want to truly help the community, we’re going to have to spend more time there and see what people need.

Another challenge about the South Madison area is the misperception that many people hold about it. Even in simple conversations with my friends and classmates, I have found that many people see South Park Street as unsafe. But I am convinced that if people would be able to experience what I did at “Celebrate South Madison,” their minds would be changed.

Like I mentioned above, “Celebrate South Madison” was relatively small. There was a good amount of people there, but I feel that the event didn’t reach it’s full potential. New communication technologies could truly benefit events like this by spreading word to people who might not otherwise know about them. And if technology can be used to bring more community members to an event, it would also attract people from outside the community. That would hopefully result in people coming back to the area after experiencing what it has to offer.

Thoughts about “Celebrate South Madison”

At “Celebrate South Madison,” I spoke with several attendees, many of whom were residents of the area.  All of the individuals I spoke with had an overwhelming sense of pride in their neighborhood and seemed enthusiastic to showcase their community to the rest of the city.  I think gatherings such as this are essential, and should occur annually or bi-annually; they reinforce in the South Madison residents, especially the children, the importance of community pride, fellowship and outreach.

One thought that stuck with me after the event was something said by Robert Pierce, who works with Growing Power and organizes the South Madison farmers markets.  I asked him if the people of South Madison were more or less bonded now than when he was younger.  Pierce said (and I’m paraphrasing) that nothing has changed—that there was and still is a strong bond between the South Madison residents.  Back in his day, residents referred to the area as “the village” and everyone treated each other like family; according to him, the tradition of seeing your neighbor as a mother, father, sister, or brother has not disintegrated over time.  This made me think that, in designing a project that is supposed to accomplish “bringing and bonding,” maybe our class should put more effort into bridging South Madison with the rest of the city, since South Madison residents already feel closely tied to one another.

That being said, the night of “Celebrate South Madison,” a shooting occurred at R Place, a South Park St. tavern.  Three people were injured. It’s likely that this event will slow down R Place’s business for a while, and it doesn’t help the reputation of the South Madison area.  I think our biggest challenge with this project will be to prove to those who don’t live in South Madison that the area is (overall) a safe and fun place to be.

As for our project’s platform, I suggest the following:

  • Instead of taking a risk with a random communication technology, we should conduct some informal surveys in South Madison  to find out which types of communication technologies and applications are the most popular among residents.  We’re here to please the community; if we build a platform using a communication technology favored by residents, they will be excited about our final product and (hopefully) adopt it long-term.
  • Try to make the final product that’s accessible and user-friendly.  Not everyone has the same level of technological literacy, and we want more than tech-savvy young adults to engage with whatever we produce.

Let’s get to work 🙂

Sharing Community – Live and in a Virtual World

by Kelly Mendolla
The “Celebrate South Madison” Festival’s two key focal points: food and music – are “bonders” of nearly any cultural or group of people. The musical entertainment included local groups and special guests from Venezuela. The food available included fare from a local restaurant, Melly Mel’s, farmer’s market produce and interactive booths teaching about healthy eating and offering free healthy snacks. All aspects of the festival seemed to be greatly enjoyed by everyone in attendance. I particularly liked how everything food-related offered opportunities for continual involvement – going to Melly Mel’s actual restaurant, continuing to shop at the farmer’s market or getting involved with UW Extensions, Slow Food or one of the other organizations present.

As strong as a community builder the event appeared to be, I was under whelmed by the attendance and would have liked to see more people there from the South Madison community. The majority of people there were volunteers or kids brought in by the Boys and Girls Club.

This brings me to challenge #1: How do we get the South Madison community to engage in our campaign?

After seeing the lack of turnout at the festival, I feel this will be our main challenge. I attribute the low attendance to the event time, a Thursday afternoon from 4 to 7 pm, a time many people are at work, running post-work errands or transitioning their children from school to afternoon/evening-time. By bringing parts of our campaign online we will be able to overcome the obstacle of different schedules, people will be able to engage in an online community that promotes inclusion at a time that works best for them. Keith Hampton and Barry Wellman claim the Internet “facilitate discussion and mobilization around local issues… and the global reach of Internet freed people form the restraints of place.” In particular Hampton and Wellman argue e-mail allows residents in Netville to, “Communicate information, share emotions, facilitate agreement and provide a sense of inclusion.” Utilizing technology could benefit our hopes to bond and bridge the Madison community, but we need to access their access and competence with technological platforms.

Challenge #2: Identify the technological platforms the South Madison community uses and how they use them.

Our team will need to research potential ways to overcome this obstacle. I think it’s important to mote the “Celebrate South Madison” Facebook event only had 77 people attending and 1,093 people that never responded yes or no. In class we continually assume Facebook is a platform South Madison widely uses and understands, but these numbers are a huge indicator of the communities lack of disengagement in social media even if they may have a Facebook account.

Challenge #3: Find a relevant angle on food for South Madison.

After attending the festival I felt there were two distinct paths we could take in terms of using food as a platform to bridge and bond the community. We can either focus on locally grown food or the area’s restaurants. I feel focusing on restaurants would be better suited for community members and give us more options in terms of technological pieces we could create. While promoting healthy locally grown produce would be great, trying to use it as a way to bridge fragments of the community would not be effective because no one seems particularly interested. I saw minimal interest in the farmer’s market and free healthy samples at the festival, I even witnessed multiple adults turndown offers to free samples and appear disinterested in learning more about these things.

On the other hand, the variety of South Madison restaurants have more potential for “bridging and bonding” because many of the restaurants are already liked by certain groups that could “share” these restaurants with others in real life and in a virtual world. Technological tools involving Google maps, Yelp and other consumer review sites and even photo upload applications could all be incorporated into restaurant sharing. Restaurants also provide venues for live events.