Writing Community Change: Designing Technologies for Citizen Action

Grabill, J.T. (2007). “Inventing (in) a Community.” Writing Community Change: Designing Technologies for Citizen Action. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press: 59-87.


In this chapter, Grabill argues that the work of citizenship is knowledge work, is epistemologically rich, and carries complex inventional practices. Grabill is concerned with the way that “expertise” is often framed in opposition to “public ignorance.” Members of the community have enormous power in inventing and creating knowledge that can shape decisions, but they must invent their way to a place in public deliberation. Grabill outlines three examples of how community change must be enacted through writing and invention. First, he outlines distributed invention that a community organization called CEC displayed in Harbor, Michigan. Second, the Capital Area Community Information project (CACI) is an instance where designing technologies with users for users. Because the tool created leveraged expert information to nonexpert users, a range of usability issues became visible. CACI is one of many examples where interfaces designed to increase public access raise just as many issues in usability and accessibility. Grabill’s third example of citizen invention is a section about the Allen Neighborhood Center in the eastside of Lansing, Michigan. While volunteers and community leaders used technology in more practical ways, they regularly went door-to-door in the eastside neighborhood to gain valuable information from residents using health surveys. The information gained was then used to use databases for data entry and tools to map health issues and trends in the community. Lastly, and perhaps most important to my research, is Grabill’s introduction of the term metis, which can be understood as practical, localized skills that respond to a changing environment. For any community-based research project to have a sustainable impact on communities, people require the skills and know-how (namely writing, reading, and technical skill) to invent meaningful solutions to ongoing problems.