City Karma

December 2010

Jake Barton and Ian Curry of Local Projects taught our ‘Public Interfaces’ class. For the final project, we were to identify an opportunity and design a service for New York City. This could be a service for a single block, a neighborhood, a borough or the entire city. Its success will be determined by how it engages and services the public sphere.

I teamed up with Colleen Miller for this project, which we titled City Karma.

We both shared a wish for New Yorkers to understand consequences of choices with a big picture understanding, for a public that takes responsibility for itself. City Karma enables citizens to share positive stories to encourage behavior we would like to see in others.

Karma as many people know it comes from Hinduism and Buddhism; it’s the principle of retributive justice determining a person’s state of life and the state of his reincarnations as the effect of his past deeds. Our classmate Clint Beharry had a much more immediate definition: anything that makes people grateful for being in a great place is worth the effort.

To test out our idea, we put together a simple paper prototype asking people in the studio to tell us when they did a good deed, or when someone else did a something nice for them. Overall, people enjoyed reading the feedback their friends had posted, which seemed to arrive in bursts.

Service Growth Framework

We looked to a framework we learned this semester in our service design class to grow our prototype into the final product. This four-part cycle of awareness and participation starts with making people aware of what you have to offer. Only then can they respond to any call to join or use the service. Once they are a stakeholder, the next step is to provide them with ways to contribute, participate, or otherwise grow the service. When they have done so, the framework provides them with a way of sharing their experience and hopefully making the people around them aware of the service.

We marketed City Karma in a variety of formats, including street handouts, status updates on twitter, local papers and neighborhood blogs. In the limited time we had, we took City Karma from the walls of studio to the streets & the web.

We invited people to join City Karma through the positive messages shared on twitter. Any positive City Karma messages can be shared with a note to the @citykarma account or by using the hashtag. We also had a phone number set up, and we imagine a web presence where it’s easy to add your message right then and there.

At the core of this whole system, we believe, is our website. Here you can see at a high level the good deeds happening all around you. It is possible to vote for the messages that matter to you and share them with your friends.

While the website is a start to making people aware of City Karma, we envisioned other ways to extend the awareness of the system. Once the data is in the system, it can be formatted and disseminated through various channels that vary in posture and might respond to different levels of user engagement. These include public displays, email newsletters, and maps showing the locations of good deeds throughout the city.