I got involved with Prairienet because I was interested in information problems around community engagement at GSLIS. We partnered with community organizations in many of our classes, but the semester schedule and the transience of the student body meant that such work was difficult to make sustainable or to build upon over time, and even moreso when we didn’t document it in a systematic way.
Prairienet is a collaborative digital platform to facilitate, document, and archive community engagement projects both at GSLIS and at UIUC in general, and it is hoped it will be part of a larger solution for those information problems with community engagement work.
I did mostly backend work on it, especially in terms of streamlining and structuring the default WordPress posting interface so that we could get consistent user-generated data on each project. I also enabled geocoding for each project, entered geographical and other relevant data on existing projects, and created Google Maps mashups to visualize our community work spatially. Finally, I helped to create marketing and outreach materials for the site, including a poster and a one-sheet flyer, and attended campus events and symposia to promote it in-person.
Prairienet was an excellent chance to learn WordPress inside and out, and to participate in the building of a collaborative technology project that brought together students, professors, administrators, and community members and organizations. Working to devise a user interface and experience that would welcome contributions and dialogue from each of these stakeholders was an interesting challenge, and a significant step in my growth as a community technologist.