Meaningful Inefficiencies in Civic Engagement

Season 2, Episode 5

We commonly hear calls for government to operate more efficiently from legislators, oversight groups, and government executives alike. While public sector efficiency may be valuable for functions like street repair, permitting, and waste collection, can it also raise barriers to meaningful civic engagement between residents and their governments? 

This week on the CitySCOPE Podcast, our co-hosts Uzma Amin and Tessa Ruben speak with Eric Gordon, director of the Engagement Lab and professor at Emerson College about creating meaningful inefficiencies as opportunities for people to engage with government systems. Gordon draws a parallel between civic engagement and play: games are full of inefficiencies, it is games’ intentionally cultivated difficulty within a clear rules structure that make them fun and meaningful. 

At a time when trust in government in the United States is at an all-time low, Gordon challenges us to ask: how might we create opportunities for a play-like sense of engagement in civic processes to connect communities to public systems, and to each other, in meaningful ways? 

Listen by clicking above, or listen and subscribe on applegooglespotifystitcher, and soundcloud.


1. Learn more about the work of the Engagement Lab

2. Pick up a copy of Meaningful Inefficiencies: Civic Design in an Age of Digital Expediency by Eric Gordon and Gabriel Mugar from brookline booksmith 

3. Public Trust in Government: 1958-2019 from Pew Research Center, April 11, 2019 report 

4. Photo credit: Courtesy of Craig Walker / Boston Globe Staff

Episode Transcript: 

Kate Cooney:

This is CitySCOPE.

Uzma Amin:

A podcast from the Inclusive Economic Development Lab at the Yale School of Management.

Evan Oleson:

Where we learn about what might be possible in our city by talking with others about what is happening in theirs.

Joy Chen:

Are we ready?

Allen Xu:

Let’s go.

MUSIC (K.Dub):

Elm City, what up?

Allen Xu (00:28):

Uzma Amin (00:29):

Welcome to Episode 5 of Season 2 of the CitySCOPE podcast. My name is Uzma Amin, a second year MPH student at the Yale School of Public Health. And I will be one of your co-hosts for this episode.

Tessa Ruben (00:39):

And my name is Tessa Ruben, a second year MBA student at the Yale School of Management. And I’ll be your other co-host for this episode.

Uzma Amin (00:47):

We hope you’ve been keeping up with Season 2 of the podcast, joining us in our exploration of different models of community engagement. On our episode today, we’ll be looking at community engagement as it relates to civic planning. We’ll be discussing the role of efficiency in government planning processes, how we can reimagine these processes to be more inclusive of city residents, and maybe even a little less efficient.

Tessa Ruben (01:09):

Yes, you heard that correctly, less efficient. We find governments increasingly relying on technology to create efficiency, but technology is a double-edged sword because it can undermine public trust by bypassing public engagement processes for the sake of efficiency.

Uzma Amin (01:26):

That’s right, Tessa. And our guests tells a story about how this can play out. In 2017, the Boston public schools used an AI algorithm to create an efficient bus schedule. However, the supposedly efficient schedule was out of touch with the reality of working families of Boston, as the bus times were either too early for children or too late for parents to get to work. And the whole debacle highlighted how wrong a computer generated algorithm can be if the results are not vetted by the actual families living within the system the AI designs. There was a huge backlash and this event certainly had an effect on public trust.

Tessa Ruben (02:00):

Exactly. And this idea of strengthening public trust is especially important in our world today when public trust in government institutions is so low. Did you know that today, according to the Pew Research Center, only 3% of Americans say they trust their government to do the right thing just about always? And 14% say they trust their government to do the right thing most of the time. Compare that with 1958, when National Election Studies first started measuring, and nearly 75% of Americans reported trusting government almost always or most of the time.

Uzma Amin (02:37):

A lot has changed since 1958, including the Vietnam War and Watergate, and trust rises when the economy does well, like the 1990s or after events like 911. Still, this almost always or most of the time trust metric currently at 17% has not risen above 30% since 2007.

Tessa Ruben (02:55):

Our guest today, Eric Gordon, is an academic and researcher focusing on civic planning and has written multiple books on civic engagement. Underlying his work is a concern for this eroding trust in government and he has some creative ideas about how we can build it back. We’ll let him introduce himself.

Eric Gordon (03:14):

Hi, I’m Eric Gordon. I’m a professor at Emerson College in Boston and the Director of the Engagement Lab.

Tessa Ruben (03:21):

Hi Eric. It’s great to have you on the podcast today.

Uzma Amin (03:24):

Welcome Eric. We’re excited to chat with you today about all your fascinating work. To begin, let’s dig into your book that came out earlier this year, Meaningful Inefficiencies: Civic Design in an Age of Digital Expediency. We are intrigued by the idea presented in your book that an inefficiency may actually be productive or desirable in some cases if it is meaningful. Maybe you can start by explaining what you mean by a meaningful inefficiency.

Eric Gordon (03:49):

The idea of meaningful inefficiencies - it’s an intervention into the way that things are often accomplished, especially when it comes to the design of sociotechnical systems. So the design of systems that bring humans through a technological process to achieve some ends. The intervention with a concept like meaningful inefficiencies is really about acknowledging the importance of inefficiency or rather slack in a system or productive lag when people are invited into a technical process. So, whether it’s service provision in the case of a city or its decision-making that’s based in data, getting to the resolution or to the outcome as fast as possible is not always the ideal condition. So, the distinction that we’re trying to make in the book is really the distinction between efficiencies that maximize the use-value of technical systems and the kinds of efficiencies that maximize the potential benefits of the human participants in those systems.

Tessa Ruben (04:59):

That’s super interesting. Perhaps we could tease this out a bit more. You’re certainly not advocating for more inefficiencies in government systems set up to fix a pothole or tow an abandoned car, right? You call these mere inefficiencies. So then, what would you say is the difference between a mere inefficiency and a meaningful inefficiency?

Eric Gordon (05:20):

Governments can be inefficient to the point of being ineffective or worse, dangerous. So the idea of increasing efficiency specifically within government operation and organization is incredibly important. The kinds of inefficiencies that are meaningless redundancies or the kinds of inefficiencies that have to do with paper records within digital systems and no corresponding organization between the two, these sorts of things that are detrimental to the operation of organizations are mere inefficiencies. They lead to anxiety in the users and they can also lead to non-use, right? And so, these are really important to address. So, the idea that we introduced this concept of a meaningful inefficiency is not to say that inefficiency is itself a value. It’s not, right? There is a very important distinction between a mere inefficiency or one that leads to anxiety or non-use and a meaningful inefficiency where the deliberate design of such inefficiencies actually lead to a meaningful, productive, and ultimately trust-building experience in that system itself. Again, it’s really, really important to understand that we’re not advocating for more inefficiencies within civic organizations. We’re in fact advocating for increased efficiency and increased awareness of when efficiencies are an overreach, specifically when technological augmentations are in place, when efficiencies are an overreach and when we need to step back and deliberately design for the human user in a way that the technology doesn’t allow.

Uzma Amin (06:58):

Okay. So, we’ve established that on the one hand, the goal for most basic government service delivery is and should be efficiency. Let’s think more about when to consider building inefficiency into a process. The guiding approach that you’ve explored in your research for creating situations that allow people to productively engage with the system is through play and games. I’d be interested to know what you mean by play in this context and how you think about applying play to a civic engagement process.

Eric Gordon (07:28):

Let me start with the idea of play and why play is an important frame for this work. Play is freedom within constraints. Play is an activity that people engage when they feel safe and free to do so. And so, the way that we incorporate play into our book is not as perhaps the kind of play that you might immediately think of, the play that might be frivolous, the play that happens perhaps only within games. But in fact, the play that we talk about is specifically that the slack in the system, the ability to explore safely, to explore, again within constraints, there is no such thing as free play, all play is structured. And so, the idea of incorporating the value of play into the design of civic systems is what we’re trying to advocate for. Play is a specific design product of games. And so, games are a model that we can look to to say, what can we learn from a game? Games are really interesting systems in that they are necessarily inefficient. One of the academics that we look to is a man named Bernard Suits who writes about games in the following way, he says that games are necessarily inefficient systems that people voluntarily step into in which there are unnecessary obstacles that get in the way of achieving the goal so that people have the experience of playing. Okay, so now let’s just take that for a second and say, well, what would that look like if we developed civic systems around that model? What would that look like if the way that NGOs or the way that government actually thought about its constituents and thought about the systems that it was designing for its constituents? What if they used the model of games as Suits lays out? What if we created a system where people voluntarily step into, wherein the goal of being in that system is to play, is to have the experience of being in that system? See what happens is we design these systems within the civic context and we think the system is just something to bypass in order to get to the goal. And again, that works if you’re paying a parking ticket or if you’re doing something that is necessarily transactional. But in other systems, perhaps when it comes to policy-making or even when it comes to certain kinds of service provision, there is a value to allowing people to experience being within that system so that they can not only build trust among other people within that system, but also begin to understand the logic of the rules that are guiding it.

Tessa Ruben (10:10):

Thank you for illustrating that for us. By watching others play, you may also quickly learn something about the biases that might exist in a system and maybe end up improving the system as a result.

Eric Gordon (10:21):

One of the things that we talk about in the book is how important it is for rules to be transparent and that the goal of designing meaningful inefficiencies is not to create the rules of the game and stick people in it and force them to be good players, right? Instead, the goal is to create a scaffolding, create a structure, allow people to play within that, and then open up the opportunity for modifications or for questioning of those rules because good players understand the rules, right? And once they understand the rules, they’re able to modify the rules. And so, that’s an important part of the design process that we’re talking about. As opposed to, especially when technology is entered into the system where often the logic behind the technological system is completely obtuse, right, we don’t have a sense of what’s going on under the hood, let’s say. And so, the importance of making that transparent by making those rules transparent and actually making the process of being within that system, not just transparent, but voluntary, enjoyable, pleasurable, perhaps even joyful so that when you get to the outcomes, when you get to the other side, there’s meaning in that achievement as well. When you think about a system that is actually designed to accommodate that state of play, that ability to explore, that opportunity for freedom within constraints, right, there’s open-endedness, there’s what Hannah Arendt calls action, which she describes as the opportunity for new beginnings. You don’t get that when the system is so perfectly designed to move the human through it to get to the outcomes. You get that when the system is designed with that slack that enables that generativity. And the outcome of that generativity is trust in each other, is potentially trust in the system, and the ability to have some agency over the structure of the rules that dictate the governance of that system.

Eric Gordon (12:23):

A good public planning process is useful. And if you talk to planners and city officials, they’ll often say, “Well, we need to do good public planning so that when the policy is presented or the plan is presented to the public, there is not an outcry. People feel like they’ve at least been heard in some way and that there’s some acknowledgement that the process was trustworthy.” For the planner or for the city official, they’ll say, “Well, it’s far more efficient to take a little bit more time upfront so that you don’t have to redo the process later.” Right? So, that’s one very pragmatic way of looking at this is that if people are not included, then the likelihood of rejection of whatever process is higher. So, that’s one thing. And I have mixed feelings about that as a motivator. I mean, I think that is true, but it’s actually only a symptom of the truth, right? The real important part of this is not simply just convincing people that a process is good or placating those users through the performance of participation, but it’s actually creating a system that allows people to trust in the process, create that procedural trust by virtue of having the agency that a player has within a well-constructed system.

Uzma Amin (13:40):

Can you give us some examples of how creating that space has made a difference in communities?

Eric Gordon (13:45):

In the course of writing the book, we interviewed over 40 practitioners who are operating in this space, who are using media and technology as a means of building trust with the publics they serve. Many of those are from government and some were from news organizations. And there are great examples in both these cases. I’ll tell you about an example of Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California, and their engagement team. So, in the space of journalism, there’s a growing number of people with engagement in their title. So, engagement editors, engagement reporters, engagement specialists of all sort, and the meaning of that title varies depending on the organization. Sometimes that means social media marketing. And sometimes it means something very different. Sometimes it means a collision between tactics of community organizing and reporting, as we might understand it. What’s interesting about what was happening in Capital Public Radio is that they were able to take this idea of bringing people into the process of news gathering to a whole other level. In coordination with the newsroom, they created these story circles that brought people together to share stories about their experience with housing, for example, their experience with the justice system. And these story circles were designed as part of the news gathering process, but they were not themselves news gathering. Right? And so, what’s interesting about the investment that some public media stations are making, and Capital Public Radio being one of the leaders in this, what’s interesting about this is that they’re investing the time to, yes, get details and stories and information from people, but the process of that story circle is actually about being heard, is about building foundational trust that allows people to not only tell a reporter the story that they want to hear right at that moment, but to actually have a relationship with that news organization so that they can provide a better sense of partnership in telling those local story. So, there’s a shift in a lot of local news organizations that are really thinking about how to be less extractive in the way that sources are sourced, in the way that quotes are used within papers. “There’s a shooting in a neighborhood. I’m going to go talk to somebody who’s going to say how scared they are and I’m going to write about it in the story.” Right? How do you get beyond that? And how do you partner with communities to do that? So, that’s an example of the investment in creating the space that is not directly tied to the outcome, in this case, a story, which is how news organizations think about outcomes. It’s not directly tied to the outcome, but it’s building the infrastructure that allows for that goal of news-making to be achieved.

Tessa Ruben (16:38):

So, in this example, the so-called inefficiency is due to all the extra time it takes to create sharing circles, build relationships and facilitate conversations across groups, which is more labor-intensive than traditional reporting methods.

Uzma Amin (16:52):

Right. So, on the one hand, it’s inefficient. But on the other hand, you get much richer insight, perhaps better information and deeper understanding of the stories you tell. Eric also talked about how these kinds of efforts can be rolled out strategically, for example, by creating community conversations in advance of public action on an issue.

Eric Gordon (17:10):

One of the projects that we wrote about in the book is the Housing Innovation Program in the city of Boston. And what they tried to do, like creating different models of housing and moving it around the city for people to experience… For example, creating a conversation piece around the possibilities of housing, as opposed to simply just addressing a known problem that would… became a kind of city-wide initiative to create that conversation that then led to policies down the line.

Eric Gordon (17:39):

And then the last example I’ll use is the Citizens Police Data Project, which is also featured prominently in the book. And this is in Chicago. And this is a story about police abuse data from the city of Chicago and the access to that data. Those records of police abuse cases, all collected into a single database that didn’t exist before and then visualized in a way that didn’t exist before. And then the attempt at making that public. And what’s different about what happened with the Citizens Police Data Project, that unlike a traditional investigative reporting piece, which is, “I’m going to break this story and then just plop it down. And it’s not my responsibility to help people deal with the outcomes of that story. I’m simply just telling the story.” The difference is, here, an organization was created called the Invisible Institute that was really created simply in response to this database. The notion here is that it’s not sufficient to do an investigative piece and just open it up to the audience. But instead you have to actually start building the structures to build things up after that destruction that’s going to happen once that story breaks. Jamie Calvin was the name of the man who led this project. And he worked, not only with the police department to do this and build trust internally within the police department and the government of Chicago… They knew what he was doing because he had the relationships there. But he also began to do these workshops within the South Side of Chicago and other hard hit neighborhoods of Chicago that are directly impacted by police abuse more than others, that he had the wherewithal to kind of create these opportunities for people to start processing this data even prior to the vault release of the data. And then once the data was released, these networks of people stayed tightly knit. And communication channels are already created between the communities most impacted and the police department. People didn’t have to scramble after that data was made available. That infrastructure was already in place. That’s a meaningful inefficiency. That took a year of work prior to that happening. But the fact that that infrastructure was put in place allowed the release of that data and the process that inevitably emerged after the release of that data, to be far more smooth and productive. The kinds of conversations that are still being facilitated in the city of Chicago around that data is a direct result of that meaningful inefficiency that was built.

Tessa Ruben (20:15):

I’m curious to know more about the role of networks in this work and how you choose who to include in the process. Who needs to be at the table?

Uzma Amin (20:23):

Eric reported that sometimes you get it wrong before you get it right.

Eric Gordon (20:27):

In doing one of these processes successfully, there needs to be a plurality of stakeholders at the table. Who those stakeholders are is going to depend on what process is happening. I want to talk about a project we did called Participatory Pokémon. This project was in collaboration with Niantic, originally, which is a company that makes Pokémon Go. And the initial goal of this project was to draw attention to and address the inequities of the distribution of PokeStops in the city. And PokeStops are the locations within this augmented reality game where players need to go in order to power up in the game. PokeStops are an essential part of the game. What we noticed is that while there was a kind of critical mass of people playing Pokémon Go, and specifically youth playing Pokémon Go throughout the city, there were gaps in the locations of these PokeStops. So, there are certain parts of the city that had fewer PokeStops, and this tended to follow SES distribution in the city. So, poor neighborhoods of color tended to be not well-represented in, not only the existence of PokeStops, but in the quality of the description, the kind of narrative description of each of those stops. So, we wanted to address this. And it started off with a partnership between the city of Boston and Niantic, which is a company. And we knew that in order to do this, we needed to recruit young people from, in this case, it was the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. We had some relationships with some organizations already in Roxbury. And so, we reached out to them to begin doing the work of recruiting youth into the process. We were under the impression, going into this project, that the allure of Pokémon Go, the sex appeal of Pokémon Go, was just going to bring people in to this process.

Eric Gordon (22:24):

What we learned though, is that for many of the organizations in the community, that in fact, they understood that the youth that they were working with were interested in Pokémon Go, but they were uncomfortable with a partnership between a private corporation, in this case, Niantic the game company and the community; they didn’t see the value there. And there’s like, “Yeah, I know kids are playing this, but I don’t really see the value in partnering with Niantic.” We then shifted the frame of the entire project. And instead of looking at Pokémon Go as the hook, as the allure to bring people into these questions about data equity, which is really what the project was about, we actually made data equity front and center. And then all of a sudden, the Boston public schools became interested, local history organizations became interested, CDCs in the neighborhood became interested because now we were talking about something that mattered to them.

Eric Gordon (23:22):

And so, we still had the issue of being a university partner working with a city and a private corporation in California to come and do this project. But it’s when we changed that frame, all of a sudden that resonated and people came to the table. And so, we knew that we couldn’t do the project unless people saw themselves in it, saw the value in it. And so, we changed the project. We changed the title of the project to… We called it Augmented Reality Stories. In this case, there was an interest in augmented reality as an emerging technology that would appeal to young people for sure, but the branding of Pokémon Go didn’t do it. And so, the outcomes of the project, while we took the data from Pokémon Go and we got young people invested in thinking about the new locations of stops and actually rewriting the narrative of stops within the Roxbury neighborhood, that happened. But the reason we did it was not so that the experience of playing Pokémon Go was going to be better, but so that we could deliberately intervene in the quality of the dataset that represented that community. And in the case of Pokémon Go, it’s a popular dataset that is used in a game that a lot of people access. So, there was meaning there. It was about changing the story, it was about changing the representation through data.

Eric Gordon (24:42):

And so, that’s a good example of how, when I set out on these projects, I don’t always know who the stakeholders need to be or who the partners need to be until the project continues on. And then often those partners emerge. And if the partners aren’t emerging, then I understand that there’s something wrong with the project. So unless you can do something that actually brings people to the table where they feel like it’s a valuable investment of their time and resources, then it’s probably not worth doing. And so, being able to pivot, I think is a really valuable part of doing this work well. And then having the funders and the other partners that allow for that to happen, which is something not… It doesn’t always happen that way, especially within government projects that have an RFP attached to it, where the deliverables are super clear prior to the project beginning and you don’t always have that flexibility to pivot. So, that’s something to consider as depending on how these projects get going, to make sure that there’s some flexibility, otherwise it can lead to a kind of disastrous outcome.

Uzma Amin (25:46):

So it sounds like you’re talking about reexamining the end goal of governmental processes, which goes back to the meaningful inefficiencies idea. We’re usually oriented towards completing tasks as quickly as possible. And we’re often taught that efficiency, especially cost efficiency, is the end goal without stopping to consider what could be gained if we slowed the process down.

Eric Gordon (26:07):

That’s right. And I think that what’s important in doing this work is that the outcomes may not be what you think they are. Often the result of doing this work well is actually establishing a strong social infrastructure so that other work can build on it. But if you don’t invest in that incrementally within every project, then you’re going to have a series of transactions and you’re going to start from zero every single time. It’s really important to actually try to reshape the stated outcomes such that the structuring of strong social infrastructure is in fact a goal of the project.

Uzma Amin (26:45):

It would be interesting to look at how this kind of thinking could apply to the current COVID-19 response.

Eric Gordon (26:50):

I’ve been thinking a lot about contact tracing and the COVID response and the initiative in Massachusetts led by Paul Farmer to use human contact tracers as part of its contact tracing strategy, right? So, many States are planning only for digital contact tracing. And the investment in Massachusetts, at the moment, is the use of human contact tracers. What’s interesting about that is that, well it’s expensive. And one can argue that two phones, say, in proximity, can tell you who’s been next to who, and that might be sufficient. But what you don’t get from that kind of digital tracing is the ability to actually talk to people, to build their trust in the public health surveillance system, that is so urgently important right now. When we have the need for wide-scale surveillance, that’s going to require digital mechanisms in order to achieve its goals, if we don’t have these inefficiencies built into the structure, we’re going to have a surveillance state that is consistently met with suspicion, not only in response to this particular crisis, but for future crises, right? This is an opportunity now to start to build that trust in a way that these surveillance systems have to work and also begin to source new kinds of questions from people so that when we build new technical systems in the future, it could be responsive to these kinds of emergent properties and qualities that are coming out right now.

Uzma Amin (28:20):

The efficient way forward may not be the most effective because if there are high levels of distrust in automated surveillance, then people won’t engage the system. So, taking the time to build the right kind of network to respond to this crisis, one that engenders trust might, be the key to ultimate success for a process like contact tracing, even if it takes longer at the outset.

Tessa Ruben (28:42):

So, what does this mean for measuring success? What kind of metrics can have these types of broader goals?

Eric Gordon (28:48):

So, metrics are a really important thing, how we evaluate the quality of this kind of work and understand how we sort of pull back a little bit from traditional outcomes assessment and look at look to different sorts of outcomes. So, my new book is premised on the measurement of four specific activities. Those are: network building; holding space, which is the effort required to actually create inclusive spaces; distributed ownership, which is the work required to actually create a sense of ownership amongst the participants and the stakeholders; and then finally persistent input, which is the ability for programs and processes to actually persist once the program is over. So, building the capacity for continuance and persistence. Those are what we call the primary activities in building a meaningfully inefficient process.

Eric Gordon (29:41):

We actually created an app called Meetr, which is M-E-E-T-R.I-N. That is designed for practitioners of all sorts to actually self-assess their process so that they can begin to chart their progress towards these outcomes. And at the moment we have two of them, we have another one called, which is specifically focused on work within government and NGOs in a municipal context. And then we have, which is focused on journalism. This app is really used for that purpose. The idea here is that by looking at these four activities, we can chart progress among two axes that we define. On the horizontal axis is social infrastructure. So, how strong is that social infrastructure from one point to another? And then the vertical axis, we look at this distinction between longevity and novelty. And what’s interesting about this work is that often you can look at a project like Participatory Pokémon Go and say, “Well, that’s just novelty. You’re bringing people to the table because it’s something unique and novel and that’s why they’re there.” But perhaps that’s it. And one of the values that’s instilled within the Meetr tool and our entire research design is that novelty can be incredibly productive and useful. But if a process ends with novelty, that’s probably not good. So what we do is, within Meetr, you can actually chart multiple points. And so, we recommend that people use this every three weeks or so. And they go through the process of going through this reflective guide and then taking a survey that gets put into Meetr and then charts their progress over time. And the way that the tool works is that we’re just looking for a positive slope. Because you can start a project, for example, where there’s a negative social infrastructure, there’s not a lot of organizations in the neighborhood. And if there are, you don’t have relationships with them or they’re contentious. Perhaps there are other controversies that are happening in the neighborhood where the social infrastructure is just low, and you can start that project there.

Eric Gordon (31:51):

When you operate within that kind of situation, it may be that bringing a novelty is a great first step that that brings people to the table. And the way that the chart works, you sort of start off in this bottom left hand quadrant. And the idea is that not every project needs to end up in the top right hand quadrant. But you’ve got to have a positive slope. You have to be working towards longevity and you have to be working towards creating some sort of a strong social infrastructure, even if you’re not in an objective point. And so, this is how I want to start looking at these outcomes, to say, “Yeah, we can count number of participants, and that is an important metric, but we also need to count these other things because projects are going to start from different starting points. And we also need to acknowledge that in some cases, things like novelty matter a lot. And we just need to sort of accommodate that in the way that we tell the story of these projects.”

Tessa Ruben (32:41):

I could imagine someone in a city government pushing back against these recommendations by saying that they don’t have enough resources to spend the extra time and money on these types of trust building or community building processes. With the pandemic causing a deeper strain on municipal and state budgets, cities might be even more resource constrained than usual. What would you say to people who argue that they simply don’t have the time or money for network building and the other practices of meaningful inefficiencies that your book advocates?

Eric Gordon (33:12):

I think with any urban context, even those that are resource constrained, which most are, that it’s a matter of values and priority setting. It’s not an excuse to say that we don’t have the money, we can’t do this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s imperative that specifically governments, but other actors in the space, think about how important it is to do this kind of work, because this is setting the foundation for other things to come. And I think one of the challenges is that we’ve so often thought about quick project cycles and kind of transactional engagements and quick wins. And now is the time to sort of shift that discourse. The book that we wrote is in direct response to changing patterns, not only in institutional trust, macro patterns around diminishing trust within many institutions in American culture, but also patterns of technological efficiencies that are being placed into these contexts as a means of quick wins. Within the context of diminishing trust and increasing technological capacity and increasing desire to use efficient technological solutions, it’s more important than ever that we actually deliberately now think about how to create these meaningful inefficiencies within these systems. Because if left to our own bureaucratic and technocratic devices, we’ll quickly eliminate those possibilities. As technological solutions become more and more attractive and we’re able to do more and more through these means, we have to be able to see both sides of this to say that that scale is important. And it’s really necessary that we bring in those mechanisms to do the work of governance, that at the same time, we need to actually deliberately now install these other kinds of opportunities for relationship building and meaning-making and deliberation and generativity and new beginnings into all the systems that we design for our cities and for society at large.

Uzma Amin (35:18):

Thank you so much, Eric, for taking the time to talk with us. You left us with a lot to think about.

Tessa Ruben (35:24):

That’s all for now. If you want to learn more about public engagement and inclusive economic development, there are three more episodes in Season 2 of CitySCOPE podcast from our peers at Yale School of Management and a great group of guests who know a lot about these topics.

Uzma Amin (35:39):

Next up on episode six, Norbert and Brice talked to some real innovators in the workforce development space, who share about the challenges of aligning multiple actors in a regional economy and the strategies they’ve developed to build on-ramps for disadvantaged communities to have access to good jobs.

Tessa Ruben (35:55):

We will be listening and we hope you do too.

Alexandra Sing:

This podcast was recorded in our homes on Zencastr.

Stephen Henriques:

Created by Kate Cooney and the students of the spring 2020 Inclusive Economic Development Lab class.

Marisa Berry:

All engineering and projection by Ryan McEvoy and Kate Cooney.

Joy Chen:

Special thanks to Rhona Ceppos for administration support and to [Giana Montez 00:39:57] for assistance with Zoom.

Charles Gress:

Music from the album Elm City Trees composed and performed by the artist K Dub. For more information and show notes, visit our website at

Arianna Blanco:

Thank you for listening.

Music (K.Dub):

Look, I’m from a city that’s half pretty and half gritty. Ain’t too many cities rocking with the Elm City. Home of the blazers. Those were the days. When I played, all these fast breaks. We don’t need plays. We play on Sundays like we don’t need praise. We pressing all game like we don’t breaks. Look, no debate. Best team in the state. We flow like the Lakers back in ‘88. I learned to play crazy eights in the city that raised the kid that want to big. Like I want to be big. I really hate the way rap’s portrayed. I want to the kids in the Elm to see a different way. Because way back I knew that I would get some pay. Every day in the mirror trying to get some waves. I ain’t trying to push weight. I want to own estates. Putting on the state on my license plate. Elm City. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave.