Local Voices Network Announces Long-Term Commitment in Madison and Planned Expansion in Wisconsin

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Today, Cortico, a nonprofit organization with the mission of fostering constructive public conversation in communities and the media, announced long-term plans for the Local Voices Network (LVN) to continue operating in Madison and to expand into other urban, suburban and rural areas of Wisconsin. Created in cooperation with the MIT Media Lab, LVN is a listening system designed to foster constructive conversation in communities and the media to improve our understanding of one another and bring a community's under-heard voices into the public dialogue. Launched in February in partnership with the Madison Public Library, LVN-Madison to date has held dozens of conversations with hundreds of Madisonians, elevating local voices within the community and media that may otherwise have gone unheard.

Led by Katherine Cramer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and author of a landmark study of public opinion in rural Wisconsin entitled “The Politics of Resentment,” LVN-Madison holds conversations guided by volunteer hosts from the community. While LVN has been piloted in other parts of the country, Madison is Cortico’s first implementation of the full public conversation network.

“Wisconsinites love to share their stories and opinions, but the political environment and social media has divided us into groups that can be hostile toward outside views,” noted Cramer. “I’m thrilled that LVN is growing roots in Madison and creating new local spaces for constructive public conversation across boundaries. As LVN expands statewide, I feel confident that it will help connect people in all types of communities, give them a voice and help build trust between the public and the media.”

Each LVN conversation takes place around a “Digital Hearth,” a device that records the discussion and enables hosts to play highlights from other groups in order to cross-pollinate voices and perspectives. The recordings are transcribed to make them machine-readable, then analyzed with AI-based tools that allow the community to tune into what’s most relevant locally, and the media to tell stories that are more reflective of life on the ground. Twelve Digital Hearths are currently located in public libraries, community centers, and other locations across Madison.

“Too many local voices in places like Madison go unheard, drowned out by noisy divisive dialogue within the community and the media,” said Deb Roy, Co-Founder and Chairman of Cortico. “We are thrilled that Madison has embraced the Local Voices Network, and look forward to expanding LVN across the state in order to continue bringing the perspectives and concerns of ordinary citizens back into focus, re-connect members of a community to one another through boundary-crossing conversations, promote civic engagement, and importantly, encourage journalism that reflects and responds to local issues.”

Cortico news partner The Cap Times has already published one podcast and four reflective pieces to date based on LVN conversations, highlighting local voices and perspectives on affordable housing, public transportation, climate change and race. Other Madison media news organizations -- community-based and city-wide, including radio and television -- are expected to incorporate LVN content in their local reporting moving forward.

"The Local Voices Network is an important tool that creates non-threatening ways to bring community members together to express their views, listen to one another, and find new opportunities for connection in a very complex and separated world,” said The Honorable/Rev. Everett Mitchell, Pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church and Dane County Circuit Court Judge, who has hosted two LVN conversations to date. “Just being able to listen to these stories in various ways gives community members a safe space to know that their voices are being heard and lifted into a conversation where others can listen to their views and hopefully use their ideas to better understand the issues as they are happening on the ground. Each conversation offers us a new bridge into different relationships, new opportunities for progress and new moments of connection and relationships.”

For those in the community interested in participating, visit lvn.org/madison to sign up.

About Cortico

Cortico is a nonprofit organization with the mission of fostering constructive public conversation in communities and the media that improves our understanding of one another. Working in cooperation with the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab, Cortico builds listening systems designed to surface a community’s under-heard voices and channel their perspectives and stories into the public dialogue.

More news and information about Cortico

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Business Wire: 12:00 GMT Wednesday 17th April 2019

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