Data can be integrated seamlessly into stories that benefit communities, presenters told nonprofits and journalists at a conference on June 21. The event demonstrated how one can tap into information sources about communities whose voices are often unheard.

Data Day 2013, held at Northeastern University in Boston, showcased how successful data-based stories engage people on an emotional level. Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs, and The Boston Foundation co-hosted the conference.

The morning keynote showed how a team from The Boston Globe accomplished this goal while writing about the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood. Their finished project, 68 Blocks, includes photos, graphs, stories, videos, and an e-book.

“It took months and months to win even the beginnings of trust,” said senior assistant metro editor Steve Wilmsen. After hearing about how a 14-year-old boy was shot, Wilmsen wanted to “pierce the veil of preconceptions” surrounding the neighborhood. As the finished project said, “In a neighborhood known for gunfire, it’s easy to overlook beauty.”

“Half the time, the best things that I got were when I pretended I wasn’t there,” said reporter Meghan Irons. Another reporter, Akilah Johnson, avoided carrying her notebook and used a cell phone and even a church program as substitutes.

The newspaper sourced the “Voices of Bowdoin-Geneva” montage from community pictures found on Instagram. The images show graves, graduations, police, friendships, and family stories.

A survey asked youth whether they thought they would ever spend time in jail. 85.7% said, “No.” 91.7% of the respondents said they had not been in any gangs during the previous year.

The newspaper placed a massive public records request. In the finished project, a map of quality of life indicators shows problems with housing and basic utility services are common in the neighborhood. A second map shows homicides and shootings.

In the workshop “Engage Youth through Data and Mapping,” teenagers from Urbano Project described making public art to communicate data. They made sculptures dramatizing statistics about the MBTA, including crime figures and wait times. They wore the finished sculptures to a festival and talked with passersby about the data.

The teenagers used orange and black plastic discs and small metal weights to build wearable sculptures showing the transit statistics. They also attached painted whistles to t-shirts to depict a graph of various types of crime. All of the materials came from a recycling center in Lynn.

The group painted the whistles different colors to show the different types of crime. 70 percent of the crimes were fare evasions, 9 percent were considered violent crimes, and 15 percent were acts of assault or vandalism.

“We were pleasantly surprised by how transparent the T is with their data,” said Alison Kotkin, a staffer from Urbano Project.

The panel “Storming the Gates of City Hall and Corporate America: Open Data vs. Privacy and Community Change” presented provocative information about our collective privacy – or lack thereof. The presenters also offered tips for nonprofits.

“I usually start all my talks by apologizing on the behalf of all computer scientists everywhere,” said Dr. Latanya Sweeney, who works at Harvard University’s Data Privacy Lab.

“Most data sharing is hidden,” Sweeney explained. “It’s that lack of transparency that causes individuals harm.” She said 1/3 of Fortune 500 companies make hiring, firing and promotion decisions based on health data. 33 states share or sell personal health information. And it’s not difficult for organizations to identify individual patients within these data sets.

Sweeney said computer scientists can solve the problems they have created by following models similar to Google’s.

How can nonprofits get started working with community data? The panel provided many tips. Professor Michael Johnson of UMass-Boston said community organizations can access data and assistance through sources such as:

David Luberoff, a senior project advisor at Harvard University, encouraged Boston-area nonprofits to sign up on the BARI website to connect and collaborate.

A shorter version of this story was published on the website

Can shaking buildings be exciting? A live taping of You’re the Expert at MIT Museum on April 16 revealed the answer is “yes” – especially when one’s surrounded by an appreciative audience in Cambridge on a Tuesday night.

You’re the Expert uses comedy to add pizzazz and the occasional double entendre to explanations of academic research. According to the show’s website, its podcast has been climbing the charts on iTunes.

The comedians applied their razor-sharp wits to solving structural engineering problems and defining jargon. Although their responses would have been academic disasters in a civil engineering class, they led to explosions of laughter.

What are modal parameters? “This bridge is dead,” comedian Myq Kaplan said, confusing the words with “mortal parameters.”

What is system identification? “When a bridge tells you what its name is,” Kaplan replied.

What is structural health monitoring? Placing monitor lizards on a bridge, an audience member guessed.

monitor lizard
Would you want this lizard to test a bridge for you? Photo Credit: Joachim S. Müller via Compfight cc

The guest, assistant professor Babak Moaveni from Tufts University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, assured us no lizards are involved in structural health monitoring.

Structural health monitoring, Moaveni’s specialty, focuses on finding out how “healthy” a building, bridge or other structure may be – and how long it is likely to survive. It’s like using a stethoscope or other medical test equipment – except for structures, not people. 

The equipment Moaveni uses is sometimes expensive. He can send a drone helicopter underneath a bridge to measure how well the bridge is holding up under its everyday loads.

Moaveni also shakes buildings to find out how they respond. The audience chortled while he explained how he excites buildings by using mechanical shakers.

“The smaller one is called Mighty Mouse,” Moaveni said with a straight face.

“Could it make me a martini?” comedian Robert Woo asked.

Nondestructive testing may be hip, but it can't make you a martini. Photo Credit: wickenden via Compfight cc
Nondestructive testing may be hip, but it can’t make you a martini. Photo Credit: wickenden via Compfight cc

Kaplan described nondestructive testing dramatically. “Just as Batman did in The Dark Knight, this man and his army of cameras are our last line of defense.”

Moaveni doesn’t just shake structures and take photos of them, though. Some of the testing is destructive.

“We are planning to destroy a building in California. It’s in the city of El Centro,” Moaveni said. He explained that every structure has its natural frequency, but that does not mean it is destroyed at that frequency.

“I’m not saying we go and break something to hear the damage,” Moaveni clarified. He uses these tests to find out how buildings respond to earthquakes.

Gesturing overhead, Moaveni described how one might test a building like the MIT Museum.

“This building is already excited,” Chris Duffy, the host and producer, quipped.

“This is the most excited a museum gets,” Kaplan said.

“Usually, my class doesn’t get this excited,” Moaveni said as he described the definition of manual excitation. Loud guffaws from the audience interrupted him.

Moaveni said his current research involves predicting when structures may fail in the future. “We want to have a ‘check building’ light,” he said.

Since 30 percent of bridges in the United States have outlived their design life, according to Moaveni, being able to predict when a bridge will fail would be extremely useful.

“Is that man a God? Maybe. That is up to peer review,” Woo commented.

In November, I withdrew into the snowy environment of northern Massachusetts to reflect on my goals for the coming year. I live next to a park belonging to the Trustees of Reservations, so bluejays and nuthatches kept me company while I wrote. Before and after work, I spent hours sifting through my ideas about what to cultivate – and what to prune back – during the coming year.

A nuthatch (Source: Terry Sohl)

I took a three-week vacation from Twitter to reduce the “noise” in my environment. Surrounded by the peace and quiet of the wildlife refuge, I made some difficult decisions about my priorities and commitments for the coming year.

  • I chose to offer the services that match my personality, background and interests. So I rewrote the skills, experience and bio pages of this website – as well as my LinkedIn profile. These pages now show my commitment to working on writing and technology projects that have social benefits. They also emphasize my experience in engineering and fascination with the way things work.
  • I made the difficult decision to close out my media relations contract and focus on content production – writing, website editing, and social media outreach. I gave notice to my client on January 2nd and am currently seeking a new project to replace that contract.
  • Translating science content is very satisfying for me. The more technical it is, the better. Working with an MIT professor on a physics book earlier this year showed me that not only do I have the “chops” for hard science, I relish covering it. I feel confident promoting my services to academics and technology professionals. I plan to seek out more science-intensive projects during the coming year. I am comfortable working with clients anywhere in the United States.
  • Although I want to keep at least one nonprofit project on my calendar at any time, I don’t plan to specialize in working for nonprofits. I am very interested in partnering with green businesses and universities and combining projects from different sectors. I recently signed up to do a long-term blogging project for a brownfield remediation business and plan to take on other similar projects.
  • I’m in the process of retooling NetSquared Boston, the meetup I co-organize, to make sure that it addresses unmet needs within the nonprofit tech community. My leadership role in NetSquared Boston gives me many professional opportunities, including networking and low-cost computer training. I plan to refresh some of my web development and software skills soon to stay current with the state-of-the-art technology that is coming out each year.
  • Although I was considering moving to Denver or Chicago earlier, I now plan to stay in Massachusetts for the next few years. I visited family in Chicago in early January and made the decision while I was there. Although I miss Chicago, there are many reasons for me to stay in Massachusetts.
  • Finally, I have a resolution to take more risks with writing and journalism this coming year. I want to go to events like the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, take the leap toward doing projects that are outside my comfort zone, and continue to experiment stylistically as a writer.

I’ve pruned back my commitments from 2012 now so that new ideas can flourish. If the flower that I am attempting to cultivate has a name, it’s a “science and technology writing flower.” It probably looks like this image:

Fractal flower
Fractal flower (Source: 123RF)

Identifying and following my dreams was what led to my success in graduate school. After a year of freelance work, stopping to take time to smell the roses and retool my approach to my career goals was exactly what I needed this winter.

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How can nonprofits build diversity awareness into their communication? There are no easy answers. But I find it helps to think of diversity-friendly communication as a tapestry. If you weave diversity awareness into each aspect of your outreach, you’ll see better results than you would if you tacked it on at the end.

That’s the approach my former coworker Dr. Sherrill Sellers recommended when we wrote the CIRTL Diversity Resources. Although the Diversity Resources were written for university instructors, nonprofits can use similar approaches. I recommend checking out our case study collection if you are thinking of organizing facilitated conversations about diversity.

When we were producing the Diversity Resources, we sifted through many university workbooks on creating welcoming climates. We found that a band-aid approach to diversity-friendly communication may be a step in the right direction, but it is just a step. More needs to be done.

After the Be the Media! conference in Boston on Dec. 6, I wrote the following list of questions to help organizations communicate inclusively. Items 1, 2 and 6 are partly based on comments by our facilitators, Elena Letona and Kathleen Pequeño.

  1. Whom do you ask for their opinion? If you look at whose voices are absent from your decisions, you may find some gaps. Consider having conversations, surveys and focus groups to include unheard stakeholders. For example, if you are working on an environmental issue in a low-income community, remember to ask for community feedback. This is especially important if there is a language barrier.
  2. Are your communication channels working? Make sure not to rely exclusively on the Internet if you want to reach a diverse base of potential supporters. Consider mobile-friendly websites and phone apps. Low-income young people often browse using their phones. Test drive new approaches to see what works.
  3. Is your communication jargon-free, easy to understand, and interesting? Remember, your audiences are not required to listen to you, even if you’re communicating vital health information about disease prevention or disaster awareness. Think about the style of language you’re using. If you use research language with non-specialists, your message may be ignored or misinterpreted. Ask your audiences for feedback.
  4. Is your message relevant? Why should your audiences care about the issues that matter to your organization? If you get to know them and learn what matters to them, your communication will be much more on target than it would be otherwise.
  5. Have you stepped outside your office to visit your audiences lately? How well do you know them? The more you develop  relationships, the better your communication will be.
  6. Have you considered partnering with or hiring messengers from underrepresented groups? Try crowdsourcing media, inviting people to tell their own stories via videos or blogs, and asking questions to draw out answers. You can use the results to develop stories for funders, decision makers, and media.
  7. Do you ask for constructive criticism? If you only focus on positive stories, you won’t see the roots of problems.
  8. Are your events, jobs and internships accessible to people who earn less than a middle-class income? Holding fundraisers with lower ticket prices, reducing reliance on alumni networks for hiring, and paying interns who can’t afford to take unpaid internships are three steps you can take to make your organization more welcoming.

Weaving ideas like these into your communication and outreach can help you develop real relationships with communities rather than being seen as an outside agency. The more you make your communication two-way – listening, respecting community comments, and taking an interest in others – the better your results are likely to be. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.

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The Boston Foundation launched a new resource for community organizations and media on November 27 – the Boston Indicators Project website. The site now contains data visualization tools, thanks to a collaboration with the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research at UMass Lowell.

“Data and reports alone do not produce change,” said Charlotte Kahn, Senior Director of the Boston Indicators Project. To create change, data must lead to action. And community organizations can use data to illuminate the challenges they face.

One way the Boston Indicators Project website helps nonprofits build momentum for social action is by giving communicators the visual tools to tell strong stories to reporters.

“Data is the new sexy,” said John Davidow, Executive Editor at WBUR. Davidow participated in a panel of journalists who described the ways they wanted to use community data to tell stories about poverty, unemployment and crime.

If data-based stories look sexy to journalists, nonprofits in the Boston area can easily leverage this website to earn media attention for their work – much of which happens under the radar of the press.

The website covers 10 sectors: Civic Vitality, Cultural Life & the Arts, Economy, Education, Environment & Energy, Health, Housing, Public Safety, Technology and Transportation. Nonprofits working in any of these areas can download data from the site and use them for media outreach.

For example, the map of pollution hazards below might be useful to advocacy organizations. The color red indicates the highest concentration of sites while white shows the lowest concentration.

Environmental justice map
A map of environmental hazards in the Boston area. (Data source: Metropolitan Area Planning Commission)

There are many ways to present the data you want – once you have found them. Rahul Bhargava, a research specialist from the MIT Center for Civic Media, spoke about visualization techniques during one of the PechaKucha talks at the launch. He described using evocative images, annotated graphs, physical models, and community-created art. He also mentioned software such as Wordle, Taxego, Prezi and Omnigraphsketcher.

Communication with media can and should go beyond press releases. Community-created art projects and physical models of data may attract reporters’ attention and build support for nonprofits’ work. Even a flash mob could illuminate statistics from the Boston Indicators Project.

The UMass Lowell team which developed the visualizations for the Boston Indicators Project is also collaborating with organizations in other cities. For more information about mapping projects outside Boston, visit

Note: Although you can download all of the data sets from the Boston Indicators Project website into Excel currently, not all of the visualization pages are working yet.

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Leatherback sea turtles are tough, but waterborne plastic can kill them. See Turtles, a nonprofit organization, says “hundreds of thousands of sea turtles… die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris.” Many of these pieces of plastic come from landfills.

To show passersby how plastic threatens leatherback turtles’ survival, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is getting ready for the Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival next week by making a wire sculpture of a leatherback turtle. I helped to build the turtle’s flippers and head this afternoon today in a back yard in Revere.

Leatherback turtle sculpture
Leatherback turtle sculpture. Photo credit: Matthew Nash.

At the festival, Visitor Services Supervisor Matthew Nash will invite people to pick up plastic trash from the beach and use it to decorate the turtle’s wire structure. At the end of the festival, he expects, the turtle will be covered with pieces of plastic. Each piece of plastic the visitors retrieve will reduce the beach refuse that turtles – or other animals and birds – might ingest.

When they aren’t dining on dangerous plastic debris, leatherback turtles are very tough. Their range extends all the way to northern Canada; they don’t object to cold weather. Their shells are made of flexible pieces which help them decompress when they are surfacing from deep water. A medium-sized leatherback turtle is about six feet long.

CommonWealth Magazine has reported the controversial funding and service cuts to Boston’s MBTA transit system hinge on an unlikely competition for dollars: snow removal vs. public transit. City leaders are concerned they will lack the resources to respond to a heavy snowfall and are considering cuts to public transit funding.

As far as I know, no one has seen the irony of this problem. Public transit reduces climate change, which is responsible for at least some of our increased snow and rain here in New England. Expanding and improving public transit should be part of our strategy for fighting climate change. In the face of increased weather risks, we should hurry to fund the MBTA and expand its routes and services.

Boston’s strategy for fighting climate change takes transit into account. The transit section of the city climate website doesn’t mention the MBTA, but the report A Climate of Progress mentions it repeatedly. Organizations like the T Riders Union have been struggling for years to improve the quality of services the MBTA provides. This fight would not be necessary if we saw the collective value of building a transit system that will outlast fluctuations in gasoline availability and price.

Nina Mukherji is the Director of Programs at the Real Food Challenge in Boston and is a graduate of the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mukherji introduced herself and described the origin of her commitment to environmental and social justice.

…I grew up in New York City in the 1980s in a neighborhood that was between a lot of poverty and a lot of wealth. My father’s an immigrant from India. My grandparents had radical political views. I grew up with a strong sense of social consciousness and social justice.

I went to school in the Midwest and started to learn more about the resources that had been supporting me in the city. I started to see that corn was feeding cattle… I started to develop more of an awareness of ecology. It was my first time spending time in the country.

I got excited spending time [on] environmental issues, but my heart was in social issues. The world of environmentalism has been so far from the world of social justice organizing. It’s really hard to find the places where I think the things I really care about are happening and where my interest in social justice is there – where people care about dire poverty in this country and where food is going to come from in 50 years.

Q: What did you study in graduate school?

A: I studied Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development at the Nelson Institute. My advisor was in urban planning. I wrote my master’s thesis on urban agriculture policy. I looked at how zoning and comprehensive planning in cities affect the authority of how people want to grow food can do it. I focused on Boston, Chicago and Portland.

I was doing that thesis while working with the cities of Madison and Milwaukee. There was a zoning group looking at how the zoning in Madison could support more food in the city. I also went to some conversations about comprehensive planning in Milwaukee. It was cool because there was a blending of what I was doing professionally in a practical domain and what I was doing academically.

I found that cities are starting to reexamine their policies. There are many policies, both intentional and unintentional, that inhibit growing in cities. Because of the recession and there being more vacant land… people are seeing urban agriculture as a way to make cities better. I think that’s a trend across the board.

Urban vacant land with weeds
Urban vacant land in front of a construction zone. Source: stock.xchng.

I looked at how cities approach that process… whether it’s more of a grassroots or a top-down way. I’m volunteering for a working group that’s doing this in Boston… Boston has a very strong city government… As opposed to Madison, where the city delegated the task of making the zoning plan to a group of citizens who were interested in urban agriculture. In Boston, it’s driven by the city.

Q. How have your graduate school experiences informed your work since then?

A: I would say a lot of what I do in my professional work I learned through the organizing I did during school… That was an extracurricular activity. I’m not an organizer, but I do a lot of organizing. I train and supervise organizers on campuses.

I also work at the Real Food Challenge, where we work with students on getting more sustainable food on their campuses…I’m working on an assessment tool; I’m familiar with debates about certification and organic certification in general… and cage-free eggs. I use this knowledge as part of coming up with the assessment tool.

In a deeper way, the understanding I developed [about] the relationship between government and people and nonprofits and social movements, and what can be accomplished through the economy and what can be accomplished through policy, those questions about where responsibility should lie… Conversations in grad school have made me feel that the environmental movement has been co-opted by companies… [saying that] if we choose to buy fair trade, these abuses would not be happening. Through having discussions about that in grad school, I came to believe that to stop these really atrocious behaviors, individual choices are not going to be enough. Institutional change can shift the market.

My organization, the Real Food Challenge, we organize college students around the country to shift the purchasing at their schools from conventional industrial agriculture…. We’re having a mass procott. We’re creating institutional markets for responsible farmers, particularly mid-sized farmers. What’s exciting to me is that we’re engaging students who care about food to the point where they’re leaders in their communities….What we’re also doing is training thousands of people who are going to train thousands of more people. That’s what makes me hopeful.

There’s something about organizing that allows for a real level of integrity, because the people who are affected are the ones that are affecting the solution.

So far, we’ve shifted 50 million dollars in institutional food purchasing in the course of about three or four years. It’s through students advocating and organizing each other, working with the dining halls and learning about the food that they’re eating.

We have this Real Food Campus Commitment. We’re trying to get presidents to sign on. Our goal is to really ramp that up. We’re hoping it’s going to become the thing to do…. We want to see whole state systems making a decision to sign onto commitments like that.

The University of Vermont has just signed the Real Food Campus Commitment. The Intervale is an innovative urban agriculture incubator in Vermont. They’ve created a community-supported agriculture commitment in which they aggregate food from small- and medium-sized farms… They know for sure that they have a market. They know they will have someone to sell it to – like a university. That is helping them get the program off the ground. It’s boosting local agriculture in the area and improving the relationship between the university and the community.

Salad plate
The Real Food Challenge encourages colleges to buy locally grown vegetables. Source: stock.xchng.

Q: If you were going to give advice to current environmental studies students, what would you say?

A: I would say… think about the relationship between environmental issues and people. And both the impacts environmental problems have on people now, or will have, and the impact of those possible solutions on people. I think that’s the direction environmental studies is going, is more and more interdisciplinary. If we are actually going to solve environmental problems, we can’t do it justly without thinking about who is going to be affected and who’s in those conversations.

There was a story on the radio where a town that’s close to the ocean is subsiding and the ocean level is rising. Some people are having their houses flooded. The wealthier people are living higher up. The city is trying to think of a way to make wealthy people move within the city as opposed to recognizing the situation is extremely problematic for those who can’t afford to deal with it. I think the way many environmental advocates deal with problems tends to neglect the effect of the solutions on the community.

I am a big believer in public transportation. One of the biggest bus depots in the city of Boston is in Dorchester. The depot is uncovered. The fumes are giving people asthma. In Cambridge, they covered the bus depot so people won’t get sick from the fumes. The Harvard bus depot is well-ventilated. The city hasn’t prioritized the public health of [Dorchester].

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There’s power in numbers. That was the consensus in the workshops I visited this Friday at the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission’s Data Day in Boston.

MAPC Data Day logo

The name “Data Day” may not conjure up visions of dramatic reversals of public policy. But the community advocates and data experts at the conference knew otherwise. Here are two stories they told about how data can change how we judge people and situations – both socially and legally.

There are many ways environmental organizations can use data to change conversations. The Knight Foundation funded a data-sharing project which bridged divides between environmental justice groups. Projects like this one can yield local stories for both traditional and social media. What chemicals are in your neighborhood’s backyard?

Although the EPA’s approach to reporting potential flooding may seem dry, reports on climate change indicators in the United States can also provide story ideas for journalists. If climate change produces floods or disrupts the growing season, superimposing those maps on maps of crop production could yield interesting results – especially for crops grown in low-lying areas. In some states, the answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” may be very different in a few years from what it is today.

Joel Wool is an organizer at GreenDorchester. GreenDorchester’s recent and/or seed projects include DotBike, a summer farmers’ market, the Dorchester Community Co-op, the Dorchester Winter Farmers’ Market, the TNT Greenspace Master Plan, and urban agriculture.

How did you become involved in working with GreenDorchester?

I did an Americorps position in Dorchester with an organization where my supervisor was the executive director for GreenDorchester. I was doing the community events, web development, [connecting with] local resources… I transitioned from that generic work into environmental advocacy.

How is your experience working as an environmentalist in a multicultural, class-diverse community different from how it might be in another neighborhood?

One way I entered the topic is by thinking of public health, global health, environmental health, [and] global warming… There’s a lot of parallels in the ways people talk about global health and local environment… There’s a lot of issues of media [about] whose voices are heard.

The fact people have categories of global North and South [also applies to Boston]… In downtown Boston, people are healthier. In Dorchester, it takes longer [to get] things like Hubway… and there’s a media justice issue. There’s inequity in resources and in public amenities.

It’s harder to get things that are positive on people’s radar because violence has got everyone worried… You don’t read about community relations. There’s very serious local civic engagement in Dorchester and Mattapan. Neighbors really know each other. You don’t get that in other parts of Boston.

It takes different strategies to reach out to each community… A lot of it’s personal and trust-based.

What are some of the things that you do to be inclusive of people of different cultural backgrounds and income levels?

With extremely limited capacity, trying to get things multilingual, we use community partners to translate. If we have a Creole flyer, [we use] the Haitian listserv. Ethnic radio [is] a big one. Affordability, working to make that possible. [It’s] a huge issue, making sure the food cooperative and farmer’s market are promoted multilingual and multichannel.

When possible, we’ve given away bike lights and bike locks so safety is a free thing. We’ve given away free reusable tote bags and helped promote Renew Boston. All of these are things the city has money for.

Do you think that the environmental movement in Boston could do more to address these concerns? If so, what would you recommend that they do?

I would say that looking to local partners is essential and that does require financial help. City, state and federal groups need to find groups with established connections in the local community. [Local] groups have collapsed due to lack of funding… There’s this constant struggle for operational money. It’s very hard to get the money to pay people.

In the case of outreach to multi-ethnic communities, that’s very essential. [It might mean volunteering] to do the translation for a community meeting. It might mean spray painting… to do outreach.

Physical presence is a big thing. I’ve tried to make it there and introduce myself. To really believe you’re committed to everyone, people have to see you in person.

If you were going to introduce environmentalists from the rest of Boston to Dorchester, what places would you recommend they visit?

There’s a couple green space development projects – Nightingale Community Garden and the Talbot Norfolk Triangle. The Ashmont T station and the square around it [have] been redone. There’s public art, there’s a farmer’s market there in summer, and there’s a historical clock.

We did a multimedia historical tour with smartphones and [numbers you could call] at one site [in 2010 and 2011]. It’s called My Dot Tour. You could also leave your comments about what you were doing there. Last summer it was less theatrical but very multimedia.

Projects like that are great in areas that have a lot of history but people don’t really know. Dorchester is the largest, oldest neighborhood in Boston. Part of the economic development is the history.