Local Voices Network

Cortico will complement our media-based analysis by capturing community conversations that surface local voices — which are often missing in digital signals but which speak to the reality of life in American communities.

Commercial social media networks, radio, and television are optimized for consumer time-on- platform and advertising consumption. Polarized sound-bites usually win over nuance, while algorithmic content filtering and targeted advertising create media bubbles that divide us. A great paradox of the networked age is that greater digital connectivity has disconnected us from diverse points of view — often within our local communities, friends, and family. With the sharp decline in local news, the local roots of our media ecosystem have atrophied and our sense of common ground has eroded. In a time of increasing isolation, one place to rebuild is in local communities, where we’re more likely to know each other and share common context.

Imagine, then, the development of a nonprofit local public communication network that surfaces under-heard voices and narratives, reconnects us to our communities, and creates a foundation to re-establish common ground across isolated groups.

LSM and Cortico are developing this Local Voices Network (LVN) in collaboration with product designer Yves Behar, renowned ethnographer Kathy Cramer, and a growing number of community organizers and newsrooms. We have begun piloting “conversation centers” in public libraries and community centers, where anyone in the locale can walk in and join small-scale facilitated and recorded conversations. Local volunteers recruited, trained and supported by Cortico operate these centers equipped with digital hardware that supports facilitation, high-quality audio capture, and playback of curated recordings of others’ conversations. LSM and Cortico are developing curation and sharing tools (powered by speech pattern analytics and content recommendation algorithms) that our local organizers will use to mediate civil conversations within and across communities.

Public data from the conversation centers will in turn be included in the Earshot public sphere search engine for local newsrooms to fuel better coverage of these communities — particularly through stories that connect people across shared interests and that surface issues for the public agenda that would have remained buried otherwise.

Our long-term vision is for Cortico to deploy thousands of conversation centers to form networks that forge community connections and generate unique insights into public opinion across America. In the shorter term, our plan is to operate concurrent pilots of dozens of centers across a handful of communities in Q1 2019. We aim to expand across multiple swing states leading up to the 2020 election as we build toward nationwide coverage over the next 3-4 years.