Local Voices Network

With the goal of bringing under-heard community voices and their stories to the center of a healthier public dialogue, Cortico's Local Voices Network (LVN) combines in-person and digital listening to host, analyze and connect local conversation at scale.
Digital Hearth

Pilots in 2019


Find us in Madison in January


Coming in Summer 2019

Core Efforts

Facilitating in-person conversations at scale

At the heart of LVN are ordinary people sharing their voices in small group, in-person conversations led and recorded by experienced facilitators in the community. Unlike the often shallow and divisive discourse of social media, facilitated in-person conversation about locally relevant topics tends to be deeper, more civil, and constructive. LVN facilitators organize these conversations in local gathering spots such as libraries, community centers, and kitchen tables, where participants will have a unique opportunity to listen, learn, speak and be heard.

Connecting facilitators and conversations digitally

At the center of these conversations is a “digital hearth,” pictured above. For every group, the facilitators situate participants around the hearth, which records the conversation. The hearth also has a speaker that enables facilitators to play curated speech snippets from other groups as prompts for the conversation at hand. Connect-ing facilitators and conversations to one another in this way enables LVN to “cross-pollinate” voices and ideas across community boundaries. Cortico technology then maps the connections across LVN conversations as a basis for understanding systematically the shared perspectives and stories voiced by participants in the community.

Opening a new local listening channel for journalists, leaders and the community at large

By prompting and connecting conversation across the community, LVN provides a new, grounded way for citizens to understand and engage with one another. LVN is also a powerful way to amplify under-heard voices, perspectives, and stories from the community for other local stakeholders (journalists, local officials, political candidates, researchers). To enable this capability, Cortico’s product team has developed an AI-powered tool that allows users to search the aggregated LVN conversations, listen to audio snippets, hear new voices, and discover shared experiences and interests.

Cortico is adding two other public conversation streams to the tool -- localized tweets and talk radio. By integrating LVN with Twitter and radio conversation, Cortico provides users with comprehensive ear-to-the-ground listening and a contextualized view of what the community is talking about. With this grounding, journalists in particular will be able to tell stories that are more reflective of life in the community, highlight gaps between citizen and government interests, and elevate new issues into the public dialogue.

Anticipated Outcomes

If LVN succeeds, people will

  • Know there is a new space in the community for them to engage, safely and civilly, with other locals
  • Feel more heard, understood, valued -- and connected -- within the community
  • Try harder to hear, understand and value others across differences in turn
  • Speak with more civility to each other -- in person, digitally and within the media
  • See their perspectives better reflected by local journalists and policy makers
  • Consider LVN participation as a meaningful personal action to take in the community
  • Engage civically in pushing issues and solutions onto the community’s public agenda

Case Study

Mott Haven, NY

Cortico began piloting LVN in June 2018 with a deployment in Mott Haven, a neighborhood located in the South Bronx, NY. We partnered with the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY and the hyperlocal newspaper (the Mott Haven Herald) that the school operates in the neighborhood. Over four afternoons, we captured more than 50 narratives about life in the community, the good and the bad -- a testament to the simple power of asking and listening. (Listen to two voice “medleys” below.) The stories and perspectives are now informing coverage by the Herald, and LVN conversations are becoming a recurring feature at local Mott Haven events.