Community powered understanding

We envision a country connected through more constructive and empathic public discourse.

Our Mission

Our mission is to foster conversation in communities and in the media that improves our understanding of one another.

Our Values

Who We Are

A non-profit 501(c)(3) in cooperation with the MIT Media Lab, Cortico builds systems that bring under-heard community voices, perspectives and stories to the center of a healthier public dialogue. Our unique cooperation with the Media Lab benefits from state-of-the-art machine learning research and world-class engineering talent, positioning Cortico to deploy innovation that is scaled for deep social impact.

LVN Questions

What is Local Voices Network (LVN)?

Local Voices Network aims to surface the perspectives and concerns of residents through facilitated community conversations in person or online that invite anyone and everyone to the table to speak and be heard. Conversations are recorded and transcribed with the goal of offering media, local leadership, and the greater public a new window into the most important community concerns and ideas.

LVN launched in Wisconsin and New York in 2019, and in Massachusetts and Alabama in 2020. LVN is a scalable network of in-person or online conversations held in communities about locally relevant topics. Conversations are organized and led by trained volunteer Facilitators who reflect the diversity of the community. In-person conversations take place around a Hearth (described below), which records the discussion and enables Facilitators to share stories from other conversations in order to cross-pollinate voices and perspectives across community boundaries. Online conversations utilize the same structure and features, but use videoconferencing platform Zoom to record. The conversations are transcribed to make them machine readable, and then analyzed with AI-based tools –– all with the goal of offering local community members, media and leaders a new window into the issues important to the community.

What is the purpose of LVN?

The purpose of LVN is to foster conversations that help people in communities understand one another better. We record these conversations so the hopes and concerns of community members can be heard by other people in the community, local media and by people in government who are in a position to shape policy. If LVN succeeds, people will:

  • Know there is a new space in the community for them to engage constructively with other locals
  • Feel more heard, understood, valued – and connected – within the community
  • Try harder to hear, understand and value others across differences
  • Speak with more respect to each other – in person, digitally and within the media
  • See their perspectives better reflected in local journalism and local policy
  • 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

LVN Logistics

What is the size of the conversation groups?

LVN conversations are typically groups of 4 to 6 people, plus the Facilitator.

How is LVN operating given the public health concerns surrounding COVID19?

As of March 2020, LVN has moved to facilitated online conversations hosted over Zoom. Please reach out to your local chapter to learn more, or, if you are located outside one of our chapters, please contact us.

Who does LVN collaborate with?

LVN partners with civic institutions and other convening organizations that have an established relationship to their communities, as well as national networks with expanded geographic reach. We have partnered with library systems across chapters, and also organizations such as museums, community centers, and organizations that work on issues such as housing, arts and culture, education, criminal justice, and more. LVN also partners with media organizations to amplify the voices from LVN conversations (see more in Media and Impact).

How does the Hearth work?

The Hearth is a wooden, internet-connected audio recording and playback device developed and manufactured by Cortico. Its diameter is roughly the same as a large pizza (14”) and comes with a remote control iPhone or tablet. The Hearth has eight microphones capable of recording conversations in high quality. It also has an audio speaker, which enables hosts to play curated speech highlights from other groups’ conversations as prompts for the conversation at hand.

Facilitation

Who are the LVN Facilitators and how do they get selected?

LVN Facilitators are volunteers who are interested in building community and holding space for meaningful conversation with other residents. Facilitators have volunteered to be trained on LVN, to recruit participants from their respective communities and to organize group conversations. To encourage diverse participant backgrounds, Cortico strives for cultural, political, gender and ethnic diversity within the host network.

What is the job of a Facilitator?

Facilitators guide the conversations, making sure that everyone in the group has a chance to be heard, and assist people in bringing their thoughts to the surface. While some experience leading groups is helpful, the role of the Facilitator is as a neutral party in the conversation that keeps the conversation going, but doesn't interject much at all.

How are Facilitators trained?

Facilitators receive a training manual supported by live or online training workshops and individual sessions hosted by Cortico.

Why do LVN Facilitators use a Conversation Script?

The Conversation Script allows participants and Facilitators to have a focused discussion about local issues. It begins with the values that community members bring to the discussion and then moves into a participant-driven conversation about hopes and concerns for the community.

Data and Privacy

How will participants' identities be shared?

Although Cortico will not collect and publish detailed personal information about LVN participants, similar to calling in to a local talk radio show, participants should understand that their identity could later be recognized by others who were not part of the conversation.

We support participants’ privacy by asking that they only share a first name (and explain that they are welcome to use a pseudonym), collecting demographic information via an optional survey, and removing any identifying information through the redaction process (see below). For virtual conversations, we remove the video and use only audio.

If someone says something they regret can it be deleted?

Participants can request a redaction if there was something they said that they don’t want to be part of the public record. At any time participants may email help@lvn.org to request a redaction, specifying what they like to remove (to the best of their memory) and provide details on which conversation they were in. While we will honor these requests at all times, we advise that participants make their request as soon as possible after the conversation has completed.

What are you doing with the data? Who will have access to my data and how will they use it?

We will not sell access to participant data, or in any other way profit from use of that data. Our purpose is to serve the public. Cortico will store the recordings, transcribe and analyze them, and share this information with hosts, people who participate in the conversations, journalists who work for a select number of local media outlets and policymakers. Please visit your local chapter page on lvn.org to see which organizations LVN partners with.

How does someone access the conversations?

Cortico has created a web-based tool for accessing and exploring the LVN conversations on app.lvn.org. LVN’s system creates a transcript for each recorded conversation and uploads both the transcript and audio recording to the explorer tool. The system highlights keywords that emerge across the different conversations and allows users to search conversations, listen to audio snippets, and discover patterns.

Eventually, our intention is to open up the entire LVN collection to the public. For now, in this early phase of the project, we limit access to participants, partner organizations, and media outlets that we're in partnership with. Recordings will eventually be released under Creative Commons and so there are many options for potential uses.

Media and Impact

How will you measure impact on the communities? How will you know what you are doing is working?

LVN measures its impact through our guiding values:

  • Authentic voices: LVN is designed to promote reflection and personal storytelling through conversations about the issues that affect people’s daily lives
  • Diverse perspectives: LVN will only be successful if it is not re-creating the echo chambers that are prevalent in today’s polarized media landscape; our aim is to engage a diversity of voices across identities, experiences, geographies and worldviews to promote greater understanding, particularly across divides
  • Community-first approach: LVN is committed to listening to our community partners and serving local needs, rather than parachuting into a community with a pre-set agenda. That means conversations may vary by region depending on what is most urgent in a particular geography
  • Process transparency: Before, during and after the conversation, LVN is open with participants, Facilitators, and partners about our process and clear about where the conversations will live and who will have access to them
  • Measurable impact: LVN measures its impact through the experience of participants as well as the amplification of the conversations through media or policymakers. Why are LVN conversations valuable for media partners to tune into?

A typical LVN conversation emphasizes sharing from personal experience. Media outlets value these personal stories because they’re dissimilar from the usual person on the street interviews and opinions shared on social media. The stories, questions and concerns that people share in LVN conversations provide journalists and media outlets new insights that can be used to create or inspire new journalism and media.

Additionally, we are regularly having conversations with local media outlets about the types of stories that they would like to report on. We’ve set up conversations with partners around these topics so there are clear ways for reporters to access this content.

Stories or opinions shared in LVN conversations are not always picked up by a media outlet. The most valuable opportunity for stories to be heard is in the moment of the conversation itself, a space dedicated to promoting active sharing and listening.

How will journalists quote or reference comments made during conversations?

Reporters can include embeddable audio and text from LVN conversations in digital and print media. Reporters are also able to contact conversation participants to conduct further reporting. At the beginning of each conversation, participants provide verbal consent that their voices and stories can be used by reporters.

Which media currently have access to the platform?

In building media partnerships, Cortico ensures that journalists to whom we give platform access are committed to using LVN as a way to listen to, understand and amplify underheard voices. Right now, we are working with a few different media partners across our different chapters; namely, The Cap Times in Madison, WI, The CITY in New York City, AL.com in Birmingham, AL, and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism in Boston.

Eligibility and Access

Who is eligible to participate in LVN?

Anyone aged 13 or above is eligible to participate in a LVN conversation (with those under the age of 18 requiring permission from a parent or guardian). We recognize that when dealing with minors, there ought to be an extra level of sensitivity to dealing with personal information.

We also encourage youth-facilitated conversations and can provide training to a group of youth interested in recording their own conversations.

Can non-English speakers participate?

It is not necessary that participants speak English. LVN will try to match non-English speakers with hosts who are fluent in the language participants are most comfortable speaking in. Scripts and other materials will be translated for non-English speakers into their native language. For all non-English conversations, there will be a substantial delay in the transcription being available on LVN.org. Some of our software features will not work with non-English languages in the near term, but Cortico is committed to adding languages to the system over time.

What about accommodating people with accessibility issues?

Now that LVN is hosting online conversations through Zoom, physical accessibility issues are unlikely to arise. For in-person conversations, the Hearth is portable, and conversations can be scheduled in locations that can accommodate access for everyone, such as public libraries and private homes. Accessibility options will be communicated prior to conversations. Please reach out to help@lvn.org if you have questions regarding accessibility.

If you encounter a person who wishes to participate, but is unable to speak, please encourage them to participate with a surrogate who can speak on their behalf. If possible, have them write (or type) out their thoughts and have their surrogate read them aloud for the group.

Are there costs associated with implementing LVN?

Local Voices Network operates at no cost to partners, Facilitators or participants. For in-person conversations, refreshments are provided, and we encourage participants experiencing financial barriers (such as the cost of transportation or childcare) to reach out to local LVN staff to discuss covering those costs.

Cortico Questions

What is Cortico?

Cortico is a nonprofit organization that operates the Local Voices Network. Cortico’s mission is to foster 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 MIT, Cortico builds listening systems designed to surface a community’s under-heard voices and channel their perspectives and stories into the public dialogue.

Why was Cortico founded?

Nationally, the country is politically polarized and culturally fragmented, with politics that reinforce divides and media that prioritize divergent perspectives. Locally, people share a lived community experience. As many newsrooms struggle to cover communities, many local voices go unheard. Social media, designed to connect us, has also divided us into insular groups hostile toward outside views. We aim to create new local spaces for constructive public conversation that help rebuild understanding and trust among people.

What is the relationship between Cortico and LVN?

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 MIT, Cortico builds listening systems designed to surface a community’s under-heard voices and channel their perspectives and stories into the public dialogue. The Local Voices Network (LVN) is one of the largest programs housed at Cortico. LVN utilizes the listening systems designed by Cortico to amplify in-person or online, community-based, facilitated conversations across the US.

What is the relationship between Cortico and MIT?

A cooperation agreement between Cortico and the MIT Media Lab allows the organizations to share resources in deploying state-of-the-art machine learning research and world-class engineering toward their socially driven missions.

Who funds Cortico/LVN?

Funding for LVN currently comes from foundations and individuals who seek to bring technology and human power together to improve our civic life. Specifically, funding comes from the Knight Foundation (dedicated to fostering "informed and engaged communities” through journalism and the arts), Ali Rowghani (Y Combinator Managing Partner), Reid Hoffman (Greylock Partner and founder of LinkedIn), Craig Newmark (Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and founder of Craigslist). More information about who is funding LVN can be found at lvn.org/funding and cortico.ai/funding.

Does Cortico have a political agenda?

No, Cortico is not politically motivated, but rather focused on helping surface, connect, and amplify local voices from across the political and cultural spectrum. We strive to reach all people and perspectives in order to successfully bridge divides and cultivate understanding. And we wish to include those who may sometimes not feel comfortable or welcome to be heard. We are a non-partisan organization. As a 501(c)3 we are prohibited by law from engaging directly in political activities.