Although we’ve created a design practice around Build With to support other practitioners and organizations seeking to put their might where their mouths are, Build With isn’t a business. It’s a call to action.
Our work is guided by the many movements across countries and time which make it clear that meaningful social change is possible only when those most impacted by toxic systems are in charge of the arc of change, what disability activists have long referred to as “nothing about us without us” and what Paolo Friere and others have called “building with, not for”. Our strategy and tactics are deeply informed by these and other organizers and movements, as well as over a decade of our own in-field experience working as practitioners of community-led processes within non-profits, technology movements, local government reform, and community arts.
In fact, the previous life of this very website was as a resource hub for technology workers seeking to implement “build with” practices into their work and workplaces. In 2014, our founder, Laurenellen McCann, began an international conversation about the lack of communal consent and leadership in “civic technology”* — an industry promising to reform the way our very democracy works and to build new relationships with government, but which did so wielding old systems of power. In 2015, McCann gathered a group of multi-disciplinary workers, artists, organizers, and more to survey and discuss tactics and strategies for alternatives to the colonial, extractive practices present in civic technology. Our collaborative research was compiled in the book Experimental Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech (published with the Smart Chicago Collaborative in 2015) and became the bedrock of the work we do today.
We are slowly reviving the former BuildWith.org resource hub (it was sadly destroyed by our previous web host in January 2018 and will eventually be available once more here). As we do, we will be updating this new e-home with resources and lessons from our own work as well as that of our peers.
In all that we do, we ask: how can we ever create systems that enable equity, that share power, if we don't practice what we preach in the creation of those systems? How can we do better by each other without succumbing to iconic patterns of harm and without weaponizing “perfection” in our pursuit of social justice?
We (obviously) don’t have all the answers, but we know where this work begins: not just in lofty questions, but in reflection on the day to day stuff of work and in the creation of healthy systems that help us correct our mistakes, care for each other, and evolve together. This is our aim in our own practice, and the support we hope to offer you, as peers and partners.
The great work continues…
*Rebranded in 2016 by the Ford Foundation and others as “public interest technology”, though the work is the same (and the critique still valid).