November 4, 2021

An Interview with the Designers of Te Estamos Grabando

The program, launched in partnership with Universidad EAFIT, convenes 50 "sprinters" and topic experts once a week in conversation about the digitalization of urban security in Medellín.

Students in a classroom in a EAFIT in Medellin.

Photo by Adriana Lasso-Harrier

Te Estamos Grabando, our first research sprint and community engagement program in Medellín, Colombia, has just reached its halfway mark. The program, which we have launched in partnership with Universidad EAFIT, convenes 50 "sprinters" and topic experts once a week in conversation about the digitalization of urban security in Medellín. We sat down with Edgelands staff members Laura García Vargas and Santiago Uribe Sáenz, the two lead facilitators and designers of the research sprint to talk about their motivations behind the program and how it's gone so far.

What is Te Estamos Grabando? And what is a "research sprint?"

Santiago: Te Estamos Grabando is a new program designed by Edgelands to empirically understand the digital surveillance and security situation in Medellín. To this end, we’ve gathered a group of more than 50 young people from the city to participate in our research sprint. This means that we bring together the rigor and quality of academic research with the energy, vitality and transformative power of young people to make an investigative immersion of the issues and questions that we’re working on within Edgelands and built together with key actors in the city. We hope that at the end of the eight weeks of work, participants will produce a manifesto to put these issues on the agenda of decision makers and have completed a research project to further study these issues.

What are Edgelands' motivations for launching this program with the youth of Medellín?

Santiago: Medellin is a city with important challenges and contradictions; on the one hand, it is considered a very innovative city in terms of technology and digitalization and presents advanced levels of development and human wellbeing. On the other hand, there are still important security and coexistence challenges that disproportionately affect the city's youth. During the Summer of 2021, the Edgelands team conducted research to diagnose the security, digitalization and surveillance situation in Medellín. We spoke with experts and citizens of Medellín who, from different backgrounds (academia, government, civil society organizations, etc.), were interested in these issues. Thanks to their knowledge, experiences and work, we were able to build a panorama of the situation and experiences of young people in Medellín and how the (in)security of the city, digital surveillance and power structures affect them.

Laura: The objective of Edgelands with this sprint is to create a space for young people in the city to have the opportunity to think and talk with experts about certain elements of the digital transformation that cities are experiencing. It is also a space in which they can think and research about some elements of this interaction that interest them. In order to help in the formation of more informed citizens on these issues.

Photo by Adriana Lasso-Harrier

How is the program designed?

Laura: The sprint has two parts: one of theory and conversation, and the other of research. In the first part, participants will meet with different experts on the theme of the week to learn about and discuss fundamental issues related to the concept--and practice--of citizen security and coexistence and digital surveillance.  In the second part, participants are divided into 7 groups, and each group is guided by a mentor. The objective of this second part is that participants can deepen their investigative skills and strengthen citizen knowledge about citizen security and coexistence.

Santiago: We are inspired by the Research Marathons of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. We combine theoretical and practical perspectives and bring together participants and experts from many disciplines and from around the world. The research marathon is designed as a "global classroom" where young people from all over the city and all disciplines come together face-to-face and virtually for mutual learning and open dialogue.

What is a typical session like?

Santiago: Sessions are typically divided in two: in the first part, experts present on a topic or pose a question related to their field of work and/or research. In the second part, participants are divided into groups and each group is assigned an expert for a direct dialogue with the participants during which they can ask questions, discuss and exchange ideas and in general establish a direct dialogue with the experts and other participants. Outside of these anchor sessions, the participants are divided into working groups under the guidance of a mentor. In these working groups they develop research projects on topics selected by the groups and their mentors.

Photo by Adriana Lasso-Harrier

Who are our partners and guests speakers?

Laura: We are organizing this marathon with the Center for Political Analysis (CAP) at Universidad EAFIT. The CAP is a knowledge hub that aims to combine teaching, research, and social projection to contribute, in line with the mission of the University, to the social, economic, scientific and cultural progress of the city, the region and the country. Each week's guests are national and international experts. They are experts, either because they have worked on the subject, or because of their day-to-day experiences.

Photo by Adriana Lasso-Harrier

What are some of the issues that the students are currently researching?

Laura: In the research sessions we have 7 groups, in which with the help of a mentor, each group of students is thinking about a question about this intersection that they find interesting. For example, the role of the media in the coverage of different security news and uses of technologies in the city, the use of data generated by surveillance cameras and other technologies located in the public sphere.

Have there been any surprises along the way?

Santiago: I am surprised by our participants! They come from very diverse backgrounds and disciplines and have varied interests. They are active in their communities and universities and I have been surprised by the quality of the questions and discussions they ask during the sessions.

Laura: Just good surprises - the high level of engagement and interest of the participants in the different topics, and their participation in the discussions. Also the diversity of the participants, diversity for example in terms of professions, parts of the city, and artistic tastes.

Photo by Adriana Lasso-Harrier

How will the program wrap up?

Santiago: The Research Marathon will end on December 1st with a special event (it is a surprise, more information later). The marathon will end with the presentation of the research projects that the participants worked on in groups and with a manifesto that we will present to city authorities and decision makers to make a call to action.

How can other people who live in Medellín and were not able to participate in the program participate in Edgelands events?

Santiago: You can check our website and our social networks where we post news and updates. We have also been recording the research marathon sessions and will be posting them on YouTube and our website for everyone to access. We will have a closing session of the marathon, workshops and other events that we will be announcing in due course.

Laura: In early 2022 we are going to have many other amazing and interesting activities in Medellín. Data workshop, art explosions, and much more. So stay tuned to our social networks where we will announce other events to come.