Aditi Mehta, Ph.D. is a scholar and educator of urban studies and planning.

Participatory Action Research with the Red Hook Initiative

Red Hook WIFI, a project of the Red Hook Initiative’s Digital Stewards program  is a community-led effort to close the digital divide, generate economic opportunity, facilitate access to essential services and improve quality of life in Red Hook via the deployment of a wireless Internet network. The Digital Stewards are a group of young adults (ages 18-24) from the neighborhood who initially installed and maintained Red Hook WIFI. In partnership with local businesses and residents, Red Hook WIFI is providing free access to the Internet, where broadband adoption rates are lower than the city average. Additionally, each time a user signs on to the network, the splash page displays local events, news, jobs listings and more. This local home-grown network also turned out be one of the only functioning communication infrastructures in the neighborhood after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

During the summer of 2016, I collaborated with eight Digital Stewards to design and conduct a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project to better understand community perceptions and usage patterns of the Red Hook WIFI network, as well as identifies how Red Hook WIFI could be improved to address neighborhood needs. Our main research questions included:

  • Who in the neighborhood is using and benefitting from Red Hook WIFI?
  • In what ways are these people using the communication infrastructures?
  • How could RHI and the Digital Stewards improve Red Hook WIFI in the future to better address neighborhood needs?

Three Red Hook Digital stewards – Joseph Alston, Javon Webb, and Jazzhane Cherry – visited MIT on Thursday, February 16th, 2017 to discuss the findings, digital justice, and community development in their neighborhood.

This research was funded by the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center Fellowship.