CRITICAL INQUIRY + REPRESENTATION: Interrogating Appearances, Building Professional Identities, Crafting Campaigns


Urban Futures Lab Module 4 asked Fellows to come with questions. Not just any questions, but better, more informed questions. In order to develop the skills of asking tough questions and excavate the roots of issues, Fellows followed a three-stage path of first interrogating media, second creating professional social media profiles that could communicate their values and interest, and third constructing their own social media campaigns that would advance a specific call-to-action.

Public Matters Advisor McCrae Parker, an expert in media, technology and equity, oversaw the module’s content, while forming relationships with each Fellow and providing one-on-one feedback throughout the module to help them better communicate their interests, pursuits, and “brand.”

In module 4, each Fellow:

  • Photographed Historic Filipinotown with an eye towards indicators of gentrification, such as horizontal fences, remodels and a change in look and aesthetic from the neighborhood’s norms. The Fellows then collectively mapped their photos to create a rudimentary portrait of neighborhood change. Using critical inquiry methodology, the exercise forced Fellows to challenge their own assumptions and biases, as they had to consider how to demonstrate empirical evidence of gentrification. They probed their own classifications and how they could add depth to their visual observations, identifying missing information, challenges to their classifications, and possible interviews they could conduct to create a fuller picture of place.
  • Watched and discussed W. Kamau Bell’s CNN piece Gentrifying Portland: A tale of two cities from a critical, media literacy lens. Fellows tweeted questions to W. Kamau Bell that they felt were glossed over or left out of the piece. They eagerly await your response Kamau!
  • Dissected social media and its use for social change – from personal to organizational use. Fellows created their own social media profiles on Twitter to reflect their professional interests and aspirations. They worked closely with McCrae to understand how to best use social media to build their personal brands while curating and creating content for their feeds. Follow the Fellows at:
  • Crafted and refined social media campaigns to address issues of personal importance. Each campaign was distilled into a two-minute pitch that was presented at the module’s final Supper Club. As they honed their campaigns, the Fellows worked with each other and the Public Matters team to address questions of audience, message, partners, and, ultimately, their call to action.


Skills Development included:

  • Utilizing critical inquiry methodology
  • Communicating through social media
  • Creating a values-based personal brand
  • Writing a campaign prospectus
  • Using charts and data
  • Putting together a two-minute pitch
  • Learning verbal presentation skills


The Supper Club series takes an unexpected turn…

Donna Michelle Anderson (DMA), President of Planet DMA, and McCrae Parker, Technology and Social Equity Strategist at McP & Associates Consulting, turned the tables on the Fellows at the 7th Urban Futures Lab Supper Club on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Usually, Fellows not only create and cook the food menu, they also pose the questions to the Supper Club guests. As the Fellows pitched their social media campaigns directly to the experts, they were asked to shift their chairs and ask hard-hitting questions of each other. The Supper Club’s guests encouraged the Fellows to invert their thinking, to consider their end-users and the ultimate change they sought from their social media efforts. They were also asked to think deeply, personally, about their campaigns, in order to answer the question “How will I know that 12 months from today that things have changed?”

DMA and McCrae’s passion, candor, and commitment left all the dinner’s attendees motivated to consider their own pursuits. Heading into dessert, our guests reflected on their careers over mangoñadas, sharing challenges and accomplishments with honesty. Their stories inspired the Fellows to move closer to their aspirations for meaningful work, and how to achieve that goal.



Fellows were asked to explore and understand environments with an inquisitive eye. They were asked to undertake a series of individual and collective projects that saw them support and improve each other’s work; and they were asked to define themselves professionally and identify potential allies and partners in their areas of interest. These activities saw the Fellows improving their communication skills and relationships.

By creating professional twitter feeds, the Fellows laid the foundation to present their interests and passions to public observers. They are using these feeds to make connections and position themselves as thought leaders. The exercise to create a social media campaign and present it to media professionals required the Fellows to not only take a project through from idea to pitch, but to refine their presentation style and improve their public speaking, skills that will be necessary throughout their careers.