We select new projects very carefully; some are collaborations with funders and other partners, some we hatch on our own. We’re platform agnostic, which means that we consider questions common to all story-based media, no matter where they’re seen or how they’re told. But there’s one thing they all have in common: they help the field learn more about the roles that stories can play in 21st century social justice movements. Here’s a sampling of what’s to come:

What Would It Take?
A documentary maker seemed excited about an evaluation that Active Voice Lab had designed to assess how well her film was advancing her partners’ aims. So we were surprised when she called to express her reservations the week before we were to begin a series of qualitative methods. “Think of it this way,” she asked. “Why should I be the only one to air the dirty laundry about what didn’t work with my project? Most filmmakers only share how successful they were, because they want to get funded again. Well, I do too.” This research identifies how we might create an environment where what didn’t work — as well as our success stories — can be insightfully shared.

The Future of Public
What is the future of public libraries, schools, media, parks, and our other anchors of the American “commons”? Are there limits to privatization, and if so, who will decide?

Active Voice Lab presents The Future of Public (TFP), a creative, story-fueled initiative designed to bring people together to learn about the consequences of public disinvestment on all levels. TFP launches with new films including Backpack Full of Cash (about for-profit charters, vouchers, and cyber ed), The Newark Project (about one community’s fight against top-down school closings), and Free for All (about the astonishing and precarious role of public libraries today). Screened at community and state colleges, local schools and libraries, urban spaces and rural centers, we anticipate rigorous policy deliberation and even reflection. We’ll also gather stories about personal connections to the settings that are supposed to work for everyone, regardless of how much money they have, where they live, the color of their skin or the values they hold. In person and via social media, writers, learners, employees, media makers, civic groups and other networks will contribute to the conversation, as advocates help us make sense of our options for taking action.

The Future of Public won’t pretend that these institutions have ever served all Americans equally. Rather, with wide input and a critical eye, we’ll facilitate an urgent, long overdue reckoning. At a time when Americans’ satisfaction with public institutions has been dropping steadily, as the economic and opportunity gaps widen, and with calls for the privatization of everything from veterans services to air traffic control, where do we go from here?

Photo credit: Image from the upcoming documentary, Free for All: Inside the Public Library by Serendipity Films. Nicki Jones teaches an exercise class at the Kansas City Public Library.