Elizabeth Ferguson

SpeakOut is a protest tool that uses the devices we already have in our pockets. One person speaks into their smartphone, and others can receive and amplify that live audio over a wider space. SpeakOut is a web app that runs in the browser, with no need to download a native app.



Origin Story
SpeakOut is an answer to a question I asked a year ago. I was at a protest where a group of us could not hear the speeches being given to the crowd. I wondered: how might protesters amplify speeches themselves with the devices we already have, and in the process hear better and be more empowered?

Immediate Use Case
I built SpeakOut to be tested in a tight use case with Transportation Alternatives, a New York City advocacy group for safer streets for cyclists, pedestrians and public transit.

On a rainy Sunday in March, TransAlt members and I tested SpeakOut at a rally to #FinishQueensBlvd in Queens. In a crowd of 50, people gave speeches into a smartphone on a mic stand that streamed live audio using the SpeakOut web app in the browser. Slowly, a light echo of amplification accumulated in the air as five to ten people chose to amplify that live audio with their smartphones, surrounding the crowd in the message of the speakers.

Next Steps
I am now in a place where I wonder what role SpeakOut can play in the organization of social movements, and what my perspective is on ethical or moral technology.

Can a web app similar to SpeakOut give people options to take action after a protest, therefore facilitating the growth and persistence of long-term group structures?

What does it mean to build ethical requirements into design, so that there is a coherence between the project’s goals, chosen materials, affordances, and consequences in the world?

Is design even a strong enough tool on its own, or what other frameworks, such as corporate structures, legislation and policy, need to be in place to limit harm and protect rights?