Hosting a Bilingual Twitter Chat

September 23, 2014

On September 5, MIT’s Community Innovators Lab (@MITCoLab) co-facilitated a bilingual Twitter chat with its innovation school, Escuela de Innovación Comunitaria (@InnovacionC). The topic of the chat was leveraging ethnic identity to build community power. Along with a local partner, Manos Visibles, MIT CoLab recently launched a community innovation school in Colombia. Because the Innovation School is designed to connect Afro-Colombian leaders committed to the development of the Colombian Pacific region, one of the topics participants discussed at length in an in-person session in July was the difference between race and ethnic identity and the ways the latter could be leveraged in advancing community development. We hosted the Twitter chat in order to invite a global audience to participate in what had previously been a conversation between just the 64 participants of the innovation school.

The innovation school’s Twitter account is managed by another staff member, Juan Constain (@jconstain). Juan and I collaborated in brainstorming and facilitating the chat. We planned for the Twitter chat the same way you might plan for one happening in just one language. Our chat was part of CoLab’s monthly #citychat series, so we already had a regular hashtag. We brainstormed questions. We wrote a blog post setting the context for the chat and invited participants via the posts, which we translated and published in Spanish and English on both CoLab Radio and Also, we developed a transcript, in both languages, of the tweets we’d be pushing out during the chat.

During the chat, I paid particular attention to tweets written in English and Juan paid attention to those written in Spanish. When we wanted to amplify either an important idea or a response to a question, we retweeted a translation of the tweet. If it was originally tweeted in Spanish, we tweeted the English translation, and vice-versa. This allowed participants who only spoke English or who only spoke Spanish to more fully engage with all the ideas being offered. It even allowed for a side conversation to develop between participants who spoke different languages.

In planning for the chat, we considered having two separate hashtags–one for participants tweeting in Spanish and another for those participating in English. Because we felt it was really important for the chat to be a global conversation, we eventually decided against this. Participants in our innovation school had already begun to discuss among themselves how communities might leverage their ethnic identity for community development, so it was natural to open up the conversation beyond this group and invite others in. You can see the Storify of the chat below.