Made possible by the John S. and James Knight Foundation
Endowment, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.


Tell us how you’re creating
change in your community.


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The SparkPlugs Movement

In May of 2009, then San Jose / Silicon Valley Knight Foundation Program Director Dave Mills called a meeting of diverse community members including the American Leadership Forum CEO Chris Block, Silicon Valley DeBug Founder Raj Jayadev, Generation Engage Director Jaime Contreras, San Jose State University Anthropology Professor Chuck Darrah, Applied Anthropology graduate student Nicole Conand and CreaTV San Jose Executive Director Suzanne St. John-Crane. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss results of a recent Gallop poll that Knight had funded assessing the priorities and hopes of Silicon Valley residents.

After much discussion, the group decided to dig a little deeper by conducting interviews at polling places during a critical May 19, 2009 California statewide election. CreaTV San Jose provided the video equipment and staff and San Jose State Students conducted the interviews. The results painted a picture of disenchanted voters, many pointing their fingers at Sacramento for the ills of the state and not knowing how they themselves could possibly move the state in a positive direction.

The polling places exercise led three players from that initial May meeting (Conand, Darrah and St. John-Crane) to create the Silicon Valley Sparkplugs Project. CreaTV San Jose received a grant from the Knight Foundation to research community “sparkplugs” in Silicon Valley and identify a few to feature in mini-documentaries. The goal was to start a conversation about how to support change in our organizations, schools and communities by looking at how some people were already doing it.

In February of 2011, the group launched the Sparkplug website that features documentaries on six Community Sparkplugs, as well as the original audio transcripts from their initial interviews. Eight Regional Guides, experts in their respective fields in Silicon Valley, are also featured in a series of videos on the site. Viewers are encouraged to take the Sparkplug Survey online to inform the next phase of work being proposed: The Sparkplug Toolkit.




Chuck Darrah Chuck Darrah
Professor of Anthropology, San Jose State University

Chuck is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at San Jose State University and a co-principal investigator on the Sparkplugs Project. He has developed numerous projects that apply anthropological methods to community issues and has written about workplaces and skills, and families and work. He was a co-founder of the Silicon Valley Cultures Project and the Human Aspirations and Design Lab at San Jose State.  Chuck is interested in the use of ethnographic research in problem solving and design.


alt Nicole Conand
Graduate Student in Applied Anthropology, San Jose State University

Nicole is a graduate student in applied anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at San Jose State University. A Behavioral Science and Anthropology undergraduate double major, Nicole has contributed to several sponsored projects intended to improve the community, such as the Healthy Eating Active Living project supported by Kaiser Permanente. She is interested in how different media can be used to present ethnographic research in ways that support community change. Nicole is a co-principal investigator on the Sparkplugs Project and was its research manager.


alt Suzanne St. John-Crane
Executive Director, CreaTV San Jose

Suzanne has worked in community television for the last eighteen years as a volunteer, producer, manager and advocate. She earned her Masters in Non-Profit Arts Administration at San Francisco State, where she fell in love with video. Suzanne began her career as Operations Manager at Pacifica Community Television, and moved on to be Assistant Director of Community Television of Santa Cruz County. After nearly seven years of running a four-channel community television station for Gilroy, Suzanne decided to move on to CreaTV San Jose, opening the long anticipated media center for San Jose. Suzanne is the recipient of over a dozen regional and national awards for programs she has produced, and was honored to receive the 2001 Gail Rich Award in Santa Cruz County as an Interdisciplinary Artist. Suzanne has served on both the Regional and National Boards of the Alliance for Community Media.