UNCLE SAM WANTS your IDEAS!
As a federal agency, the National Archives is working to implement the President’s Digital Government Strategy. We need to hear your ideas for how we can better serve you.
- What National Archives services would you like to see optimized for mobile use?
- What systems should we make available via APIs?
What part of the nation’s archives would you like to be able to access on a mobile device? What would you do with our history if it were made into data, accessible through an API? What data would you need?
Let the archivists know, because they’re looking for ideas.
“According to new research from the U.S. Forest Service, an average of two-thirds of all trees in cities are the result of natural regeneration. Only one-third of trees are deliberately planted.” “Trees are reproducing and filling in empty spaces far more efficiently than any tree planting program ever could.” (via You Didn’t Plant That: Where Urban Trees Really Come From - Neighborhoods - The Atlantic Cities)
What should we build at the Code Across Austin Hackathon? Suggest, support, & discuss ideas on Neighborland: http://bit.ly/PpcFoV
We’ve done a lot of work all over the world, and one of the things I find we have in common is we know that politics is absolutely the heart and soul of what might seem like design projects because it’s about who makes decisions, who has more power and influence than others to shape cities. Designers typically either run away from or ignore politics and political structures, and that’s impossible if you want to have any impact. You need to understand it, and you need to, A), understand the political structures, why decisions are made in certain ways and not others, B), embrace it, not be afraid of it, and C), probably most importantly, challenge it. — Education, Urbanization & Citizen Activism – This Big City Meets Aseem Inam & Miguel Robles-Duran | This Big City
Kickstarter has been very successful at funding art, music, and design projects that may have not been funded through traditional channels. But will civic crowdfunding—the direct funding of public projects by citizens—prove as successful?
This principle of going straight to the customers to fund new projects is an exciting prospect for nonprofits and urbanists who are looking for alternatives to grants for funding their projects. Civic crowdfunding startups such asSpacehive, Citizinvestor, and Patronhood are built upon that notion. But there are plenty of skeptics among urbanists and civic hackers, who are troubled by the concept of civic crowdfunding, or doubt whether the model can work.
Alexandra Lange’s essay “Against Kickstarter Urbanism” argued that crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are too reliant on gimmicks for the model to be effective in pursuit of “worthy goals”. She states, “a suitable funding platform for a watch is not a suitable funding platform for a city,” suggesting that only projects with catchy themes and slick presentations will be funded. She argues that less exciting and smaller scale projects would not be able to compete for funding with flashier ones.
While more exciting projects that are well promoted and presented are likely to receive greater attention, the openness and large scale of crowdfunding actually may give smaller projects a better chance of getting funded when compared to competing for limited grant funding or donations from a small circle of friends. Crowdfunding connects a smaller project with more potential resources, so even if they do not receive the majority of funding then at least more people can see their idea online and give them a better shot at getting their smaller requirements met. Smaller scale civic improvement projects may also have a better shot at getting funding from sites like Patronhood or Citizinvestor that are entirely focused on hosting project to improve cities then they would on Kickstarter that focuses more mainstream topics, such as film and music.
While sites like Kickstarter can expose projects to more potential donors, funding is still not guaranteed for most projects. While the service invites anyone to propose a project, Kickstarter’s co-founder Yancey Strickler toldWired, “Fifty-six percent of projects don’t meet their goal”. In a related post,Seth Godin notes that the crowdfunding model only works for projects that are likely to succeed or already have a dedicated fanbase.
Although securing funding for projects civic or otherwise is still difficult, crowdfunding sites can offer an alternative to the standard gridlock of funding public projects. Currently if a an individual or nonprofit wants to get their project funded they have to raise the money through their connections. Putting their projects online gives them a better chance of reaching beyond the resources they personally know. Plus, sites that are dedicated to funding civic projects will attract people who are interested in those types of projects creating a multiplier where more projects bring in more people to fund them, whereas searching for grants and offline donations does not have quite the same effect.
Although crowdfunding can be an alternative route to getting civic projects funded, a frequent criticism of the crowdfunding model is that civic projects should be funded through taxes and managed by city governments. Caitlyn Duer wrote, “we pay taxes, we vote, and the person we vote into office directs our tax money into the projects we want to see.” The view that government should be able cover every civic need is unreasonably idealistic. It would be ideal if taxes paid for everything, but there is a difference between the way things should be and the way they are.
Waiting for government should do a better job has proven to be an ineffective strategy. It is also important to consider that, for reasons too numerous to mention here, taxpayer money simply does not cover every civic need. While Duer wrote that, “the resources of government far outstrip Kickstarter’s,” there is actually a lot of restrictions and limitations on what kinds of project government can fund. Improvement projects that involve new construction or purchasing of equipment is known as capital spending and usually composes a small percentage of a city’s budget. Capital spending usually has a minimum cost from a few thousand for a smaller city to $35,000 for NYC and a minimum “useful life” of around five years. There are also complicated processes for approving projects and allocating funding. Crowdfunding tools provide a way to cut through some of the bureaucracy around funding and access new streams of resources to add to what government already provides.
Duer makes a certain kind of sense to say that the old methods of bringing people together in physical meetings to lobby their government for change is worth keeping and I completely agree with that thinking. Where I diverge is in thinking that civic engagement must mean participating in a certain process of change or method of interacting with government. Taxes pay for a lot of public services and infrastructure but citizens could also fund some projects directly. Adding direct funding of projects is far from redundant to taxes. Crowdfunding is an addition to taxes that involves greater citizen input and decisionmaking.
Another issue with simply paying taxes and electing representatives to decide how to spend them is that it does not engage citizens in the process. Crowdfunding gives people the opportunity to decide the terms of their civic involvement. They can choose to support projects they like and this gives them a greater connection with their city and its future.
While there are offline methods of citizen engagement, such as participatory budgeting, these methods are more difficult to scale than online ones. Although participatory budgeting allow citizens to propose and select capital spending projects through a thorough process of physical meetings and voting, they require a large time commitment from participants, including government, that raises barrier to participation. A lot of people do not have time to attend all of the necessary meetings and many governments are also unwilling to commit to the substantial involvement required to make these processes work.
While the thorough processes of participatory budgeting have yet to be reproduced online in as effective of a manner as they are in auditoriums around the world, those auditoriums will never hold as many people who could participate online. Civic crowdfunding is an opportunity to engage more people in these processes and open up more financial resources so that more projects can be funded, not all but more.
@Neighborland Business Cards! (Taken with Instagram)
For the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a non-profit dedicated to citizen sourced pollution monitoring, the Ushahidi platform for crowdsourced reporting and mapping was a natural choice for their already impressive toolset. The “bucket” in Bucket Brigade is a low-cost air monitoring tool that citizens can deploy in their neighborhoods to gauge toxic releases from nearby chemical plants. Ushahidi is a free and open source platform originally developed in 2008 for Kenyans to report and map post-election violence via text, email, or web. Now the Ushahidi platform has spread all over the globe in deployments ranging from crisis mapping the Japanese earthquake of 2011 to “improving Beijing’s urban transportation” to providing a platform for the Bucket Brigade to build a crowdsourced pollution map called iWitness.
The Ushahidi powered iWitness pollution map enables citizens to report chemical accidents and pollution related to the 2010 BP oil spill via text, email, or web. These eyewitness reports combined with reports from the National Response Center (Federal portal for oil and chemical spills) are geotagged to an interactive map giving a clear picture of pollution trouble spots. Citizens can also sign up for alerts to warn them when pollution is reported near their area.
Ushahidi is one of most successful civic technology applications with Fast Company naming them one of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. The main reasons Ushahidi has been deployed all over the world and in so many varieties of uses are that it is free to use and adapt to whatever context is needed and it is a solid app. Lets use Bucket Brigade’s pollution map to examine some of Ushahidi’s key dynamics and attempt to extrapolate why the app works so well and how it has spread.
The core focus of Ushahidi is on citizen sensors and location based reporting. While Ushahidi can include reports from government and media, its most exciting feature is its utilization of crowdsourced reporting through citizen sensors. Citizen sensors are everyday people who can monitor a situation happening in their environment and report it, in Ushahidi’s case anyone with a cell phone or Internet connection can be a citizen sensor. The Bucket Brigade writes why citizen sensors are vital to monitoring air quality in Louisiana:
“Community members who live next to oil refineries and chemical plants are constantly told by industry officials that their operations are safe and that the air is healthy to breathe. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency often lack appropriate and consistent methods of monitoring air quality – their monitoring stations are often sporadic and don’t all test for the same chemicals. Furthermore, the placement of monitoring stations is a decision made in conjunction with industry, which often pushes for strategic locations that see the least amount of pollution.”
The challenges of government led air quality monitoring in Louisiana is a classic gap between the resources required to provide an adequate service and the limited capabilities of government. Monitoring air quality and building an accurate map of chemical pollution is a massive task that requires a massive solution. While federal and state resources were not enough to satisfy the need, the Bucket Brigade leveraged the Ushahidi platform to supply that massively scaled solution by enabling citizens to easily report pollution. This is a great illustration of using modularity to provide massively scaled solutions. Modularity means breaking down a difficult problem, such as monitoring air quality, into smaller pieces (citizen sensors) that can then be reassembled to form an expansive and detailed picture (pollution map).
Another strong element of Ushahidi is that it is free to download and open source meaning that it can be adapted for a nearly limitless variety of uses. The Bucket Brigade was able to add a powerful tool to support their efforts because much of the work in creating the platform was already done by other teams using and improving the tool. Open source tools let groups like Bucket Brigade build custom solutions atop proven platforms enabling them to build low-cost and reliable solutions.
OFFICIAL BLOG FOR THE 25TH WARD, CITY OF CHICAGO: VOICE YOUR IDEAS ABOUT 3 IMPORTANT PROJECTS IN THE 25TH WARD! -
Ald. Danny Solis is introducing an exciting online partnership with the creators of Neighborland, which aims to encourage public input opportunities with a powerfully simple platform to connect on community issues.SUBMIT YOUR IDEAS: Fisk Coal Power PlantSUBMIT…
Problem: Limited glass recycling options in New Orleans
Engagement: 169 Neighbors posted on Neighborland that they “want the ability to recycle glass in New Orleans.”
Solution: Local business, Phoenix Recycling, discussed this desire on Neighborland and launched a program to collect local glass to use for construction projects.
In my very biased assessment (I work for Neighborland), this process exemplifies the practice of civic hackers building tools to help people find solutions for their own neighborhoods instead of imposing solutions from the hacker’s point of view. Paul Davis mentioned this when he wrote “more apps for social justice, less bar finders for hip urbanites.” I am working on implementing Neighborland in my hometown of Houston, TX because:
A. I am a very persuasive beggar
B. I saw a team of civic hackers who are focused on building an open-ended tool for community groups, local gov, and everyday citizens to collaborate on their own solutions for their own communities.
Eric Liu wrote a great piece calling for the rise of “citizen citizens” or the average person to step up and take responsibility for improving their communities. Liu argues that citizens are to blame for irresponsive and inefficient government when he writes, “we aren’t stuck in sclerotic government and extractive politics. We are these things. Our actions and omissions contribute to the conditions we decry.” Liu’s conclusion is, “citizenship, in the end, is too important to be left to professionals. It’s time for us all to be trustees, of our libraries and every other part of public life. It’s time to democratize democracy again.” Liu’s message speaks to the heart of the Gov 2.0 movement and exemplifies the mission of promoting citizen participation through technology. I know that I personally identified with Liu’s call for action, I work for a civic technology company, I must be a citizen citizen or even a triple-citizen since I help others become double-citizens.
Although I surely agree that we need more engaged citizens, it is easy to forget that there are already many passionate people who are devoted to improving their communities. It is important not to entirely discount the effort of professionals, like civil servants who have dedicated their careers to serving their communities - maybe civic technologists are professional citizens as well. It feels good to think of ourselves in the Gov 2.0 field as the vanguard for civic change but we are not the only community of engaged citizens working towards civic improvement.
While members of the Gov 2.0 community are very well connected to each other, we are not as well connected to other communities for civic change, especially those that are not early adopters of technology. There is a solid logic to going after the “low hanging fruit” and connecting to governments and civil society organizations who embrace tech as a tool for civic improvement but there are many more resources outside of those early adopter circles. Just as one of the core tenants of Gov 2.0 is including citizen resources to improve communities, including external resources also needs to be part of the Gov 2.0 process. There are community organizations, advocacy groups, and government departments that have the local, political, and technical knowledge necessary to effecting civic change. Civic tech groups certainly know how to build tools but without connecting to that local knowledge the effectiveness of those tools is compromised. It is tempting for a civic tech group to identify a problem and then implement a tech-sexy solution without consulting external groups but that process is just as wasteful of resources as a government that tries to implement a solution without involving citizens in the process.
Who knows more about what a neighborhood or city needs than the people who live and work there and are passionately devoted to improving it? Inclusive processes, such as participatory budgeting, involve collaborations between local government, technical expertise, and citizens to identify the true needs of the community and actionable solutions that all sides are agreeable to and responsible for. Collaboration is not just the goal of Gov 2.0 it could also be the method for achieving that goal.
Civic tech can be a civic improvement multiplier if it is built for the people who know where the problems are but just need better processes for solving them. Creating a tool to solve a problem may solve one problem but a tool designed to help people solve their own problems solves many and solves them in a way that is more meaningful to their needs. Gov 2.0 does not need to be the vanguard for change. We can do more if we connect with and support others who can lead change in their own communities.