Go ahead, Google it. “Community engagement” is there, and it’s attached to everything from sports teams to businesses to libraries to universities. With all those associations out there, it can be difficult to identify “authentic community engagement” and to understand its power and potential for meaningful and sustainable change. Through my work with Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities, we’re trying to change that.
The trend is that governments are not only opening up data, but also their urban planning and budgeting processes. Public participation is taking on a whole new look. Local civic advocates are stepping up as collaborators who are well-versed in details once reserved for professionals.
This past weekend at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, roughly 100 participants came together for the annual CodeAcross event. The event, which took place in nearly 60 cities across the US and in far-reaching places like Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia, brought together technologists, community members, and government and municipal workers for a weekend of collaboration, discussion, and coding.
Locally, Code for Boston collaborated with MassIT, the Commonwealth’s IT agency, on the two-day event. In his opening remarks, Bill Oates, Commonwealth CIO, reflected on his years at the City of Boston— where they approached the urban landscape as a living lab for civic technology. In his current role at the state, Oates is working to apply that same approach to scale civic technology projects at a broader level.
I don't know all of the things we'll be talking about, but I guarantee you in two years we're still talking about open data and, increasingly, we're talking about standards for open data that make it easier for vendors, civic start‑ups and even civic hackers to build things for one government that can be easily ported to another government without a lot of difficulties.
While it’s not 180 degrees from managing a public meeting, managing communication online requires a slightly different toolkit. We’ve compiled a few tips below to help you get started, so that your project can realize the full benefits of an open online conversation:
Writing project headlines to engage your community online is both an art and a science. There are some things that you simply must and must not do. Once you have these rules down pat, like any creative endevour, you can play around with things a little to drive up participation rates.