Friday, September 25, 2009 - By Ben Berkowitz - 1 comment
Sid Burgess just posted a great little story about "how to fill a pothole with tweets". It inspired me to write a little about Civic Engagement the SeeClickFix Way.
Through the platform we created we are finding that encouraging civic engagement might be as simple as providing better communication channels and encouraging people to voice their smallest concerns through those channels.
While reporting a pothole on a website might not seem like its the ultimate act of good citizenship, its a sign of the end of apathy and the beginning of giving a shit.
Getting stuff done is addictive and once you start its pretty hard to stop. The trick is that you have to start somewhere simple where the reward for doing the stuff is immediate. I, like many average citizens, am the kind of person that needs instant results to feel good about what I've done. I'm a sucker for the cheap thrill. I could never run for office or attempt to fix our broken schools but I can plant trees and pick-up garbage on the street. If I feel like my voice is being heard or that I can make an improvement in my neighborhood on my own I'll do it. The more opportunities that are given to people to improve their communities with their own hands the more our communities will be improved and the more people we'll have improving them. The trick is that you need to expose the simplest opportunities to encourage those, like myself, who aren't setting out to save the world.
The trick to maximizing engagement in a community is to provide simple and diverse opportunities for engaging so that all of a community's human resources are exposed and exploited. I have neighbors that like trees so they come out to plant trees. I have neighbors that like art so they help to organize public arts projects. I have neighbors that like planning events so they plan festivals and farm markets. I have neighbors who like inflated tires so they report potholes. Each of them is helping to improve their community because they know that they can do it themselves with the skills they were given and the pay-off will feel good.
We hope that the person who takes the time to report a pothole gets enough of a thrill from taking the little action that it leads to a bigger action or at the least more of the same. If we can publicize those actions in a meaningful way then maybe that engagement can become viral. If we can provide a platform where a person who reports a pothole becomes more connected to their community and is given more opportunities to improve it then we just might be onto something. That's what we are trying to do with SeeClickFix.
And because Sid is much more of a wordsmith than I, here is my favorite part of his post which I will use to end this one,
"The reality is our communities are falling apart largely because we are failing to let our leadership know that we actually do see and care about these things. As a councilman, I was always trying to look at the big picture stuff. It was easy to become oblivious to the small things that could be causing friction in the community. Never fall into believing that it is rude to bring up something that is wrong. These are your streets, your parks . . . it is your community! And more importantly, whatever doesn’t get fixed while we are around will get left for our children to clean up. Speak up and let’s get this stuff done."
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