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Tuesday, July 3, 2012 - By Ben Berkowitz - 1 comment
I’m headed South today for an event at the White House on social innovation. You can follow the event on twitter at #WHSummit and #SocialInnovation. When I got the email to attend a couple of weeks ago I was ecstatic. I took the White House tour when I was a child and more recently had coffee across the street with the President’s last CTO, Aneesh Chopra, because I neglected to do the security verification ahead of time. Argh! This will be the first time I have attended as an adult and I could not think of a better capacity for being invited…well maybe one. SeeClickFix was started the year prior to this administration and the guidance and evangelism they have given to open data and participatory governance is paramount to SeeClickFix’s success.
The invite comes from Jonathan Greenblatt, Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. The event I am attending is focused on civic innovation and the description reads, “The day will feature remarks from senior members of the Obama Administration, case studies of citizen innovation from speakers from across the country, and provide an opportunity for hands-on dialogue as we work toward laying out an agenda for citizen innovation that can power economic recovery and strengthen communities. Our goal is to frame a new narrative around citizenship in a 21st century America, and to develop a plan of action to bolster civic innovation going forward.”
This topic of participation is particularly near to me, not only as CEO at SeeClickFix, but also in my neighborhood involvement with projects like insideoutnhv and others. Everywhere I travel I get the sense that we are living amongst the most civicly engaged population in decades where neighbors care strongly for each other and their neighborhoods. The pundits use old tools to measure engagement however and the strong reliance on the voting booth to gage participation is still prevalent so the critics have data to say contrary. Civic participation happens best at block level and local governments are best suited to catalyze engagement and self-sufficiency. But its also that granularity and disparate nature of "local" that makes participation challenging to measure. At SeeClickFix we have created the rare opportunity to measure engagement at the block level in a new way. A locally focused tool that has spread globally allowing citizens to report the little things they want improved or are taking action to improve themselves is a tool that can act as a new measurement for the strength of our communities.
Yesterday afternoon the plan for DC changed a bit when I got a text from my co-worker Kevin Donohue.
“A dude from the White House called. Gave him your cell number. Hope that’s cool. The Feds probably had it anyway.”
A few minutes later I was chatting with “the dude”, Jonathan, and accepting an offer to speak for a few minutes on the work that SeeClickFix is doing as it pertains to participation and social innovation. It is really an honor to talk about all of the hard work by the SeeClickFix team on open government communication and engaging citizens in the House of the folks that helped local governments to understand the value of platforms like ours.
Washington, DC is also one of SeeClickFix’s oldest, largest and best clients and I’m excited to be able to share with a few locals new ways to connect with their City. I'll also take my best shot at getting the President to report a pothole (or a power outage as Jonathan appropriately points out) using the app. Tomorrow is 4th of July and I could not think of a better way to spend the day prior to the holiday. I have an American flag t-shirt under my suit and an extra SeeClickFix t-shirt in my back-pack for the President. A special thanks to the folks in New Haven and on our blocks that have been the true catalyst for all of this.
"Solutions to America's challenges are being developed everyday at the grass roots - and governments shouldn't be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts." - President Barack Obama
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