Cities deploy new media to fix old problems

Many people don't "get" why anyone would use Twitter or numerous other social media.  And I know that many Pepper Pike residents are not nearly as comfortable around computers as, well, other Pepper Pike residents might be. Among many of the ways in which I use my computer and Twitter is to learn about news that I might not otherwise discover.  With Twitter, you do have to choose who you follow carefully and be sure to monitor the service frequently enough to make it worthwhile.  Here's are two examples of why I like Twitter as a place to learn about what other people are doing to enhance their cities and communication between cities and citizens:

Due to the weather this morning, I took my kids out to the bus in the car and brought my Blackberry with me. They listened to music and read the newspaper comics while I thumbed through emails and tweets, which are short messages written and sent through Twitter.  Within less than an hour, I received these two tweets, from two completely different people, in completely different parts of the country, but both people I follow.

From Pam Broviak:
Great article about @dustinhaisler and Manor Texas: 23-year-old techie puts Manor on map -

Now, that doesn't tell the person who is unfamiliar with Twitter very much.  So let me decipher it:

The message is from Pam Broviak (or @pbroviak).  Pam is very involved in a project called Public Works Group, "an online work group for public works professionals." If you click on Pam's name in the tweet, you will get to her Twitter page and there you also can see her thumbnail bio:
Civil Engineer working in the public works field. Publish Grid Works at Working to integrate engineering, Web 2.0, & virtual worlds
I learned about Pam from Ari Herzog, a newly elected city councilman in Newburyport, MA.  He and I connected during our elections last year also through our interest in social media and the Internet as a way to enhance our communities. Ari uses Twitter and Facebook even more than I do.

In fact, Ari has a Twitter List just for folks in Newburyport. I like this idea because it helps him get a handle on who and how many in his city are edging towards these tools. I thought about putting one together for Pepper Pike (I found about eight residents with Twitter handles, although I think only four are in use; there may be more but Twitter handles are not that easy to uncover), but decided against it. I suspect that Pepper Pike residents are not, by default, people who would want me to opt them into a list through which others, without their consent, would be following their 140 character updates of what's going on in their lives.  Perhaps in the future, and perhaps the City of Pepper Pike will start to use Twitter as an alert tool, the way many communities across the world are doing now.  But for now, I won't be setting up such a group.  I'll leave it to individual residents to follow me and if they like, join together. (This article does a great job arguing the advantages of local governments using Twitter and has a recommended reading list of ten more articles to further persuade.  And I'm now going to follow the author of that article, Susan Gardner, because she is the editor of Municipal World.

Back to Pam: After hearing about Pam from Ari, and then spending a few minutes browsing through the Public Works' site (which has some great resources) and googling Pam's name, I decided to follow her on Twitter.  When I saw her tweet this morning, I clicked on "get link" to go to what her tweet had flagged - - which brings us to this great article from the Austin Statesman, "23-year-old techie puts Manor on map: Assistant city manager has helped steer projects recognized by White House."
For years, Manor wasn't known for much. There's Manor Downs, a horse track that draws visitors and competitors from across the country. There's Manor Cafe 290, a destination for Republic of Texas Biker Rally attendees. Several movies have been filmed there Leonardo DiCaprio celebrated his 18th birthday in Manor but those didn't garner the town much attention, either.

So it may have been a surprise for many to see the former farming town of about 6,000 turn up recently on the White House Web site featuring, of all things, the city's technology initiatives.

After introducing an innovative way to promote tourism using cell phone cameras and launching Manor Labs, a user-driven, online research and development project, Manor is emerging from under the shadow of its much larger, tech-savvy neighbor 12 miles to the west.

Behind it all is 23-year-old Dustin Haisler, a self-described techie with a passion for business who was named assistant city manager last month and who also serves as Manor's chief information officer, municipal judge, finance director and city secretary.

Now, when I read this article, what do I do? I immediately commit to looking into the resources mentioned in the article: Center for Digital Government, Government Technology Magazine, Code for America, "Stanford University initiative that costs the city nothing," and even something I already know about, South by Southwest Interactive Conference and Festival (because I know many people who attend and present there).

I also sit in awe for a few minutes. This 23-year-old is married with three kids and just finished a college degree by night school and online classes, while working fulltime. And last but not least, how is his city reacting to his initiative?
For those in Manor who are aware of Haisler's work, City Manager Phil Tate says the attitude is, "God, how lucky is this town to have him, and how can we hang on to him?"


"We've got enough projects to keep us going for years," Tate said.
It starts with a mindset, Haisler said. Politics and bureaucracy can prevent innovation from happening. But in Manor, he said, "the innovation mentality is across the board."
These are the kind of stories that get and keep me going.

And then, not an hour later, I saw this tweet from an NE Ohio resident and friend:
"News Sites Dabble With a Web Tool for Nudging Local Officials" - (SeeClickFIx - looks interesting)
To decipher this tweet, just say "Seeclickfix" to yourself a couple of times. Get it? See. Click. Fix.  You can kind of get the idea, before you even go to the link to the New York Times article referenced by the tweet ("New Sites Dabble With a Web Tool for Nudging Local Officials") that this is going to be something that involves seeing, clicking on...your phone or some other device and expect that the local officials are going to fix what it is that you saw and clicked about.

Now, what's particularly intriguing about this initiative is that it's based in hyperlocal websites run by for-profit news organizations - like newspapers.  It is not something that's been deployed by city governments - yet.

From the article:
Doug Hardy, an associate editor and Internet supervisor for The Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn., wanted to increase page views on its Web site.

Mr. Hardy had heard about, a local advocacy Web site that lets users write about issues to encourage communication between residents and local government. SeeClickFix users post a complaint about problems that occur within a set of boundaries on a Google Map, like graffiti at a bus stop or potholes on a busy street, and the site communicates the problem to the appropriate government agency and marks the problem on the map.

Users can comment on the issue or label it resolved. Government agencies can post on the site to respond to residents, and journalists can use the site to communicate with readers and see which issues are most pressing to people.
You need to read the full article to get the full flavor though.  Very creative. I've already tried to contact the NYT reporter to find out if he's heard from or talked to city electeds to find out how much they are liking the news orgs making this tool available...and resulting in calls that the cities might not get otherwise.

The resources I gleaned? SeeClickFix (of course), The Pitch It prize from We Media, a company that supports media entrepreneurship and...the NYT writer.

People who know me know that I'm a huge news consumer - from all sources, wherever I am, and at pretty much anytime of day. I don't always know if or when I'll use what I've been exposed to or absorbed, but when it comes to best utilizing Internet tools for real-time purposes related to how a city functions, maintaining a compendium - in my head or in a document or here in the blog - is critical to creating solutions to problems and enhancing the provision of services and utilization of the city's resources.


Heidi said...

Kudo's on the new blog, I think this will be a great way to communicate with your constituents. In thinking about the Twitter lists, what if you made an opt-in request here on the blog? You could ask for anyone who wants to be included (and lives in Pepper Pike) to include their Twitter handle in the comments. Perhaps people will be interested not only to connect with you, but to find others in the area.

You could also make a list of Pepper Pike businesses on Twitter. I'm slowly building one up for NEO biz right now. (I just add them as I discover them, so the list is far from complete.)

As you mention, it's hard to find people by region, esp. as we're not all consistent. I, for example, use Cleveland rather than Cleveland Heights in my profile, while some people don't list a location at all.

Happy New Year!

Jill said...

Hi Heidi. That's an interesting approach to the Twitter list - would you recommend having it as a separate "blogger gadget" module to help people understand what it's for etc.? I am glad that you understand my dilemma. I'm not trying to shy away, but I think one reason I was successful in the campaign was that I really do have a sense of just how different the different segments of the Pepper Pike population are and I respect those differences. I'm often saying that moving to Gov 2.0 is a bit like when the country started to move toward self-serve gas stations: we still have had full-service gas stations for DECADES since the 1970s when those started to disappear, because there are still in fact people who simple prefer and will go to lengths to find the full-service.

And so there are Pepper Pike residents who will not have computers or use email etc. And I must respect that, and I do. But there is a value for other reasons and others residents to keep up with and perhaps get ahead of the curve. And this city has plenty of room to grow in these regards. :)

Keep the ideas and any other resources coming. I've started to look into some of the gatherings re: Gov 2.0 uses and will work to keep up with the info that comes from them.

Happy New Year to you too. :)