Why Civinomics?


There is some lively feedback in the Improve Civinomics workshop touching on “Why Civinomics” and  “How Civinomics”.

There is some direct questioning of “what problem is Civinomics trying to solve” as well as some discussion about how members of Civinomics staff are to represent themselves when they participate in workshops.

Why Civinomics? 

The fundamental goal of the Civinomics site is to provide an online workshop platform. Public policy, development projects, and basic team brainstorming utilize the well worn and time honored workshop process. People meet in person at an appointed time and location, information is presented, there is a deliberation process, and feedback and ideas are collected and considered and incorporated (or not).

The workshop process is how a lot of community work is done, and it can be very effective. So the mission of Civinomics is to translate this process to an online environment. The intention is not to supplant in person interactions, because humans (sometimes) work effectively face to face. The intention is to supplement and support the human process of working together to get things done.

What  value does an online workshop add to the overall workshop process?

  • Civinomics online workshops self report and self record. It’s all public record as it happens. A disadvantage with in person workshops is that often times the record of the proceedings is not always made available to the public and is not often fully reported by the press. A great way an online workshop can supplement in person workshops is to include the record of the proceedings. In this way, the online workshop acts as a public “container” or record, of all the public participation, and can be referenced and the in person experience and discussion extended online.
  • It is not always possible to attend workshops in person in their given time slots. Online workshops either by themselves or in conjunction with in person workshops or other outreach efforts provide a way for people to participate who might not otherwise be able to in person.
  • Civinomics online workshops provide a way for alternative points of view to be represented in one place, side by side, for deliberation by the community. One issue with in person workshops is that there is not always time or a political interest in presenting all sides of the issue by the host or facilitator. In Civinomics online workshops, the various voices can all contribute information to help act as a hedge against bias or spin or two minute time limits on individual input.

One of my personal design goals as a developer on the Civinomics team was to address the piecemeal nature of information related to civic discussions. As an example, here in Santa Cruz County, there is a need to develop a new source of water supply for the City of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water Districts. There isn’t a single “container” or “portal” of information an interested citizen can go to to learn more about the problem and all of the alternative ways it could be addressed. It’d be great if the local newspaper could fullfill this function, but it’s just not happening.

That need for a “container of information” about issues informed one of the features of the Civinomics platform, in that there is a a section in every workshop which functions as a place for community members to contribute links to information sources related to the topic of the workshop. In the case of the water workshop, there are links to the desal plant proposal put forward by the water districts, as well as links to newspaper articles, other information sources, and so on. Gather it all side by side and evaluate it as a whole as opposed to wandering the various pro or anti information silos.

As a civic infrastructure geek, I am especially fond of the Conversation and Ideas section of this particular workshop because exploring the alternatives is interesting and fun. Recycled sewage, conservation, and other ideas are starting to be kicked around, this is civic infrastructure geek heaven and of great personal interest but this brings up the question of

How Civinomics?

There’s been some discussion online in the Improve Civinomics workshop and elsewhere challenging the means and boundaries of how Civinomics staff should participate (or not) in workshops as “civilians”. Are we, as Civinomics staff, constrained by a standard of conduct in how we participate (or not) in the online workshops? Should we follow a strict broadcast journalism code of ethics limiting our participation? Should we disclose our corporate roles when we weigh in one way or another in matters related only to Civinomics, or in all cases, or some range of cases?

We’ve had a fair amount of internal discussions about this, and will continue the discussion, especially as members weigh in on the subject. In keeping with a software design commitment to transparency, when I log in to my admin account, everything I post and everything I do is notated as me, admin. My role and associated god like powers are obvious and terrible to behold. When I log in via my civilian account I am exactly the same as any other member, and whatever I post or do is obviously as such. The same is true of Facilitators and Listeners. And, regardless of what hat is being worn, it can all be up voted, down voted, argued with (or not), in public.

Beyond that, general or blanket constraints on staff ability to use the software we built doesn’t make sense. This is not a political platform (acknowledging the point that everything humans do is political). It is a collaborative platform. A private workshop used by an extended family to plan a summer reunion, or the Cruzioworks workshop used to solicit feedback about our coworking facility, or a private workshop used by a local non profit to facilitate board of director priorities for the coming year don’t obviously and without exception fall under a strict journalistic code of ethics prohibiting use by the platform development team.

And yet, it’s mushy, and our ongoing deliberations on the nuances of How? remain ongoing.

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