Looking Toward the Future
Our team is still in the midst of compiling all of the data and comments from the Water Supply Advisory Committee’s online rating page. Thank you to all who participated, whether it was leaving a comment, rating the proposals, or even coming to one of our meetups. Your input really matters, and it will prove vital as the committee moves forward with its work.
From our perspective, this has been one of the most meaningful projects we have worked on in our short 3 years as a firm, and it has once again inspired us to look toward the future. However, as has been the case before, many people are still unclear as to what we actually do, other than our online site or our iPad outreach. So I allow me to explain our hopes for the future in looking through our past.
We originally created Civinomics with one major goal in mind: to facilitate the next frontier of democracy by utilizing the internet and digital media. And while this goal is still very much present, we have grown, as all businesses do, to be more practical in how we approach it. Developing a website that focuses on creating a social discussion about policy isn’t enough to solve the problem of civic participation, nor was it enough for us as we longed to do more than simply build software. Technology can be a tool for change, but merely having technology doesn’t guarantee change. You still have to put forth the hard work required to change the hearts and minds of people.
Our organization has evolved to meet this need, by providing the hands on services of traditional community organizing and outreach, with a technological twist. In addition to creating a free-to-use online platform for crowdsourcing community input, we utilize iPads to bring our message to those who can’t or won’t log in. In our work, which has spanned the entirety of the Bay Area, we have been to schools, churches, college campuses, farmers markets, community centers, bus stops, public parks, community meetings, and of course, door to door. All of this in the hope that we can get more people involved in the self-determination of their own communities. Yes we conduct surveys, yes we build software, but what we really specialize in is community engagement. And as 2014 begins to wind down into the holidays we will be working on the next chapter of our organization. Here’s a quick peak at what to expect:
1. Our online platform will expand and be used in other communities.
For the past year and half we have been testing it in the field and constantly refining it, adding features and fixing bugs. And while we still have a lot of work to do, we feel confident that we can get it to a place where anyone can log on and begin using it within minutes. There are a number of other “ideation” platforms out there, some of which are even used for civic engagement, but they are over priced and under served in participation. Ours will be free and easy to use, and available to anyone, and should you desire more outreach, or help in engagement and communication process, our team will be there.
2. Our scope of services will expand beyond surveys.
iPads surveys have been our bread and butter for awhile now, and while we will continue to offer them as readily as ever we will also be doing a lot more. Civic engagement is just as dependent upon community education as it is on data collection. The topics and concepts we work with across areas such as housing, water, homelessness, public infrastructure and more are complex and sometimes opaque. Our team is committed to facilitating an informed discussion in the areas where we work, and this means effective and neutral communication. In practical terms this means we will be working more in strategic communications and media, hosting more events and community workshops, and serving as on call staff to address community questions and concerns. However, our motives will not be tied to the specific outcomes of a process, but rather the process itself. We are and will never be advocates, but facilitators, and those working with us will understand our need to preserve the integrity of genuine community engagement.
3. Civic Media
As part of our previous web and survey work we have developed interactive presentations, data sets and infographics to make it easier to share and synthesize data and other information. For example, in working with the City of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission we developed a virtual project tour for iPad, for our tech commuter survey we posted a D3 data set that could be manipulated and filtered for specific results, and for our Scotts Valley Plastic Bag Ban opinion poll we designed an infographic for easy social media sharing. However, in doing this we realized that this is a much needed service across the board for governments and non-profits alike, all of who need to communicate with their constituents more effectively. Though most governments and public interest organizations don’t have a design team on staff to really help communicate their work, let alone one who understands the nuances of civic issues–Until now. As part of our expanded communications effort we want to increase the use of at large digital media in the civic process because that’s what people are used to. Facts, figures and design elements can be more approachable, more visual, more interactive, and more sharable.
These are just some of the reasons why we are excited about our future, and the future of civic engagement in general. The opportunity to change the way our democracy works has never been more ripe, and we are proud to be a part of a growing and committed network of people and organizations at the forefront of this change.
The Civinomics Team