Published by Lucas Cioffi over 3 years ago in Open Civic Innovation (Archived).
I'd like to create an online collaborative space where members of the civic tech and opengov fields can collaborate on a deeper level. This will be a place for people to give and receive high-quality feedback on each other's civic tech & opengov projects. This will be a place where members will be generous with their time to help each other out.
We'll be able to do a few things that aren't easy with the other tools currently in use in the opengov community:
1. Fully interactive, online conferences.
2. Weekly peer-to-peer, crowdsourced newsletter.
3. Participatory budgeting projects where the community decides which community infrastructure projects receive grants of up to $10k, depending on the level of support we have from sponsors. These infrastructure projects will be ones that will be proposed by individual members and benefit the community as a whole.
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I'm looking for two co-founders who want to work on this type of online community organizing. Together, we'll create a plan for how we can build a vibrant community and get paid for our efforts through grants and sponsorships. Whether this is part- or full-time depends on the level of funding that we can secure.
From the beginning, it will be possible for members to become country-level organizers, to create subcircles and connect the other members from their country. These organizers would get free access and an opportunity to design their circle's collaborative processes, such as which tools are available and how they are used.
Civic tech and opengov are emerging fields which have tremendous potential. They are growing through bottom-up organization rather than top-down control. One example is the Open Government and Civic Technology Facebook Group which has quickly grown to 5000 members.
That Facebook Group is absolutely great for sharing news items, but I'm not seeing the same type and depth of collaboration there which I regularly see in the field of software development. I don't know why that is, but I believe it's partly due to tools and partly due to culture. I think we can change both. I'll do my best to explain...
Adding new tools for the broader community to use is the easy part. Getting a critical mass of adoption is the hard part.
In the software world, three tools jump to mind which have had a tremendous impact:
#1. A code-sharing tool called GitHub allows developers to openly share their code, bugs and all. With this transparency, developers can gain a very deep understanding of each other's work very quickly. This helps them incorporate each other's code and ideas into their own projects.
Civic tech software developers already use GitHub, but most of the other information sharing in opengov is ad hoc, in Facebook groups and Google groups. I expect that if we make it possible to share news items and requests for feedback in a more organized way, a significant number of people would appreciate it. This would take the format of a weekly newsletter, a searchable repository of resources, and blog posts of draft ideas.
#2. A 1-1 and group chat tool called Slack has replaced email for many software teams. It's organized, quick, back-and-forth format makes it possible to refine ideas far more effectively than one can with email or Facebook comments.
I've started a free, experimental Slack channel for civic innovation, and you can sign up here. There are nearly 100 members who have signed up in the past two months. Slack is built for internal teams rather than communities, so your feedback about how we can best use it is welcome.
#3. A knowledge repository called StackOverflow contains a mind blowingly large number of software development problems that people have run into and the corresponding answers which are written and ranked by the community. Almost any problem a software developer runs into has one or more proposed answers on that website. We should explore whether a tool for community-curated answers to non-tech questions would be useful for opengov. For example, we could share ways to nudge government agencies and officials towards openness and hundreds of other methods and tactics.
Although I co-founded the OpenGov Community Summit Series from '09-'11 in Washington, DC when the Administration's Open Government Initiative was launched, I'll be the first to recognize that I don't have the answers, and that it will take a sustained effort by a dedicated team to launch an awesome online community such as the one I'm proposing.
Here is my first draft for how we can create a culture which is conducive to innovation within an online community:
• Enable self-organization. Provide great tools to the community, and let them know they are empowered to use them.
• Indicate that everything is in "perpetual beta", meaning that it's all open to improvement and feedback from members of the community is always welcome.
• We will learn by doing and testing rather than just thinking about problems. It's absolutely OK to make mistakes in pursuit of learning.
• Create a welcoming atmosphere. Everyone has a different perspective and something valuable to add.
• Practice what we preach. Be transparent, make important decisions in a participatory fashion, and be collaborative.
I'm not saying that the Facebook group should be replaced or that the field of civic tech won't keep growing as it is. Things are going well. I am saying that we can speed up the pace of innovation by being a little more intentional and having some light structure to organize our ideas and feedback for each other.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!