Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Change by Us: breaking down boundaries between residents and decision-makers

Oct. 9, 2012, 10:29 a.m., Posted by ChangeByUs

changebyus

Knight Foundation recently announced support for four projects that use technology to empower communties, including Change by Us, a site that connects grassroots projects with city leaders and neighbors to help put ideas into action. Here, the people behind the site write about what's next for the project. 

We launched Change by Us in 2011 to help break down the boundaries between residents and decision-makers through a convenient, fun civic springboard for community ideas. Formerly titled Give a Minute, the adapted project was a partnership between CEOs for Cities and Local Projects, and funded by Knight Foundation. All of the organizations involved believed in its success and its potential to make waves in communities.

Fast-forward just over one year, and this small idea has evolved into a platform for positive change—proving to be an incredible tool for making these necessary connections. Any person can hop online and instantly submit an idea, create and seek out volunteers for a project, or get involved with one created. Well, any person living in New York, Philadelphia or Phoenix.

That last point is an example of the critiques we could (and have) make about the usability and design of the platform. Though we’re incredibly proud of the action that has sprouted from the platform (have you heard about the chicken coop that popped up in the Bronx?), neglecting some of these very serious limitations reflected since its launch would be a mistake. With additional funding from Knight Foundation, we hope to address these shortcomings and evolve our technology, driving its vision even further. Here are some of the changes (by us!) that you can expect to see in version 3.0:

Scalability

A serious limitation of Change by Us has up to this point been cost. Though the platform is open-source, it is expensive to implement—which would explain why it has only been adopted in three cities as of today. Where implemented, we feel it has been very successful. The mayor of New York has used the platform to engage his citizens on an incredible scale. Philadelphia, and now Phoenix, have set up the platform and have residents coordinating projects all over the city. Other cities all over the country, however, are eager to implement the program with insufficient funding to get it off the ground. We want to open this opportunity so that cities of all size and means can experience the platform’s benefits. In the next iteration, Change by Us will be more integrated with existing technological infrastructure (like Facebook), and work with foundations to provide the startup costs for additional cities and lower financial accessibility.

Increased Content

Getting the word out about the platform is vital to its success. Though Change by Us has seen incredible action on the part of citizens in New York City and Philadelphia, we feel more outreach can be done to both residents that could be part of existing systems and to cities that could benefit from the use of our platform. Generating interest is the first step to assembling the necessary resources to get Change by Us underway. This will include national promotion, but will also focus on engaging local partnerships in using the platform. We’ve seen some of this already, but would love to bolster its usability for organizations and nonprofits in each city—bridging a culture of connectedness from the digital world to real-time action.  

More Self-Sustaining

Along with being more scalable in the startup stages, we want to ensure that the cost factor is driven down in terms of management as well. This will allow us to disseminate the technology to a wider spread of cities, and provide municipalities with the tools to operate the platform more effectively. We’re hoping that Facebook integration and fundraising features, among other tools, will allow the platform to be much more self-sustaining. Our aim is to drive more action and strengthen the ties between decision-makers and residents by providing a wider spread of tools and features, as well as a fresh interface.

We are proud of the work that has been accomplished to date, but are even more excited about the potential of Change by Us moving forward. By addressing some of the limitations of the first iterations, we are convinced that we can make this platform a leader in civic technology, empowering citizens and facilitating some  incredible projects and initiatives. 

For more about Knight Foundation's Tech for Engagement Initiative, read our new report, Digital Citizenship.