Knight Foundation funds The Civic Commons to build on existing citizen engagement efforts to provide new ways for citizens to learn about local issues. Here, its curator of conversation, Dan Moulthrop, writes about its new and improved website.
Last month, we released version 2.0 of our website theciviccommons.com. It may be too lofty and overreaching to say this is the coming to fruition of months and months of work, dreaming, and something in between the two, but on our good days, that's kind of what it feels like. There's a little bit missing, though, to be sure, and we need some dreamers and doers in different communities to help us get it to the next level.
So what's new? Well, ever since we launched the website eighteen months ago, we've been saying over and over that we were giving community members a chance to turn talk into action. Thing is, while we said that a lot, we hadn't really given anyone the tools to do so. Until now. In our new and improved website, Commons activity has three basic steps--conversation, action and reflection.
The Talk element is still as useful as ever. Anyone can start a conversation, and logged-in community members can contribute their thoughts, links, photos, videos, reports and other material to the conversation, they can also rate contributions as informative, persuasive or inspiring.
Next, comes the opportunity to Take Action. What actions? you ask. Great question. What would you like? The reason I ask is because, staying true to our agile development philosophy, we started with just one action and we'd like to know what other actions people would like to see.
The one we've got is the most useful one we could think of: a petition. Change.org seems to have proven that people like petitions, so we thought why reinvent? A cursory look back at the hundreds of conversations that have been launched since we went online reveals a few moments where a petition might have been pretty useful: fracking moratorium, sustainability manager at a local school district, better ways to fund public schools and a proposed waste-to-energy facility. Here's an imaginary petition for you, just for fun:
The question for you is, what other forms of action would you like to see at the Civic Commons? What would help you accomplish your goals? Some of the things we've been thinking about involve a meet-ups and hangouts, voting on potential outcomes, pitching the local media and inviting a public official into the conversation or to a meeting. We'd very much like to invest time in what people might use, so if you've ever wished you had an online tool to help you accomplish some sort of particular change in the world, now's the time to tell someone about it. We know that narrow, simple online apps—petitions, events, check-ins—are gaining traction. What we’re ultimately headed for is that suite of tools that would be useful to civic-minded thinkers, engagers and doers.
The last element is the reflection. What's this? Why bother? Worthy questions. One consistent piece of feedback we've received again and again is that people want to know where things stand, what's been accomplished and what might be next. Also, we're big believers in learning from whatever experiments we engage in, even if they're unsuccessful. So, we wanted to create a place where that learning can happen. So, that's kind of what this reflection thing is all about. Here's a recently posted reflection about the fracking forum and what's coming up in the world of fracking engagement.
Now, we'd be the first to admit the whole 2.0 thing may be a tired metaphor, but we did officially call this version 2.0 of our software. (And, for what it's worth, it's open source and on GitHub for anyone who wants it.) Of course, software is never the whole solution. We’re excited to find out what ways this can be improved to extend and enhance work and dialogue happening in the community, particularly with other Knight grantees we work with, such as the Issue Media Group’s Urban Innovation eXchange and CEOs for Cities.