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

Feb 21, 2013

The next step: leveraging citizen engagement to drive energy into innovation

Posted by Mayor Jim Gray

The Knight News Challenge is now open for applications. To get folks thinking, we asked a handful of people to share their hopes for open government. Below, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray offers his thoughts. Note: Knight Foundation will be in Lexington, Ky. tonight to talk about Open Gov.

Citizens have lots of powerful ideas. Imagine what they could do for their neighborhoods if they had access to community data, and knew how to work with government, other citizens and partner organizations.

In Lexington, we’re supporting that citizen energy by opening up government and then taking the next step … providing the tools – through CitizenLex – to allow citizens to grab ownership in projects to improve their city.

CitizenLex redesigns the way cities invent and innovate; a new model that challenges the status quo. It will help Lexington and other cities turn citizen energy into action by jump starting innovative community projects.

Through the CitizenLex open data knowledge management system, as well as in-person interaction, citizen projects will be facilitated by our two City Innovation directors, project leaders, and a network of volunteer Innovation Mentors who will provide expert coaching and peer support.

CitizenLex emerged as our city developed its proposal for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, the national competition New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched to celebrate creative problem solving and innovation.

In deciding on an idea for the Mayors Challenge, we asked citizens for their ideas to improve Lexington. More than 7,000 Lexingtonians participated in our telephone town hall, through social media and during a conventional town hall, and we got 440 ideas.

We soon realized the strongest concept we could offer for the Mayors Challenge was a way to continue and broaden this exchange with citizens so we could deliberately and intentionally encourage and manage the city improvement process.

So far, in competing against 300 other cities nationwide, Lexington has made it into the top 20 in the Mayors Challenge. Winners will be announced this spring. Four cities will win $1 million each and a fifth, the grand prize winner, takes home $5 million. (Vote for Lexington’s entry on Huffington Post. Click here).

CitizenLex helps citizens take advantage of the open data, expertise and partnerships to make the change they want. Rather than just another engagement platform, in which people make suggestions to the city, or the city seeks citizen input on pre-selected issues, this platform encourages and helps citizens do their own problem-solving.
City leaders and elected officials often say they want a framework for continuous innovation that engages a broader population. CitizenLex is that framework, with the potential to transform city governments into champions of change ... instead of champions of red tape. The projects will harness the special character of the people involved and the unique culture of a city. The results build attachment to community and place.
Any city will be able to use CitizenLex, with their city name, of course. The raw materials required are just people ...and their contagious desire to see their cities improve. We’ll share the CitizenLex software and our story for ease of implementation.
Our founders built checks into our governing systems so as to prevent the rise of oppressive authority. These checks always stretch the fabric of democracy. Giving the people more of a say is challenging for authority figures and elected officials at all levels ... it is not for the timid. But it has been proven over the long bend of history that our democratic fabric is stronger when democratic processes are encouraged.

CitizenLex. Stretching the fabric of democracy. Making it stronger.

By Lexington Ky. Mayor Jim Gray

Related: "Tips for submitting an awesome News Challenge application" by Chris Barr, “News Challenge on Open Gov: Submit now not later” by John Bracken  "News Challenge launches with an OpenIDEO twist" by Chris Barr

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