Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’
Last night, well over 100 people turned out to mark the one year anniversary of OfficeXpats, Bainbridge Island’s friendly neighborhood coworking space. Since I was OfficeXpats’ first member (they call me “Xpat #1”) a journalist at InsideBainbridge contacted me earlier this week for a quote for this article. I went a little overboard in my response, so I thought I’d post the whole thing here:
I’m thrilled to see OfficeXpats mark this milestone. I work remotely as the VP of sales for a software company in Minnesota, and working alone at home can get isolating. I’m at OfficeXpats about two days a week and I love having a place where I can work side-by-side with my peers – other remote workers, freelancers and independent entrepreneurs who would otherwise be holed up in their home offices. Coworking is great because it’s quieter and more professional than a coffee shop and, more importantly, it gives me access to a community of creative entrepreneurs. And the regular events – classes, lunches, happy hours, etc. – that happen there create a space for me to get to know my island neighbors in ways that just don’t happen through school functions or youth sports.
Coworking is about more than renting a desk. It’s about creating a community space that fosters collaboration among professionals. There’s a kind of accelerated serendipity that happens in coworking spaces everywhere. People come in, look around the room, and find others with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to collaborate on projects and get work done better and faster. OfficeXpats is no different. We’ve got programmers, graphic designers, writers, marketers, financial experts, nonprofit managers, an HR consultant, a personal trainer, an EPA administrator, furniture designers, an archaeologist. When you mix that kind of diversity together in a common workspace, magic happens. That’s how projects like Ignite Bainbridge, Accelerate Kitsap, the West Sound Time Bank and the Agate Pass Exchange were born. All because OfficeXpats created the space for them to happen.
I’m sort of a coworking “power user”. I’m a member of three different coworking spaces – OfficeXpats, the HUB Seattle and CoCo in Minneapolis. And when I’m on the road, I seek out local coworking spaces because they’re better to work in and always full of interesting people.
I follow the growth of the coworking sector pretty closely, by reading things like DeskMag, Shareable Magazine and the global coworking listserve. That sector is growing like crazy, as more and more independent workers are seeing the benefits of getting out of the home office, and more companies are supporting flexible, remote work arrangements for their employees. According to DeskMag’s latest global coworking survey there are now more than 1100 coworking spaces worldwide, and that number keeps growing fast. [UPDATE: DeskMag posted a more recent estimate of 1800 coworking spaces worldwide, as of August 9, 2012. 93% more than a year before.]
As OfficeXpats turns one year old, just I want to congratulate Jason and Leslie on what they’ve accomplished in such a short time, and wish them success as they continue to nurture and grow this amazing coworking community. And I want to encourage others from all corners of Bainbridge to get out of their home offices and give coworking a try.
[Cross-posted from the Zanby blog. -LU]
I recently helped facilitate Open Gov West, a two-day conference on “Gov 2.0” organized by my friend Sarah Schacht, executive director of Knowledge As Power. Over 200 open government advocates and practitioners came to Seattle City Hall from across the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, plus a few from farther afield.
Day 1 was a traditional conference, with programmed panels, a keynote speaker, and “work sessions” where attendees came up with recommendations for action in the areas of open government policy; data and document standards; funding; and working with non-traditional partners. Day 2 was an unconference, where anyone could offer a session on any topic.
At a discussion session on Day 2 titled “The Architecture of Gov’t 2.0,” Vancouver-based facilitator and web strategist Gordon Ross posed a provocative question: “What would the city website of your dreams do?”
The City Website of My Dreams
I’ve been pondering that question for a long time. Here’s what I wish I had said in that session:
The city website of my dreams would not only let me find relevant information, process transactions, lodge complaints, and communicate with elected officials. It would help me connect with my neighbors.
When I move into a new neighborhood, I wish I could go to the city’s website and join a group for my block (or a collection of several blocks) — complete with discussions, event calendar, photos, videos, and listings of relevant city services, businesses, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, and so forth. That way I could plug in and get to know my neighborhood (and my neighbors) quicker than ever. I could browse archived discussions to see what issues have been on my neighbors’ minds, peruse photos and videos from recent block parties and festivals, and check the calendar for upcoming events. And if I moved to a new neighborhood, I could just quit the online group for my old neighborhood and join my new one, taking my profile, friends, and history with me.
Such a platform would give me and my neighbors a powerful tool to self-organize — everything from potlucks to crime-watch patrols, yard sales, childcare swaps, street cleanups and community meetings about city policies of interest to the neighborhood. We could organize car-, bike-, and tool-sharing coops. It would give us a quick way to share alerts about burglaries or fires.
And it would give the city a powerful way of targeting communications to specific blocks. Need to clear the street because of a snow emergency, tree-trimming, or a broken water main? Just send a message to that block’s listserve and word will spread fast. Add an SMS gateway to send text messages to residents’ mobile phones and word will spread even faster. Connect it all to a CRM database and an Open 311 system and you’ve got a powerful tool set for citizens to engage with the city not just as individuals, but as groups, as neighborhoods, as communities.
That’s the grand vision the old community organizer in me has for what a city website could do for citizen engagement.
Pieces of this vision already exist, mostly organized ad hoc on private platforms like Facebook, Google Groups, Ning, and all manner of blogs and email lists. There are a few organized, larger-scale examples. E-Democracy.org hosts email discussion lists for 25+ communities across the US, UK and New Zealand. Frankfurt Gestalten (“Create Frankfurt”), is a Drupal-based project inspired by the great pothole apps FixMyStreet (UK) and SeeClickFix (US), but with a greater emphasis on groups organizing around neighborhood initiatives proposed by users. The Dutch foundation Web in de Wijk (“Web in the Neighborhoods”) provides a toolkit for residents to create their own neighborhood websites. The explosion of hyperlocal news blogs — like WestSeattleBlog and MyBallard in Seattle — has proven that there’s a hunger for online spaces that support offline neighborhood-level community-building.
Of all the sites I’ve seen, Neighbors for Neighbors comes closest to the vision I describe above. This Boston-based nonprofit has built Ning networks for all 18 neighborhoods across the city, stitched together as a citywide network under an umbrella WordPress blog. City staff, neighborhood activists, landlords, business owners, police, and residents of all stripes are active on the site, using it to organize everything from potlucks to pickup soccer games to public meetings about saving neighborhood libraries.
But I have yet to see such a network of self-organizing hyper-local community groups fully integrated with a city’s website.
Zanby’s Groups-of-Groups Approach
I’d love to build a system like this on the Zanby platform. Our unique groups-of-groups architecture enables the clustering of local groups into “group families” around any criteria — like geography, of course, but also other affinities that might unite certain block groups to others in different parts of the city, like proximity to schools, libraries, parks, transit lines, waterfronts, commercial zones, etc. Those groups could easily network and collaborate with other groups across the city with shared interests by joining group families organized around those interests. This architecture allows groups to network with other groups.
Imagine, for example, that a block in Boston lies within earshot of a freeway, borders a river, has a transit stop on it and is home to many Spanish speakers. In addition to belonging to one of those 18 geographic neighborhood group families, my block could join families for, say, all the blocks across the city that lie along the same light-rail line, or along Boston Harbor and the Charles River, or along highways, or with similar demographics. Those groups might share certain interests and concerns with each other that don’t map to the geographic neighborhood lines.
Meanwhile, a group a few blocks away might not be so concerned about freeway noise or transit safety. But it has a community garden and a retirement home on it. That group might join group families organized around elderly issues and community gardens. The host of a Highway Neighbors group family could create events, discussions, documents, etc. that are easily shared with all of the groups in the family.
The key concept here is that group families allow groups to network and collaborate with other groups.
It’s also fairly easy to integrate third-party tools and data into a Zanby community, using APIs, RSS feeds and embeddable objects. So each block group and neighborhood group family could serve as a social media dashboard displaying discussions, events, documents, etc. generated by Zanby, side-by-side with feeds of info from city databases, video streams of public meetings, live chats with residents and city officials, etc.
The Other ‘L’ Word: Liability
Legal experts have raised concerns about liability when the government hosts open forums for civic dialogue. Government lawyers get nervous about being sued for censorship if, for example, an employee deletes a profane or racist comment on a city blog or message board. And if they don’t moderate such comments, they could be sued for facilitating hate speech. Similar liability concerns were common a decade ago in the private sector, mainly in the media industry, as newspaper and magazine publishers struggled with whether to add blogs, reader comments, and forums on their websites. Those issues have largely been sorted out.
Fortunately, while the public sector may be a few years behind in sorting out these issues, it appears to be catching up fast. In the past year, 24 federal agencies, and many city and state governments, have used IdeaScale and similar apps to create open forums for sourcing ideas from the public. The website of the New York State Senate, a model of open government, now hosts blogs for every senator, including public comments, and allows the public to post comments on bills. The White House also recently published new guidelines for federal employees on how to use social media to engage the public.
Helping Communities Help Themselves
Just like social media is reshaping whole industries by slashing the transaction costs of engagement, it holds tremendous potential to reshape government — or more importantly, the relationship between citizens and government. There was much talk at the Open Gov West conference about how governments at all levels can use social media and online communities to engage citizens in dialogue, to leverage their knowledge, skills, passions, and willingness to volunteer their time and energy to solve public problems and improve their communities.
But as Doug Schuler, of the Public Sphere Project, argued, “We shouldn’t be talking about how government can leverage citizens. We should be talking about how citizens can leverage the government.” After all, the government is there to serve the people, not the other way around, right?
Yes, and to that end the government should be a vehicle for helping people help themselves — not just as individuals, but as communities, providing the social space for civic spirit to grow. I believe that putting tools in the hands of citizens to self-organize and build community — through the government website — is one powerful way to do that. Vibrant civic life requires infrastructure. I hope that one day it’s considered as normal, and vital, for city governments to provide such community infrastructure online as it is to build and maintain parks and town squares offline.
Open Gov West is just three weeks away! Hosted by Seattle’s new mayor Mike McGinn and organized by my amazing friend Sarah Schacht, ED of Knowledge as Power, this confab promises to be one of this year’s hottest local/regional gatherings on open government, Gov2.0, transparency, citizen engagement, open data and all sorts of related awesomeness. I’m proud to say I’m a co-convener. If you hail from the Pacific Northwest, or are just interested in Gov2.0 and can get yourself to Seattle for this, I hope to see you there.
Check out the press release below for details. And to register or find out more, visit the conference website, http://opengovwest.com.
Open Gov West – setting the standards for Gov 2.0 in Seattle
Open Gov West is a regional two-day conference on open government hosted by the City of Seattle and Knowledge As Power on March 26th & 27th, 2010 at Seattle City Hall. Coordinated by Knowledge As Power and supported by Mayor McGinn’s office and Seattle City Council members, this important gathering will bring together decision makers, technology companies and citizen activists, city and state government, agencies and organizations from across the Pacific Northwest. The conference opens at Seattle City Hall on March 26th with a government work summit, producing open government recommendations and resources. Day two will be an “unconference” where presentations are given by conference participants. Attendees at day two range from innovative open gov organizations, government CTOs and citizen activists. The two days will provide opportunities for governments and organizations to collaborate, reduce costs, and plan open government strategies.
‘Gov 2.0’, utilizing technology to increase transparency and access to government, is rapidly developing at city, state and federal levels of government. As yet there are no universal standards for how governments present data, or how citizens can most effectively communicate with government. Some recent examples of information provided by governmental and agency websites are overly complicated and poorly structured, more confusing than illuminating.
Sarah Schacht is Director of Knowledge As Power, a convener and organizer of Open Gov West. She began researching the application of web communications in politics as an undergraduate. A decade later, her research and work across the North America has shown why the Open Gov West conference is important: “Governments must meet the needs of modernized citizens seeking greater access and transparency. The danger is in each government ‘re-inventing the wheel,’ overspending on technology when they could have modernized their systems in collaboration with fellow governments.
This is the time for open gov initiatives to meet the needs of citizens and governments—freeing both from outdated technology”.
Governments throughout the greater Pacific Northwest and Canada have recently launched open government directives. Open Gov West is an opportunity to bring leaders in technology innovation, government and civic engagement together at the start of the open gov process, to establish shared standards and partnerships.
Open Gov West is organized by Knowledge As Power (KAP), a 501c3 whose mission is to help individuals become informed and effective within the legislative process. By providing online legislation tracking and citizen-to-legislator communications tools, KAP helps busy individuals easily and meaningfully participate in the lawmaking process. KAP’s service currently covers the Washington State Legislature and will soon launch a service for the Seattle City Council.
For more information, contact Sarah Schacht, Executive Director, Knowledge As Power at 206-909-2684 or email@example.com