Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

20140322-screenshotFive years ago this month I launched the community improvement website RichmondBrainstorm.com. The site allowed users to submit ideas for ways to make Richmond, Indiana a better place, allowed other users to discuss and vote on those ideas, and shared success stories of ideas that had been implemented. I created the site because I think it's important for a given community to shape its own course for the future instead of waiting for solutions from state and national governments, and because I was tired of hearing good, creative ideas from others that never seemed to get the attention or visibility they deserved.

In the time since, some 86 community improvement ideas were submitted and discussed, and a number of the ideas became real projects that were implemented. The site got over 140,000 visits from around 45,000 unique visitors. I've also received contact from people other communities around the country asking for help to create a similar resource in their city, and so the idea of an online community improvement idea inventory seems to itself have become an idea worth spreading.

But, after an initial period of significant activity, the Richmond Brainstorm site had become largely dormant, with no new ideas submitted to it in close to a year. Over the years I've regularly talked to local community development organizations who have said the concept of the site is an exciting one and could even be integrated into their own efforts at prompting further conversations and action, but as yet Richmond does not seem to be a place where most of those kinds of conversations want to happen online, for better or worse. That combined with the time that it takes to keep the site's software current, deal with spammers and perform other administrative tasks has begun to outweigh the value that I think RichmondBrainstorm.com is currently bringing to the community.

So, as of today I'm shutting the site down.

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State and local government websites as wikis?

MontreatI'm intrigued by websites powered by wikis, where the content can be added, modified and deleted by the users of the site.  When the people who are affected by the quality and structure of the content presented have some control over that content, you sometimes have an opportunity to get more useful, relevant, current material than if the site is maintained by a small number of content administrators.

At Summersault, our entire company intranet is a wiki.  Anyone who works with us can edit the content on it, add new pages, delete stuff that they think is out of date or unhelpful, and so on - from small typo fixes to multi-page documents and images.  If someone makes a change that needs to be un-done, the wiki software lets us "roll it back" or otherwise incorporate only partial changes.  All of this gives us the opportunity to have an intranet "by and for" its users and our staff, instead of something built and maintained solely from a management point of view.

Wikis aren't appropriate for every kind of website, or even most kinds, but I've been thinking lately about what it would mean to have wikis power city, county and state government websites.

If these sites are primarily meant to be informational tools for use by the people who live in a given geographical region (and who are theoretically paying for the site's creation and maintenance), could governments give those people some control over the content on those resources?

Continue reading State and local government websites as wikis?

Civic engagement goes beyond voting

Red Devils ready to shootThis post originally appeared in the June 4 2012 Palladium-Item as a guest editorial.  Many who might read this are already very "civically engaged" and so may find it overly simplistic, but there are also many in Richmond who are asking what's being done about our challenges - crime, the economy, etc. - and so I hope this offers at least a starting place for broader recognition that we all have a role to play in answering that. 

2012 is a big election year, at the local, state and national levels. The votes cast this fall will shape the government policies and leadership that will, for better or worse, affect our lives for years to come.

It seems like a good time to remind ourselves that putting our chosen candidates in their elected offices is not the endpoint of civic engagement. In fact, it's just the beginning.

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5 ways to be a leader without running for office

Pilot BoatWhen I ran for office earlier this year, I noticed that a lot of people I talked to thought of themselves as existing firmly on one side of a certain line, and elected officials existing on the other side.  It was the "who can be a leader and get things done in our community?" line.  For some folks, the implication was that progress and transformation happen only when those elected officials take action, and that everyone else just kind of does their own thing and waits for progress to happen.

Of course officials who are elected and empowered by government to take action are often central to many kinds of community progress.  But it certainly doesn't mean that getting elected is the only way to be a leader in your community.

So, I offer this list of Five Ways to be a Leader in Your Community Without Running for Office:

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Sustainability challenges in Richmond

I recently met with a local organization involved in environmental education efforts to talk about the status of sustainability education in Richmond and Wayne County.  In preparing for that conversation, I put together a list of what I see as some of the challenges our community faces when it comes to becoming more sustainable and self-reliant: Continue reading Sustainability challenges in Richmond

Is personal lifestyle change effective?

Tree of LifeIs working hard to make personal changes in our lives, especially when it comes to living sustainably, a futile effort in the face of all the other kinds of unsustainable things going on in the world?  Is personal lifestyle change effective?

I've asked a version of this question before: Must we become the change we wish to see in the world? You can maybe tell that there's a theme here - impactful personal lifestyle change is not often convenient, and sometimes it is downright scary.  But that's not a reason not to spend as much energy and time as it takes to try to live more sustainably, right?  Change has to happen with each person individually before we can expect the system to change, right?

Or does it?

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What's in a name: All-America City?

Mayor and Firetruck 1This is a hard post to write because a lot of people who I care about and respect are very invested in and excited about the recent news that Richmond is one of the winners of the National Civic League's "All-America City" award.

First, I want to say that I do offer my genuine congratulations to the youth, their mentors and supporters who put together Richmond's application and saw it through to the win.  To achieve national recognition for our city is commendable, and I know that the passion, time and energy you put into this effort comes from a deep love of this community and its potential.  Richmond needs more people like you who care enough to act, and who do so with a bright future in mind.

Now on to the harder part:

Continue reading What's in a name: All-America City?