The rules of engagement

Here’s the thing about civic engagement; it doesn’t happen only in a room in City Hall, it doesn’t happen only in committees and it doesn’t happen on a schedule dictated by city staff.

Most importantly civic engagement doesn’t start and stop at the ballot box. You didn’t give someone a detailed mandate on election day nor did you write them a blank cheque. You get to hold them accountable during their term of service and not just at the polls.

Engagement happens where, when and how you decide it happens. You don’t have to fit in a little box that someone else defines anymore.

Your voice is all you have, use to speak for the things you believe in.

Respect others, follow your head and heart and you cannot go wrong.

How to completely fuck up your life.

Maybe you’re an average person,

and maybe you go home at five, get dinner ready, clean-up, flip on the TV and go to bed a few hours later,

and maybe one day you hear about some ambitious, stupid idea,

and maybe you’re going to shake your head and say “that’s nuts, why would anyone do that?”

and maybe there’s a 95% chance that you’ll walk away and give it no thought,

and maybe there’s a 5% chance that you’ll have an amazing person in your life that will talk you into giving this ambitious, stupid idea a chance,

and maybe you’ll just be at that perfectly susceptible time in your life and say “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?”

and maybe you get involved in this ambitious, stupid project,

and maybe you believe in it,

and maybe you get a friend involved too,

and maybe it fails,

and maybe you get your heart broken,

and maybe you find out why it failed and it was for a stupid, senseless reason,

and maybe you get pissed off,

and maybe you say “I did my best and this wasn’t my fault so I’m going to try again”,

and maybe you find another ambitious, stupid idea,

and maybe you roll up your sleeves and try again,

and maybe you meet a cool person who’s trying again too,

and maybe it works this time,

and maybe it doesn’t work out like you hoped but it worked,

and maybe you hang with this cool new friend,

and maybe you learn cool stuff,

and maybe you make a few cool new friends who’ve done other ambitious, stupid stuff,

and maybe some have succeeded,

and maybe some have failed,

and maybe they do it so they can try to succeed again,

and maybe they do it because of all their cool new friends,

and maybe they do it because of YOU,

and maybe they fail,

and maybe they succeed,

and maybe you don’t measure success like you used to,

and maybe one of these cool new friends turns into something much more,

and maybe you cancel your TV because you don’t have time for it anymore,

and maybe other people see that you were just like them not so long ago,

and maybe you inspire one other person to try out their ambitious, stupid ideas,

and maybe your life is full beyond your wildest dreams,

and maybe you’re out to dinner with a neuroscientist, an artist, a flute player, an ethicist, an entrepreneur, a writer, a photographer, and a bunch of people that you just want to hug for being so awesome,

and maybe you look across the table at your beautiful partner,

and maybe you think “I’m glad I tried”.

 

Council Agenda Highlights – October 24 – RCDC

Lots of interesting stuff on this week’s Council agenda. Here’s a rundown and a bunch of links for more information.

If anything strikes you as interesting (or if you just want to meet some really cool folks) then come out for tomorrow night’s RCDC meetup.

1. Council is looking into the possibility of privatizing electricity, water, wastewater, solid waste and parking services. They are looking to sign a cooperation agreement with EPCOR who does the same thing for Edmonton. This feels a bit like signing an agreement with Blackwater to investigate privatizing a police force – EPCOR isn’t neutral in this game.

London Hydro courted by Edmonton utility company
Power player joins race for London Hydro
‘It just doesn’t smell right’
Baechler Balks At EPCOR Partnership Proposal
VIDEO From CTV London
Facebook Pack the Gallery Event

UPDATE: a trio of new articles were posted Sunday evening

City may pull plug on Hydro partnership
So where are the Hydro answers?
It’s a Small World After All

2. Council will be asked to approve of London’s Growth Management Implementation Strategy. A number of developers aren’t completely happy with the plan so there should be interesting activity around this one. If you care about urban sprawl this is important to keep an eye on as it helps set the blueprint for London’s growth.

OMG, what have they done to GMIS?
Oh, give me a home

3. The development and real estate industries would like Council to allow some of the largest “temporary” building signage in the province. These temporary signs would also be up longer than any other city – 365 days. A very generous definition of temporary in my opinion.

Staff has recommended less generous signage allowances but it seems that Joe Swan, Denise Brown and Bud Polhill are feeling differently.

The press doesn’t seem to be covering this one so here’s the item from last week’s BNEC (Built and Natural Environment Committee) agenda.

4. The downtown parking garage item is on the agenda again. Turns out that the existing parking available is under-utilized now (check out page 10 of this doc) and the additional cost of this facility may not be warranted at the moment.

City of opportunity or opportunists?
Parking debate raises issue of financial viability
It’s time we park this debate with a decision that suits us all
City ponders two core parking proposals (NEW)

5. A new animal welfare strategy is being developed for London. London Animal Care and Control’s contract is coming up soon and there is concern that they kill to many animals. Other cities are adopting “no kill” strategies.

London’s pets, unwanted no more
Vision will make London a more pet-friendly city
City hall seeks partners in new model for animals

6. Request for funding for the development of a Cultural Prosperity Plan for London

7. City of London Wants to Develop Smartphone App for 2012 Budget 

RCDR: Responsible Citizens Drinking Responsibly

This idea has been kicking around the Twitterverse (thanks to Matthew Beard, Scott Courtice and a number of other folks) for some time so now’s as good a time as any to kick it off. And yes, I know it’s not a great name but it’s a place to start.

Starting October 3rd, 2010 a few people are going to start gathering whenever Council meets to witness our city governance in action and then get together for a pint and a bite to eat.

For those unfamiliar with Council proceedings* (and I am in no way any expert on the subject):

  • Council typically starts at 5pm with a number of awards and or citizen recognitions (30 minutes or so) before it gets into the meat of the agenda.
  • Around 7 or 7:30pm it pauses for a 1hr dinner break** (this can vary a bit depending on the issues before Council).
  • Following dinner it continues until all agenda items have been addressed.

This social group doesn’t have a set schedule, pop by when you can and listen/tweet/Facebook/blog/whatever.

At the break we’ll meet near the elevators and quickly head over to Crabby Joe’s at Dundas and Wellington (http://www.crabbyjoes.com/locations-london-276dundas.php) for a drink and a chance to discuss the goings on.

Show up for any of it, show up for all of it. Some people won’t be able to make it to the early session and some won’t be able to make it to the late session so this break will be a great opportunity for everyone to meet.

This group doesn’t have an agenda, isn’t affiliated with any organization and isn’t owned by anyone, we’re just a bunch of citizens who care about our city.

* If you have never been to Council Chambers, take the City Hall elevator to the 3rd floor. Turn left OR right at the Clerk’s Office and follow the hallways to the room. Public wifi is available.

** If you want to know exactly when we’re heading to the bar please monitor my Twitter feed at – http://twitter.com/late2game or email me at adamsson at gmail dawt com and I’ll ping you when we head over.

Getting it Done

So that’s one idea. There are a MANY other great ideas floating around.

  • Mobilize creative minds to raise awareness of issues that tackle our city (sprawl, transit, urban renewal, livability, etc) – see BrokenCityLab.org and this cool video for No Tankers.
  • Brainstorm large community projects (like the Community Portal), acquire funding where available and guide the project to completion.
  • Pair creative and technical minds to broaden each others portfolios (creative designs portfolio sites for dev and artist and dev brings them to the web).
  • Pair creatives and techs with senior mentors.
  • Pair creatives and techs with charitable organizations. Provides portfolio work and experience and serves the community.
  • Hackathons (open data, scraped data, international contests).
  • Collaborative marketing projects for the community.
  • Work with community groups to find out where the gaps are in their needs and where the technical and creative communities can assist.

Can we build a corps of citizens to build projects that strengthen each other and the community?

London has some brilliant minds but many aren’t connected outside social events like the always excellent London Creative Network and Geek Dinner London.

Do you think we have the people and the passion to bring this to the next level?

(Take a look at this for a bit of inspiration – http://www.nycservice.org/)

 

Belonging and a Better City

I’ve been having trouble finding my mojo this year. Last year I was lucky enough to be involved in some great initiatives in the city. They weren’t all smashing successes but that’s ok. Failing is fine – learn and move on.

After my recent participation in the Community Engagement Task Force it became apparent to me that all of these incredible initiatives were engaging the already engaged. That’s a big problem.

I love hanging out with the true believers. Passion inspires passion. The problem is that we need more of these folks. Many more.

Where and how do you start to build passion?

A few months ago I met a brilliant guy named Michael Lewkowitz. He was interested in the election and why people weren’t feeling engaged so he did something pretty cool. He knocked on every door on his street and he talked to his neighbours about it. Michael’s excercise left a pretty big impression on me (and likely his neighbours).

Not long after the election Glen Pearson told me about a small street (not even in his riding) where a bunch of neighbours had gathered in a living room and asked Glen to come talk to them about politics.

I just found out recently that there is a group that gathers to jam on guitars in people’s living rooms.

So let’s start building where people have an interest already. Some people have a hobby, some have a club and some have a physical community that they belong to. Many of those people look for a good way to keep in touch and the web is awash in different tools for folks to use. But like our normal society these virtual gathering places are scattered and can be very difficult to find.

I’ll call this a Community Portal for now but here’s the idea:

  • a platform that allows any community or community of interest to have a free website
  • flexibility for the groups to customize and brand their sites
  • include all of the features that you’d expect to find in a web 2.0 site – news, events, blogs, social media links, galleries, etc
  • all of these communities feed back into a home page that highlights all of the energy that already exists in the community
  • partner with sites like LondonFuse and bring in an RSS feed of entertainment/event postings
  • make the whole thing location aware and mobile
  • build in a reputation system to reward contributions and reduce abuse/spam
  • tagging for groups and posts to cross polinate great events between groups (You might also like …)
  • open source the end product so that any community in the world can leverage the work
  • branding and advertising to bring this idea into the real world and into the other social media platforms

It’s not a comprehensive list of features but it’s a start.

Can small things like this build a sense of belonging? Does belonging build engagement? Does engagement builds a better city?

 

A Friendship Evolves

Seems like forever now but just a few years ago our company was just a code shop. We took designs from other firms and we made them work on the web. That was who we were and we were somewhat content.

Then we heard that someone was thinking about making a change. One of London’s most creative people was entertaining the notion of changing careers after 11 years. It would be a big step for a bunch of code geeks but we knew it was the next stage in our evolution. We took the leap.

While we knew this would have a profound impact on our company, I had no idea how much it would impact my life. Every relationship is complicated and forming a close friendship with a colleague more so. Share a small office with a good friend for 3 years and you go through pretty much everything together. You share your heartbreaks, victories and everything in between.

None of us were surprised when nik told us it was time to go. His girlfriend had a job of a lifetime opportunity and nik would join her in KW.

Now if you hang around with nik for any length of time it will become very clear that his real artistic passion is in his painting. There’s something in that work that he can’t properly communicate to the rest of us. It’s not a landscape, it’s something more – you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He wisely decided to go freelance so he could spend more time with his art.

This move then was a fantastic opportunity for both of them.

Now I have some deep character flaws – some of those are self protection mechanisms. I’ve never had to deal with much personal loss much in my life – at my age it’s a bit like getting chicken pox – it’s devastating. So I do everything I can to push loss away and avoid it. It’s a survival instinct that serves me very poorly.

I closed up and put on a mask for 5 months.

Yesterday was my friend nik’s last day at our office. On Monday he begins a new chapter and today, as I knew it would, it’s hitting me like a freight train.

My friendship with nik has always had personal and professional very tightly intertwined and, while I hope our friendship will endure, I know that it will change. This blog is just a marker along the way.  It’s been a long road and not without it’s share of bumps but I’m glad for having the opportunity to share this part of the journey with nik.

Thank you nik for lighting the way, showing patience as I try to grow and for being my friend (I know it’s not always easy).

Love and respect, Shawn

A Resolution

“Being negative is easy. There will always be a downside to everything good, a hurdle to everything desirable, a con to every pro. The real courage is in finding the good in what you have, the opportunities in every hurdle, the pros in every con.” – Carolyn Hax

I stumble on this more than I care to admit to myself. If our community is going to be a better place it has to start with my own words and actions.

I’m going to try to find the patience and courage to see the good and find the opportunity.

It starts here and it starts now.

PS – I’m hyper aware that this blog is a bit too much “me me me” and I rewrote it a couple of times to get that out of there. What it comes down to is this … any change we want to see in others or in our community has to start inside ourselves. We have to accept responsibility for our own attitudes and actions and that starts with “me”.

Guess I Have to Read This One

I’m a huge fan of Seth Godin. HUGE. I’ve bought 5 of his books (the paper type) and another couple eBooks.

But here’s the thing – I haven’t read a single one of them. Seth gets my money because of his blog, his talks and his interviews. I’m buying the souvenirs of a great trip and I haven’t even gotten off the plane yet. I get something out of the guy almost every time he communicates with the world and for that I gratefully give him my hard earned cash.

So a month or so ago Seth announces on his blog that he’s going to do something a bit different for his new book Linchpin – he’s giving away review copies, not to the mainstream media, but to bloggers and fans. All I had to do to lay my hands on one of these was to donate a few bucks to a worthy charity, The Acumen Fund. My credit card was out of the wallet before I was done reading the blog.

I messed up the order – in spite of being given very specific instructions regarding checking my shipping address. I was so excited to get my order in that I missed it. Bugger. In spite of the fact that the website warned me that there was no recourse I called anyway and Seth’s team was very kind and made everything right. (By the way, how freakin’ amazing would it be to be on this guy’s team?)

I asked Titus Ferguson (our social media guru) if he would write up a review and he was on board.

I waited patiently. A few weeks later I received one e-mail from Seth’s team saying that Canada Customs was having issues and thanking us for our understanding. No problem. Another blog entry a week or two later apologized once again. I’m a patient man.

Well the book was released on Tuesday this week (turns out he released a bunch of bonus material as well) and my review copy still hadn’t arrived. I was a bit disappointed but I knew that it was out of Seth’s hands.

Today I received the book and as I expected there was a note included (there’s no way he’d send these out without a note). What the note said did surprise me – this wasn’t the book I ordered this was a SECOND copy of the book – a thank you present.

This blog is really for the fine folks at Canadian Customs – you can keep my other copy of Linchpin. Just please read it and pass it on to another person on the team when you’re done. There are lessons in there that could make for a world of change in your life and in your organization.

CONTEST UPDATE: A fellow Londoner Scott Webb at Nuwomb Creative is giving away a copy of Linchpin – Details on his blog

Photo

On the off chance that you read this entry I just want to thank you Seth – you’re a stand-up guy – much respect.

A Platform Against Apathy

 

So ideally we’ve started a dialog. How do we keep it going? 

After the unconference has wrapped there are a number of tools available to keep the individual project teams connected – wikis, Google Wave and even old fashioned e-mail but there’s another conversation that we haven’t touched on. 

We all hear little bits of information regarding the politics of our city – radio, TV, internet and newspaper. Some of you may even follow our more enlightened local politicians as they blog, tweet and Facebook. Problem is that most of these media outlets have no real persistence – the dialog happens in passing and no record is kept and thus there is little long term accountability. 

So let’s envision a web based platform to make local politics open, engaging and persistent. 

Of the three key ingredients in our local democracy the most important part of the system is you, the citizen, so this system will be based around you first and foremost. The entire system will endeavour to make the other two ingredients (the politicians and the issues) more transparent to you. 

How do we encourage an open, civil conversation? 

Think of it like a meeting hall – everyone is free to discuss any of the issues but they will do so without anonymity. The theory being that a democracy functions better in the light than in  the dark. Systems like this can quickly devolve into shouting matches – the hope is that by making each individual accountable for their words this will be somewhat mitigated. 

Every comment entered in the system will have a voting mechanism – if your input into the system is valuable you will gain “karma”, if your input is not constructive or disrespectful you will lose “karma” – lose enough “karma” and your comments will be muted by default. There will be a mechanism for everyone to un-mute a conversation with a single mouse click. There will also be several layers of abuse detection. The goal is to provide a useful platform and mitigate against those with no constructive input. No comments will be removed from display in this system (unless there is a legal order to do so). 

What kind of information could we present with this platform? 

Let’s start with a blog/wiki system so that you can contribute articles and opinions for other citizens. Full comments would be enabled and a voting system so that others can provide feedback on the quality of the article. 

This website would have a list of big picture issues (transportation, environment, taxes) and questions relating to each (bike lanes, garbage collection, expenditure priorities), while the big picture categories would be pre-defined – anyone could add a question underneath. In addition anyone can rank the priority of these questions for themselves. Each question would be open for comment as well to better define the overall issue. 

In addition each politician or candidate would have a dedicated page in the system – this will combine: a bio, contact information, voting record, appearance schedule, tweets, facebook info and a list of news articles that would pertain to their stand on the issues that concern you. Again, you will have the option of voting on information to determine its potential value to other users of the system. Politicians will be given the opportunity to engage in the discussion here as well. 

The site would also contain a calendar of upcoming public participation sessions and agendas (where available) for these sessions. Live tweets, pictures and blog summaries would also be amalgamated on this page. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the functionality that will be in the system – additional ideas are welcome. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this project – please leave comments below. 

A few notes: 

** The entire system would be built on open source technologies and would be available for anyone to download the source code for use in other municipalities, provinces, states and countries. A license would be selected that would keep the source available in other communities so things stay transparent. 

** Not every feature would be available in version 1 of the platform and some components like the “karma” system would be under ongoing development to ensure that it is as fair as possible. 

** While a few developers have already expressed interest in participating in the development of this platform others are encouraged to participate. Existing open source platforms (likely Drupal for the base functionality) and modules will be leveraged wherever possible. This will reduce the build time on the project and enable the code that’s generated to be used in other open source projects. 

** Should someone want to contribute information anonymously they would be encouraged to use WikiLeaks or a similar service and provide links to one of the site administrators. 

** This is an independent project and is in no way affilliated with rTraction Canada Inc.