Posts tagged civic innovation
The Civic Innovation Fellowship
Image credit:  Slices of Light

Image credit: Slices of Light

There’s a famous saying we like to use here at verynice. It goes something like, “I don't know who discovered water, but I know it wasn't the fish.” In other words, those closest to the issue do not often have the necessary perspective to find a solution for it. It’s this idea that has driven verynice’s involvement in multiple Los Angeles civic initiatives over the past several years. Rather than relying on our local government to innovate from within, we use human centered, design thinking principles to help unlock new solutions and approaches to its civic innovation efforts.

verynice has been involved in multiple Los Angeles civic initiatives, including the Great Streets Initiative and the Sustainable City Plan, as well as national initiatives such as the Code for America Accelerator program. Our increasing focus on civic innovation eventually feuled our idea to carve out a position solely dedicated to furthering local civic initiatives— a Civic Innovation Fellowship—  a natural extension of our Entrepreneur in Residence program, which has played a significant role in incubating and launching businesses with young entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. We would still provide the mentorship and support to our participating entrepreneurs, but their projects would focus on civic intitatives and collaboration with local govenment.

We approached several different sectors with our idea, but the City of Los Angeles' Controllers Office was the first to jump on board. The idea behind this partnership is that the Controller’s Office would provide a background in public sector innovation and a knowledge of city issues, processes, and needs. In turn, verynice would contribute perspective from the private sector, using strategic innovation and design-thinking principals. Each of us would support the fellowship by providing training and mentorship and by facilitating the actual creation of the project. Together, we would create an entirely new role for design in government.

We’re proud to publicly announce that our very first Civic Innovation Fellow is David Flores, who brings a background in Urban Planning and experience with the Slate Z Promise Zone to the Fellowship. David will be working with the city's Open Data platform in order to map out unique hybrid data sets. In other words, he aims to tell stories using data— and inspire local entrepreneurs to make change in their community.

We recently asked David to tell us a little more about his background, his work with the Fellowship, and why he feels civic innovation and design thinking are a good match. Check out his interview below: 

Hello, David! What attracted you to apply for the Fellowship? Did any of your previous experience pique your interest in civic innovation or is this a new endeavor for you? 
The Office of the Controller’s ability to reach a broad audience provides the right setting to help the people of the city of Los Angeles. It has always been a passion of mine to bring awareness to problems that affect the city. Through my previous studies abroad in Urban Planning, and my recent work with the Slate Z Promise Zone grant proposal, this endeavor is both challenging and exciting as it provides a great opportunity to help our community.  

Can you tell us about the work you're doing to make the city's data more accessible? 
Over the past few years, the Controller´s Office and the City of Los Angeles have worked on transparency, which includes providing a clear portal to all city records and making them accessible to the public. Through maps, our work will consist of creating a more accessible way to view and understand data. When we analyze data, sometimes all we see is the numbers. Similar to story telling, maps provide the vehicle to produce a graphic representation of data.  

What is your ultimate goal for the type of impact this project will have?  
Our goal is to motivate and attract the involvement of our community to solve the problems that affect our city. By giving the public access to our work, we can create a compromise between our government and the community to produce new opportunities, ventures and solutions for the future. 

How does a design-thinking vocabulary influence or enhance your approach to civic innovation?  
My background in architecture and music allows me to view the process form a different perspective. Working with a design thinking approach challenges me present data on a visual spectrum that will be both informative and appealing.   

Your position has a pretty unique structure because you work with both the Controller's office and the leadership team here at verynice. What are some of the benefits of this set-up?  
The opportunity to work in this environment is both exciting and motivating. Having the expertise of both the Controller´s Office and the leadership team at verynice provides support and valuable advice on a project of such magnitude.  

Thanks, David!

We're looking forward to growing the Civic Innovation Fellowship program and continuing our work with the City of Los Angeles.   Find more about verynice's civic initiatives, both locally and nationally, and our work in general right here.

Digital Organizing in the Future

How can digital organizing complement and amplify other forms of community organizing and movement building? And vice-versa? Where can we find examples of organizing today that blend the best of digital movements and community organizing? What is possible for organizing in the future?  These were the core questions behind a two-day Digital Organizing Summit put on by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in San Diego last week, where I had the pleasure of exploring those questions, learning about the incredible work of the Jacobs Center, and meeting some of the most insightful and effective leaders in movement building. 

I’m no expert on the inner workings of foundations, but I have experience with participatory platforms and community engagement, and I found the ways Jacobs works with the community in Southeast San Diego to be remarkably robust and inspirational. Some community organizations may have their residents participate in parts of the initial visioning. Others might involve them in some aspect of strategy connected to the core mission. And still others may have residents join in for direct actions, such as cleanups, building construction, or art installations. But I’ve rarely seen a foundation allow a community to be so tightly and meaningfully integrated into all core processes— from vision to strategy to design and implementation. This was not just told to us abstractly, it was also deliciously demonstrated by the food served to us by True Roots, a neighborhood catering company supported by Jacobs that is providing opportunities for residents. Finally, and perhaps most boldly, Jacobs Center is putting a plan in place to completely hand over the assets of the Foundation to the local community to control and self-manage by 2030. Therein lies a golden opportunity for Jacobs to innovate around community governance and decision-making models, and I have little doubt they will. 

There were many brilliant insights and examples from the participants, many that could only come from those who can see both the long-term systemic issues,  but who are also working “on the ground” with real people facing real challenges. This kind of empathetic visioning is critical to making better futures for more people. Documentation on the key takeaways can be found at the Jacobs Center DOS blog, especially relevant for digital community organizers, but from a futurist’s perspective, here are a few of my personal highlights:

The necessity and power of feedback loops
We know from the study of persuasion, as well as game design, that right place/right time feedback mechanisms are critical for (return) engagement. From as small as a personal phone call after a donation, to as large as the justice for a person wrongly killed, feedback and “wins” (large and small) help people stay interested to give their time and energy to the cause. Feedback also helps participants to “level-up,” and only tackle challenges that are right at the edge of their capacity—keeping them engaged, focused, and rewarded.

Growing a “middle-class” of activism
By middle-class, I don’t mean activism for the middle-class, per se, I mean a robust population of organizations and movements that provides a stabilizing force to sustain civil society.  In our collective mental ecology, we are highly aware of “blockbuster” moments like the ALS ice bucket challenge. These blockbusters tend to skew the thinking of organizations that want to make their campaign “viral.” This blockbuster/virality thinking, much like in the Hollywood business model, redistributes resources to ideas, issues, or communities that have the potential for mega-success, siphoning off funds and energy from other campaigns that might not be as sexy, or as immediate, as others. There are many other kinds of campaigns that might be more localized, less newsworthy, and longer term than many of the more publicized movements. Designing a structure of activism, fundraising, and community organizing that supports these vital, but not sensational, needs is important, and perhaps overlooked.

Sensory Data-Driven
Taking a slightly more oblique angle on the idea of data-driven community organizing, I was fascinated by Mike Spear’s description of the work of Apopo. They train rats to detect landmines, and diseases, such as tuberculosis. We often think of data as something tied to computers, but there is a great potential to use other kinds of data. Organizers might need to be trained in best practices around non-computational data management. Imagine this scene: you walk into a medical clinic, and instead of being met by a doctor or nurse, you are first “screened” by a zoo of animals trained to detect any disease or condition you might have. 

Andrew Hapke and the Jacobs Center team were wonderful hosts, and the super-stars of digital and community organizing lived up to their billing. This was a terrific opportunity to exchange ideas, learn about examples of organizing at its best, and to explore the novel tools, dynamics, and forces that will shape movement-making in the future. 

verynice is excited for the continued growth of our Foresight branch. Click here to learn more about our work.