By: Dr. Hollie Russon-Gilman, Beeck Center Fellow. Originally appeared on Brookings "Tech Tank" in 2014.
Many citizens are enthusiastic about improving their communities and local governments are employing new technologies to take advantage of this resurgence in civic energy. Local level governments, providing an ever-growing share of public service delivery, are experimenting to engage and empower citizens. Communities are coming together and self-organizing in new ways. People are working to ensure more successful and resilient communities. Technology is aiding this approach but is highly context and place specific. This includes community driven crowd funding. While varying in design, these innovations reflect communities using innovation to create 21st century public spheres.
One. Local government is creating new opportunities to engage
The bulk of citizen interaction with their government occurs on the local level. Local governments can have more flexibility to experiment than federal counterparts. For example, the city of Atlanta launched Govathon a citywide hackathon by Startup Atlanta focusing on problems that affect the local community and government. These events can help spark economic growth. Releasing government data and enlisting non private and private sector partners provides a creative venue for citizens to engage with governance.
Two. Citizens are self-organizing to strengthen communities.
Community residents are finding innovative opportunities to tap into their talent. Neighborhood members are increasingly finding ways for Do it Yourself (DIY) to benefit their communities. For example, Makers studios are gaining momentum.These physical sites, sometimes converted abandoned libraries or community centers, provide a new community space for gathering, learning, and "tinkering." Communities, working across sectors, often self-organize to create many of these spaces. They are equipped with everything from 3D printers to classes on Citizen Science. Makers studios create spaces for intergenerational activity, education, and invention.
Three. Community driven crowd funding
Technology can amplify local level efforts.One popular tool is crowd founding. These platforms, such as Citizinvestor.com, provide a platform to aggregate funding for public works. People can sort to find projects that directly impact their neighborhood. Importantly, this platform exposes local projects to diverse audiences who may want to lend support. This also provides an opportunity for communities to share lessons learned and collaborate.
Communities are combining new approaches with traditional methods to build stronger and more resilient neighborhoods. While technology is buttressing these efforts, it must be integrated into broader on the ground strategy. These three above mentioned approaches can help bring about sustainable and replicable community driven innovation.