Tag Archives: civic media

From E-Democracy’s Chicago CityCamp, Jan 22-24

January 29

I’ve been waiting all week to do this wrapup of E-Democracy’s pretty amazing  CityCamp last weekend for about 100 civic-minded IT folks from some 30 states, with dozens of them doing IT for cities large and small.  Here’s the  full program. Tone was set first thing Saturday AM by Tim O’Reilly (IT author and coiner of the term “Web 2.0“) and his kickoff interview of San Francisco CIO Chris Vein, pictured right, fearless proponent for open source & Gov 2.0 (good 20 second video and very informative 19 minute video).

The night before, at the Friday meet & greet, I had a lively hour with E-Democracy founder and Minneapolis resident Steve Clift (pictured below) Chicago web & app designer Crystal Wilson (who works “with urban planners to make visible what is otherwise misunderstood, unseen, or only imagined) and Benet Haller, Director of Chicago’s Planning and Development Department.  Also met Aaron Soules and Conor White-Sullivan of Amherst, MA, whose Localocracy site, soon to launch, struck me as having lots in common with the information gathering, processing and resolution  (problem-solving) mechanism that we’re developing here at Chicago Civic Media (we’re also a couple months from launching our site). Then a nice long latish-night walk to Billy Goat’s Tavern with Mike Trakan of Chicago’s Cabrini Connections and Mapping for Justice to introduce Peter Fleck of Minneapolis to the celebrated Chicago “cheezbuggah”.

On Saturday at the U. of I. Innovation Center, I floated like a butterfly to get glimpses and sometime good looks at all 8 or 10 sessions being run simultaneously, taking notes and once stinging like a bee when foreclosures and not gang and drugs was mentioned as Chicago’s #1 unsolved problem (Susannah, I apologize, hope I didn’t distract too much).

Two presentations stood out for me.  Apps for Democracy, by Peter Corbett of istrategylabshere’s his 20 second Gov 2.0 video – was full of invaluable ideas – here’s his 20 page booklet – for anyone who wants to engage IT people (or anyone) in creative ways. The second, by Jon Udell on the seemingly innocuous (to me) topic of event aggregation, whose elmcity project opened my eyes to the enormous social bonding potential of properly tagged RSS feeds.  I can only hope this summary doesn’t misrepresent his intense presentation – and I don’t know if he liked it when at the end I jokingly said I’d “remember has as the Ted Turner of social media.”  Afterwards it was Peter Fleck who steered me to Jon’s IT Conversations with IT innovators covering a “wide range of issues at the intersection of technology and society.” Huge resource.

This account is so incomplete! I gotta mention the presentations by Keith Hurwitz on Microsoft’s  Open Government Data Initiative, Steve Clift on Public Meetings, and SusannahVazquez, Director of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program. And it was great to meet my homey and fellow high school alumnus from New Haven, the gregarious Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix. And the redoubtable Daniel X. O’Neil of EveryBlock!

Now to explore all the sites I just put up here! Thanks, Steve Clift, and thanks Rockefeller Foundation & other sponsors for a great event.


Can the Chicago Tribune’s “Problem Solver” Help Find a Killer?

December 15

The Tribune’s Problem Solver works for individuals. It addresses mundane, day-to-day problems. Well here’s a problem that’s become day-to-day for all too many Chicagoans. So let’s put the Trib’s Problem Solver to a little test. Several weeks ago, a close friend of one of my students at Oakton Community College was shot dead in a drive-by incident in Humboldt Park.  The incident went unreported in Chicago news media.  But my student is writing a paper about it.  One point he makes: the identity of shooter is known to a number of people in the neighborho0d. On Google maps, my student showed me exactly where the killer lives. Yet no one dares pass information on to Chicago police for fear of retaliation and out of mistrust in the Chicago police.  So – will the Tribune Problem Solver help my student resolve the problem? Let’s find out! We just submitted the following:

A friend of mine lost a close friend in a drive-by shooting several weeks ago in Humboldt Park.  I can provide documentation. The name of the shooter is known to people in the neighborhood, he says, but pe0ple are afraid to talk to police for fear of retaliation.  Can he safely share this information with police? How?

BTW, today’s Tribune has a story on the code of silence – the anti-snitch mentality – that exists when it comes to reporting crimes to the Chicago police.  Huge questions of fear and trust.

BTW, in my Oakton class, a total of four of out fifteen students have written about the death of friends they’ve lost lost in the past six months: a suicide, two car accidents and now this drive-by. It ain’t easy being young in Chicago – or its suburbs!

December 24

Here’s an automated response to an inquiry about the status of the problem we raised on December 15:

Thank you for writing to What’s Your Problem. All e-mails are read and reviewed by the Problem Solver. Due to the volume of e-mails and letters received, we cannot respond to each inquiry individually. If we choose to write about your problem, we will be in contact with you shortly.


Jon Yates,

Tribune staff reporter.

Why,  you ask,  doesn’t my Oakton student call the Chicago police to report what he knows? Answer: trust in the Chicago police is not high in Humboldt Park. To counter this, Chicago Police Department Jody _). Weis has created the “ClearPath” website, which opens new channels of communication between Chicagoans and the CPD, with an option for anonymity.  I’ve asked my student to take a look at it and its e-tip feature, which allows citizens to give full details about a crime while making use of a “privacy information option” that offers anonymity. Let’s see what he says.

Happy Holidays!

ChicagoWRKS.com: News Media Revolution in a 20 Second Soundbite!

December 12

OK, Chicago,  it’s time for Chicago news media to stop moaning and groaning about gangs and drugs in Chicago and start helping Chicagoans DO SOMETHING to solve the problem.

This clip was shot in a mostly white upper class Chicago suburb and spoken by mostly white people. So you may ask: who are these people to talk about gangs and drugs in Chicago?

Well,  just wait ’til you see our next clip shot at El stations and places in Chicago.

Independent filmmaker Dan Skubal (with the dog) shot this video in Glenview, IL. The man has talent.

The video is a promo for our submission to the Knight News Challenge.  While we can’t discuss the specifics of the online interactive platform of news and information that we’ve designed for Chicago and its 77 neighborhood areas, we are proud to say that it

  • Values Chicagoans of all ages as informed participants in the government decisions that affect their lives.
  • Values journalism and democracy as integrated, collaborative/competitive enterprises.
  • Works across media platforms to make reporters and problem-solvers of everyone at all stages of its problem-solving news cycle.
  • Re-invents and re-energizes the news cycle, morphing it from the clock time between editions of a news outlet to the mental time between community-generated solutions to a problem.
  • Facilitates its news cycle impartially and accurately.
  • Taps (profitably, in time) the “Market of the Whole” of all Chicagoans by meeting massive, citywide demand for productive civic discourse.
  • Can be utilized by other news media.

Morphing the news. From reported story to defined solution to newsworthy outcome. That’s our core idea. Expanding the news cycle from the traditional 24 hour cycle of news reportage to an extended, even multi-month, cycle of news reportage and problem-solution. Creating a news cycle that gives Chicagoans time to consider and advance the city’s most promising opportunities, whatever these may be, and to address its most intractable problems, from potholes to economic growth to youth violence. And, that enables Chicagoans to revisit and revise past solutions even as it generates new ones.

This, as we see it, is the future of journalism in a viable democracy. And it’s what our interactive platform will create in Chicago.

President Obama: “The Ability of Citizens to Have a Say. . .”

September 23

” . . .  in how they are governed.” So spoke President Obamaclimateobama460 in today’s address to the United Nations, evoking the language of the 1945 UN charter. Today, most Americans feel they lack this ability. The challenge to nation’s print and electronic newsmedia, let along to the President himself, is to ensure that the American people have it.  To lack it is to lack democracy’s foundational right: that of self-government.

From all this it follows that the future of journalism is no longer with traditional news reporting – which transfers the news to passive audiences – but rather with the transfer of the news to active audiences – to citizens who use the news to interact proactively and productively with each other, with journalists, and with governments – all this at local, state, national and even international levels.  The traditional duty of the press to inform citizens is evolving into a duty to mediate between citizens and governments.

This, and this alone, is democracy. Yo, Palo Alto lurkers: we are happy that you following us – anything keeping you from talking back?

An Open Letter to President Obama

September 10, 2009

Dear President Obama,

These fighting words culminated your speech on health care last night:

But that is not what the moment calls for.  That’s not what we came here to do.  W300px-Joint_blog_close_PS-0774e did not come to fear the future.  We came here to shape it.  I still believe we can act even when it’s hard.  (Applause.)  I still believe — I still believe that we can act when it’s hard.  I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress.  I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.
Because that’s who we are.  That is our calling.  That is our character.  Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.

Strong words. Promising! But who exactly will shape the future? Just who are “we” in the lines above? In the opening sentences you uses “we” to refer to yourself – “That’s not what we came here [to Washington] to do.” But in the sentences that follow, your “we” includes all Americans, concluding with “Because that’s who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.”

Your inclusive “we” affirms your faith the American character and in America’s ability to shape the nation’s future as a people. Americans can “replace acrimony with civility,” you asserts, “and gridlock with progress.”

We entirely agree – but may we ask what you (or anyone in American journalism or government, for that matter) have done since you took office to give Americans the chance to do so?

By all accounts, last summer’s “debate” on health care was a shambles; it was uncivil and unproductive. And looking more broadlay at the state of American politics, the sad fact, as we see it, is that the nation’s journalists and elected leaders have used the term “national debate” for decades to describe public squabbles among entrenched interest groups on issues ranging from education to immigration to foreign policy that have left Americans voiceless.  The outcome? A polarized politics, a gridlocked government and an alienated citizenry.

In the terms you used last night, has this broken system of political discourse not kept America from realizing its call and has corrupted its character?

As we often say at this site, the obvious remedy for a dysfunctional system of discourse is a strictly non-partisan civic mechanism that restores our politics and government to functionality: a mediating media capable of making all citizens – and citizens and government – responsive and accountable to each other in defining and solving the problems, and maximizing the opportunities, that will shape America’s future.

For years America has had in place the interactive technologies needed to realize such a media.

So Mr. President, that’s our challenge:  support the creation of a market and voter driven civic media that gives all Americans an informed voice in the decisions that affect their lives at local, state and national levels.


The Chicago Civic Media Team

CHICAGO WRKS poll: What’s Chicago’s #1 Unsolved Problem?

August 10. We’re working to create Chicago WRKS, an online network of problem-solvers in Chicago.  Begining early next year, we plan to start holding online voter-driven reality TV-style contests where small teams compete and co-operate with other to win cash prizes by developing best solutions to key Chicago problems. Details, with ways to get involved, are below.

But first: how will Chicago WRKS select Chicago’s #1 unsolved problem?


If you vote for “Other Problem,” please identify your unsolved problem at the link for “comments” at the very end of this post (our poll should have included Public Schools, for instance. So far a third of all votes have been for “other problem”, but none have identified that problem!) Last weekend we gave this poll to some 30 visitors at the Fiesta del Sol in Pilsen Village (look for results at the Aug. 2 post just below this one).

Now for some details about Chicago WRKS. After much thought about the future of civic media, we decided to follow up on CCMP advisor Arturo Castro’s wise suggestion and launch an online prototype of our civic media reality TV contests here in Chicago, hopefully in early 2010. The site name, Chicago WRKS, echoes Chicago’s “City That Works” motto. We’ll start small, initially reaching out to high school and college students and other active computer users, but working to eventually create online problem-solving contests that target and engage the “Market of the Whole” of all 2.5 million Chicagoans. The flyer we handed out August 1 at Fiesta del Sol describes it:

WRKS logo 1

Here’s a new idea. Really new! Chicago WRKS brings Chicago politics and government into the 21st century. How? Its online forums give all Chicagoans an informed voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

So how does it work? You’ve seen American Idol and Survivor and Big Brother and Dancing with the Stars.  You’ve seen Reality TV.  Now imagine a three-month reality TV contest right here in Chicago with $25,000 in prizes. Imagine dozens of Chicago teams (2/4 members) competing and co-operating with each other in a series of online (eventually televised) contests to find the BEST SOLUTION to a crucial Chicago problem. And, competing also to be the BEST PROBLEM SOLVER. Each team has its own website with videos and research materials.  So who chooses the problems to be solved?

Thanks – and here’s how to get involved in Chicago WRKS:

□    Volunteer or work as a paid staff member.   Right now, we need sharp IT people and also strong networkers to expanding our problem-solving ties to businesses, community groups and community & mainstream media.

□    Compete! Form your own WRKS team: IT, video, researcher, presenter (contact us NOW, let us know what problem you want to solve and we’ll let you know when to start competing).

□    Support your favorite team online (via research) and in your community – contact us NOW and we will connect you with prospective teams that are looking for your support.

□    Check out the teams and their solutions online when the first contest begins next year and VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!

To reach us, email Steve Sewall at sewall2020[at]comcast.net.

YOU are Chicago. WE are Chicago Civic Media Project.

Fiesta del Sol Poll Results

August 1 + 9. Fiesta del Sol was great this year! Weather was perfect and we were warmly welcomed last Saturday by FIESTA DEL SOLvolunteer Catea Merchan afiesta-del-sol-I-1nd Festival Co-ordinator Claudia Marchan, who was so laid back and helpful you’d never guess that she and a staff of only 5 plus 200 volunteers could organize  a four-day event attracting 1,200,000 visitors!  At the Fiesta, the Chicago Civic Media team of Gary, Steve and Tim did some taping for a video we’ll be uploading here and did a little survey of some 30 people for input on Chicago’s most important problem to be addressed in the first-ever online Chicago WRKS contest tentatively set for early next year.  The responses surprised us with their strong concern with only two problems: job creation and gangs and drugs.

□         Parking Meters                     –  1

□         Chicago’s Olympics Bid         –  0

□         Casino Gambling                  –   0

□         Gangs and Drugs                – 12

□         Job Creation                       – 20

□         Other problem                      – 0

Does this small sample reflect the concerns of the Hispanic community as a whole? Important question.  And how will other Chicago communities respond to the same poll? We’re working to get better information for you.  Meanwhile, Thanks Catea and Claudia for welcoming us to a great event.