Engaging CBRM to reinvent itself

“Around the world there are cities in desperate need of rejuvenation and transformation. Elected officials are scrambling to equip their cities for the 21st century, talking about creating ‘open’, ‘networked’, and ‘smart’ cities.”

So writes social media commentator Don Tapscott in a blog post titled “Engaging the Population of a City to Reinvent Itself”. And not just elected officials, but also people like yours truly who are running for municipal council. For example, see my recent post: Access to Information & ‘Open Government’.

Tapscott continues:

“Cities need new strategies for meeting [their] challenges, and fortunately, the Internet and new digital tools provide a low-cost and effective way of doing this. These tools allow citizens to contribute ideas to the decision-making process and be engaged in public life. Residents can offer their wisdom and enthusiasm on an ongoing basis. When citizens become active, good things happen. People learn from one another. Initiatives get catalyzed.”

An example he gives is Bogota, Columbia, which recently elected a new mayor. The local Chamber of Commerce led the charge on increasing community engagement. Here’s what the story would look like if you simply swapped CBRM for Bogota:

“With a municipal election scheduled for the end of October the Chamber saw an opportunity to challenge the mayoral candidates with ideas and proposals to fix the city. But rather than doing the back room lobbying that characterizes municipal politics, it took a different approach. It decided to engage the citizens of [CBRM] in a process to reinvent their city.”

“…It was an extraordinary exercise that is rich with lessons for anyone wanting to help their own city. The goal was to encourage local businesses, community leaders and citizens to become involved in the [CBRM’s] affairs.”

“The process involved a mix of online and local face-to-face initiatives. The Chamber wanted voters to help set the agenda for the new mayor and government. However this was not simply about asking the candidates to adopt platitudes about building a better, more open city. Many of the proposals were not only fresh, they had teeth.”

Or, as Fr Jimmy Tompkins put it, and as I quoted him in my Ideas talk, the ideas “had legs”.

The Chamber was able to involve more than 10,000 citizens. Its 26 roundtables attracted 1,800 citizen, business and student leaders. During the sessions participants made 1,600 proposals and 1,700 commitments towards the city. More than 8,000 people filled out the virtual and face-to-face surveys.

(Tapscott will elaborate on the results in a future blog post.)

Access to Information & ‘Open Government’

Continuing on the theme of ‘Open Spaces’, CBRM should use the web and social media to deliver more open, transparent and engaging government. As part of a broader communications strategy, this might include:

  • crowd-sourcing input at key decision-making times, such as budget approval, in order to better identify community priorities;
  • cataloguing and showcasing the community’s assets — from recreation and infrastructure, to events and important dates, to wifi hotspots and bike lanes;
  • monitoring operating costs in municipal buildings and fleets, and tracking reduction efforts such as electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • automating the system for identifying, prioritizing, and handling infrastructure improvements, such as roads, sewers, sidewalks;
  • and improving access to information, especially that which is readily digitized and made searchable, such as transit schedules or government contracts.

Canadian municipalities, both small and large, are adopting the Open Data concept1 — which equates access to information with good governance. The result is that government is more accountable, and citizens are empowered to come up with creative uses for the data.

1 How Canada became an open data and data journalism powerhouse