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Social Connectedness / 2013

LA Civic Engagement Lab

LA Civic Engagement Lab

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by New America CA

The National Day of Civic Hacking (NDCH) is a national event, sponsored by the White House, taking place in over 50 cities across the country on June 1st and 2nd. It gives citizens an opportunity to do what is most quintessentially American: roll up our sleeves, get involved and work together to improve our society. We plan to kick off the National Day of Hacking with an event focused not on coding, but rather on developing ideas and prototypes to make government transparency efforts lead to better civic engagement. Community ideas and prototypes could range from things as simple as better signage for navigating City Hall and government offices, to developing a system that alerts the public when particular issues of personal concern appear before City Council.

This event is a creative, productive, and exciting way for Los Angelenos to volunteer while promoting civic and social engagement. Our target audience for NDCH is local government officials in cities throughout Los Angeles County, community leaders, citizen hacktivists, designers, and ordinary residents interested in finding ways to make local governmental transparency meaningful and engaging for the people of Los Angeles.

Over the three months following the NDCH, CA Civic Innovation (CCIP) staff will lead small workshops at which community members and local government staffers will more fully develop and vet prototypes in preparation for their use within government. The CCIP will work with local governments to implement the concepts, whether they be process improvements, technologies, or policies aimed at improving civic engagement through transparency.

Phase 1: National Day of Civic Hacking Event - LA Civic Lab launch (June 1, 2013)

The event will bring together participants from various sectors to collaborate on idea generation and prototyping civic tools to make government more transparent and engaging. Civic tools can range from policy improvements aimed at making information more engaging, to participatory projects like participatory budgeting, and could also include technology to easily enable collaborative writing of rules, policies, or guides. We expect that a variety of ideas and prototypes will surface that reflect the needs and desires of the community, and these tools will not be limited to only technology solutions.

Phase 2: Prototyping Workshops (June - August 2013)

Three to five small workshops will be held in Los Angeles to fully develop ideas and prototypes generated during the NDCH event. The workshops will be small scale, hands-on, two or three hour sessions. Teams or individuals that developed prototypes will receive and provide feedback, mentoring, and any additional support they might need. The goal is to ensure that the prototypes meet the needs of the community and can be supported by local governments. Prototypes resulting from the NDCH could include draft amendments to local policies, or a new SMS tool to connect neighbors and send alerts. Because of the short time frame, we do not expect fully functional, feature-rich tools to emerge from this process, but we will aim for prototypes that can be tested by local governments and residents.

Phase 3: Implement in Los Angeles County (September - November 2013)

CCIP will select two or three cities within Los Angeles County to implement the community prototypes. To ensure the projects represent community needs, the CCIP hopes to work closely with community members, organizations like Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE) and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, and the local government prior, during and post implementation.

Phase 4: Best Practices Reporting (December 2013)

This initiative will stimulate new collaboration by community stakeholders in the exploration and adoption of new civic tools, so documenting the best practices and other learnings from the process is of value to the region internally and externally. The project’s best practices will also be shared through the CCIP’s network of local governments and community organizations throughout California, and through existing networks of local government professional associations, in hopes that the model can be adapted to other communities. The visually engaging report will be released at the conclusion of the project.

Social connectedness is a determinant of a community's quality of life, and bringing people together to share ideas, ask questions, and co-create has the potential to establish long lasting relationships beyond the initial gathering. By creating a space where local government staff and the community can interact and collaborate, the NDCH event will lead to stronger networks between residents and government, resulting in longer-term civic and social engagement.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The CCIP aims to diffuse innovation in California local governments through researching and recommending organizational and emerging practices that enable the creation and adoption of innovative policies, technology, and programs that deepen community engagement and accelerate civic innovation. Our research and practical exploration aim to break-down barriers to innovation within municipalities, allowing for deeper relationships between residents and government.

CCIP launched in April 2012, and in our first year we have assembled a team of staff, interns, advisors, and partners that are dedicated to supporting CCIP in achieving long-term sustainability and changing the way California local governments work in order to be more responsive to their residents, enhancing social connectedness..

Major project accomplishments include:

- In 2012, Vallejo, California launched the first city-wide participatory budgeting process in the United States. The City of Vallejo will invite residents to decide how to spend over $3.4 million in sales tax revenue. Through a year-long PB process, thousands of residents will engage in critical discussions and decisions about the future of the city. The process aims to generate more informed spending, develop new grassroots leaders, build stronger communities, educate the public, expand civic participation, and forge deeper connections between government officials and citizens. CCIP serves as a research partner on this project because we are interested in the numerous impacts participatory budgeting can have in a community.

- In September 2012, CCIP began an exploration of how innovation spreads in local government, through a study of how local governmental leaders use formal and informal networks to share information. The project uses a diverse set of methodologies -- from conversations with experts on networks and city administration, to surveys and interviews with public servants and city government associations, to documentation of knowledge sharing practices in several innovative projects undertaken by cities and counties in California. Together, these methods will allow us to explain how city staffers currently receive and disseminate information related to innovation, the barriers to more effective diffusion of ideas and approaches, and the ways in which existing formal networks might be modified to promote better collaboration and communication. We hope that the study will build on successes in the civic innovation space by helping to institutionalize the spread of innovation within and between cities. We seek to provide a roadmap to formal networks for effective modification and replication of successful projects. Our findings report will be released the week of April 1st.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

The CCIP will leverage partnerships with local community groups for outreach and participation in the National Day of Hacking event. As a grantee of the James Irvine Foundation, we will reach out to other grantees in the Los Angeles area to ensure we are inclusive in outreach and partnerships. In addition, we will seek input and participation from municipalities within Los Angeles County and anchor organizations like the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

In addition, the New America Foundation has an existing partnership with Zocalo Public Square, a not-for-profit daily Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism, based in Santa Monica, CA.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The ultimate outcome of the Civic Lab will be an increase in civic participation in communities throughout Los Angeles and attendant improvements in the ability of residents to impact local decision-making. This will be realized through a number of intermediate outcomes that comprise an increase in capacity and connections among stakeholders throughout Los Angeles.

The specific intermediate outcomes that we expect from the Civic Lab that will foster participation and better decision-making are:

- Increased avenues for participation through new user friendly tools and government processes that dovetail with those tools

- Greater amount of knowledge and skills regarding the use and value of tools and processes for civic innovation among both residents and local leaders

- Enhanced cross-sector relationships among stakeholders working to improve civic life in Los Angeles communities

- A new template for collaborative, regional civic innovation through the this project model

Key Metrics: National Day of Civic Hacking Event

- Reach: At least 100 participants, including local government employees, community members, community leaders, businesses

- Engagement: Small working groups will form around topics/ ideas. These groups will persist beyond the initial event and work together in the subsequent workshops.

- Policy/Influence: Commitment from two local governments to adopt a solution designed during the event.

Prototyping Workshops

- Reach: Three to five workshops within the county that provide space, mentoring, and feedback for teams continuing to prototype solutions

- Engagement: At least 20 community members and other stakeholders engaged in the workshops over the course of three months

- Policy/ Influence: Five new community projects resulting from the workshops. Not all of these will be implemented within local government; some will remain community driven projects.

Community Engagement Prototypes

- Reach: Two projects will be tested in cities within Los Angeles County.

- Engagement: The collaborative nature of the projects will ensure the prototypes tested by cities reflect community engagement needs and fit within government’s scope.

- Policy/ Influence: Prototypes will test various models of government transparency leading to engagement. Ultimately the tools should lead to widespread adoption of more transparency and engagement programs in cities.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

- Reach: Provide report on best practices and lessons learned.

- Engagement: Use developing best practices and continually refine them.

- Policy/ Influence: Share best practices with all interested stakeholders through website and CCIP network of local governments, and partnerships with organizations like Department of Neighborhood Empowerment or SCOPE.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Our overarching goal is to use this integrated ideation, prototype and deployment process to significantly change citizen interactions with each other and government in ways that deepen people’s connection to and investment in Los Angeles communities.

Over 500 volunteer hours will be dedicated to the NDCH, through participation in the day long event. This project will give those who might not traditionally volunteer an opportunity to use their skills as community organizers, designers, developers, or subject matter experts, to contribute to improving the future of Los Angeles. By partnering with local community organizations, we also hope to attract populations who are distrustful of Los Angeles’ government, or who have had no previous exposure to the inner workings of local government. These might include undocumented immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, youth, low-income people, non-native English speakers, and minorities. Engaging these communities in the process of government, providing them with contacts at City Hall, and ensuring that government services are directed toward these groups is vitally important for a city that continues to struggle with enormous racial and economic divides, and in which many residents harbor deep resentment toward local government agencies.

In addition to volunteering, the participants will leave the event with new connections and relationships with other community members, and those connections will be nurtured through the prototyping workshops, where teams that formed during the NDCH will continue to meet, collaborate, and create together. The ideas discussed and prototyped during from the NDCH will be geared toward social connectedness, producing greater involvement in the community by residents. This, in turn, will lead to community input at City Hall that is more representative than what is typically received, resulting in solutions that respond more directly to community needs. But we also expect that relationships formed during the process of Civic Lab will be valuable to participants as they seek to establish networks that can later assist in everything from public safety to childcare to finding a job. By bringing diverse groups of people together, the Civic Lab will create bonds that strengthen neighborhoods and promote the health and well-being of its residents.

Additionally, the CCIP aims to have a longer-term impact beyond the region, both in California and nationally, by creating a documented set of practices that other regions can use to come together across cities and sectors in an effort to foster more engaged communities. This will establish Los Angeles as a leader in the space of civic innovation, instilling pride in residents and the local governments that serve them, and encouraging further collaboration between the two.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

At the CCIP we believe that increased civic participation results in more resilient communities that provide a better quality of life for residents. As Los Angelenos grow stronger networks within their communities and city, they will be better equipped to respond to disasters, demand responsive governments, and develop leaders for the future. The CCIP aims to make change throughout California, and the Los Angeles region is a significant stakeholder in our progress.

By 2050 the prototypes developed by the community, through this project, and tested in the cities will be replaced, but we can hope that the new connections and relationships, and even the new skills and experience, developed through the National Day of Civic Hacking event and prototyping workshops will last beyond five years and shape the way people interact with one another and government well into the future.