We need more – but smarter – civic engagement

Guest post by By Tom Grubisich

It's great that Chicago Alderman James Cappelman wants to see SeeClickFix integrated into how the city government connects with the community it serves. It's also great to see other local governments in communities of all sizes adopting policies on how to embrace social media.
But the governments and media have to do a lot more to build connections where both citizens and their leaders put the "self" in self-government.

Roman Forum, from 'The Roman Forum,' Francis Morgan Nichols, 1877

There are thousands of hyperlocal websites and blogs where interactivity consists essentially of the citizenry sounding off in forums where the people who should be listening -- public officials – are conspicuously absent.

Imagine if the ancient Roman Forum had been a place where the only people congregating, debating and proposing were the citizenry. But the Roman Forum was much more. It was where local officials, and even the august senators, went to answer in-person complaints about grain shortages, lack of clean water and other issues. Even the emperor would occasionally stand face to face with a dis-satisfied crowd and answer their grievances.

We need digital equivalents of Roman Forums in every community in America, especially in
these difficult economic times when local governments -- all 80,000 of them -- are trying to do
more with less, when the citizenry wants government to hold down the budget but also provide
better and more services.

The answer lies in more intense but smarter engagement -- both by the citizenry and their public
servants. That engagement, first and foremost, requires more facts and less ranting.

Digital community platforms can spur this missing engagement through what I call "civic
networking." I'm a founder of the community-based startup LocalAmerica.com that will soon
launch a website and smartphone app – LoveToLiveIn.com – that are designed to drive this
results-driven engagement. It will start with our "Livability Index" that will rate a community's quality of life overall and in 20-plus specific categories, like schools, transportation, housing and recreation as well as hard-to-quantify but still important areas like community vision and civic spirit. The initial ratings will come from performance metrics, but we will balanced what databases spit out with human responses – from "local experts" we recruit and the "wisdom of the crowd" -- our collective users.

The ratings, we think, will give the community -- citizenry and their public servants -- a meeting ground where they can start to forge solutions that will preserve what's working and fix what's not.

But there are many other communities and their struggling governments. They all need smarter engagement that brings together citizens and public servants, sooner rather than later. Wouldn't it be great if all community-based social media used their special resources to pitch in and make it happen.