Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chicago OnTheTable2016 event - Follow Up Thoughts

I was one of nearly 50,000 Chicago area residents who met with others in small groups yesterday to discuss issues important to us, our neighborhoods, our city and our region.  This was the third annual OnTheTable event, organized by the Chicago Community Trust.  

I participated with a group of civic technologists, data scientists, web developers, communicators, etc. who meet weekly at the ChiHackNight event, which meets at the Merchandise Mart.  Last night's gathering was their 204th weekly gathering, stretching back a few years. Every week an effort is made to introduce everyone to each other, and to introduce an organization doing some interesting wok with civic technology.  

Last night, for instance, the Invisible Institute introduced a new data portal that communicates police misconduct information. This is incredibly important information bringing to light a problem that has been allowed to persist in Chicago for decades.

It's the exact type of information that would make a great starting point for an OnTheTable discussion, not in one place, but in dozens of places.  However, that was not how the discussion was organized, so instead we covered a lot of territory. Fortunately, a Google Doc had been created so that comments from participants could be recorded by a scribe, or individuals could go directly to the document to add their comments. 

"How can we keep attention focused on issues once the scandals have blown over. Can civic tech people help develop strategy to do this?"

One of the recommendations, and one of the potential outcomes, is that people who attended this session, or who did not, will find the Google Doc and read it, and even add their own ideas.  The ChiHackNight group has an online community on Slack, open to people who attend their events, or who are interested in civic technology, so it's hoped that people will read the GoogleDoc and then organize new discussions around some of the ideas generated last night.  Perhaps some of the other groups that met in the Chicago region also used Google docs to capture ideas. These could be aggregated, and organized by issue, perhaps using concept maps like the one below.

I've been using concept maps for about 10 years. Here's a page with my entire collection. On each map the nodes are connected and there are links in many nodes that lead to other pages, or to sections of my web library. This type of organization of ideas could be duplicated by organizers of the OnTheTable event, or others who are trying to support community-wide problem solving.

Here's another recommendation, based on my own work. 

When I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993, one of its goals was to increase attention focused on volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago region. This story was included in the Chicago Tribune in 1994. 

Part of this strategy centered around events that I organized quarterly, such as the Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences and the August/September Chicago Area Volunteer Recruitment Campaign.  Another strategy was to create "map stories" telling "The Rest of the Story" after media used front page, or half page stories to draw attention to violence and/or poorly performing schools in Chicago. The maps story below is from 1996.

If you browse the maps or violence section of this blog, you'll see stories like this, where I illustrate that youth and volunteers in different neighborhoods could be using map platforms to create their own follow up stories, which they now can communicate on social media, blogs, YouTube videos and in presentations to big or small groups.  

I'm not doing as much of this as in the past because I don't have the funds, or organizational structure to keep my map platform updated or to do regular stories myself. I've not convinced any university or potential sponsor to adopt and support this strategy.  

I attend events like the OnTheTable2016 and share ideas on this blog and social media as part of my own effort to support problem solving in Chicago and other cities.  I'll keep trying.

This is getting a bit long.  Over the next couple of days I'll post a couple more articles with recommendations for next steps in community building and collaborative problem solving, based on the OnTheTable2016 event.

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