Redefining Citizenship with Ideation Nation

Over the last three years, the surface area of the civic technology movement has dramatically grown. The question of how governments should be leveraging technology is now a common one — becoming particularly relevant over the last few months — and beyond that, citizens are beginning to expect high quality digital services from their public institutions.

This energy would be for naught, if both governments and citizens weren’t stepping up to meet these new demands and opportunities — particularly at the local level. Cities such as Nashville and San Francisco have been building innovation offices; Denver and Louiseville championing data-driven decision-making; and Philadelphia and Kansas City even tackling notty barriers such as procurement. On the government side, momentum is building as quickly as is it on the citizen side: what started as community events known as hackathons, are now being re-deployed as write-a-thons, even “enroll-a-thons” too. (That’s what our San Francisco fellows hosted to enroll social service clients in SMS notifications.) All the while, though, the civic technologist community grows with hundreds of civic startups springing up and now nearly three thousand Code for America brigade members spread across the country and around the world.

It is atop this foundation that earlier this year we partnered with MindMixer, one of our 2012 civic startups, on a national campaign called Ideation Nation — our shared attempt to take this momentum from all sides of the civic technology ecosystem to the next level.

First for some background: MindMixer was founded by Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim just a few years ago to re-engineer the way communities communicate about important issues. The way Nick tells it was that as an urban planner, he’d run town hall meetings for local governments, but few would show up — and often just that same small set, every time. Something had to change for planners and city decision-makers to fully hear their community. That’s why they built MindMixer, an online platform for citizen engagement from all things ranging from redesigning the library card (like they did in San Francisco) to participatory budgeting (apparently one of their most popular features across the board). They’re now deployed in hundreds of municipalities across the country, with hundreds of thousands of active users.

Nick and I got together earlier this year to talk more concretely how we could work together, after last year’s accelerator program wrapped up. A common passion emerged, however, in our conversation: the notion of active citizenship. At CfA we talk often of “redefining citizenship,” in the kinds of ways you see as people volunteer to write content for their city’s website or build civic apps on open data, but more broadly, the questions boil down to – how can we get citizens more engaged in their communities and help make them better? What does citizenship look like in the 21st century?

Now back to Ideation Nation. At its core, this project is an attempt to answer that question. Simply, it’s a nationwide challenge for the best ideas on how citizens would use technology to improve their communities. The winning idea will receive a $5,000 grant from MindMixer, along with the mentorship and support from CfA, to take that idea and put it into action. You needn’t be technical nor an area expert to submit; part of the work we will do with the winning idea is work towards connecting the dots between the submission and the resources it’ll need to get off of the ground. Deadline is October 31; so submit soon:

I’ll add that my secret motivation (or not so much now) is the broader, curated, and vetted list this competition should produce. If already we have over 250+ ideas 4,000 interactions (likes, votes, etc) that means we should end up with not just one but at least a dozen or more opportunities — a crowdsourced wishlist of sorts, a wishlist I’ll be happy to hand-deliver to our growing network of innovative cities and urban geeks.

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