Rebecca Fishman Lipsey is the founder of 100 Great Ideas, a social media platform for community brainstorming, and produced this story independently.
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Engaged communities are stronger communities. But getting people to engage isn’t easy…especially when the typical methods for community engagement are stale, time consuming, and often uninspiring.
Have you ever gone to make a public comment at a commissioner’s meeting? If you are in the minority of locals who even know where and when to show up, you would still have to take off from work to wait half a day to make a two minute comment to a group of officials who likely already have decided how they plan to vote.
It’s no wonder that so many community members feel there’s a gaping void between themselves and the leaders who make decisions for them. And by extension, many feel disconnected from their local issues and discouraged from getting involved.
There has to be a better way.
A year ago, we launched 100 Great Ideas as an experiment of sorts. What if there was a method for engaging in important community issues without time and space commitments? What if we presented local leaders with the collective perspective of hundreds of locals all at once, and invited leaders to respond? Would people participate? Would leaders engage? Would anything productive come out of it?
Here’s our plan: We post a topic on our Facebook site and invite everyone to contribute ideas or add to other people’s ideas. Then we analyze which ideas were most popular and produce a user-friendly report highlighting the voices of the participants. We bring that report to local officials with decision-making powers in the hopes of bringing about tangible change.
We focused our last campaign on transit. Within five days the group grew to 1,700 members, and 410 ideas were generated.
Evidently, we’ve hit a nerve. In a good way.
We packaged those ideas into this report summarized below, and Alice Bravo, director of Miami-Dade Department of Transportation & Public Works, has already read the entire thing. More importantly, we’re pleased to hear that several of the ideas already have wings.
Our first campaign, on libraries, co-hosted with Francine Madera, was launched in response to the proposed shutdown of more than half of Miami-Dade’s libraries because of budget cuts. Our brainstorm ended with a sit-down with the interim director of Miami’s public library system, and several of the ideas, from co-working spaces to cafes to tech-rentals have been implemented.
Our second campaign to improve Miami International Airport, co-hosted with Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, ended with a group tour and meeting with the director of MIA. They’ve got several of our top ideas in the works, from water-bottle refill stations to a state-of-the-art park on the roof of the airport.
It was the transit campaign, our third, co-hosted with Marta Viciedo and Ralph Rosado that inspired us at a whole new level. The most popular idea of all, with more than 50 likes and comments, was to hold a day of action for locals – especially local leaders – to use public transit.
We believe that idea has tremendous power, and in a 100 Great Ideas first, we’re going to actually make the top idea happen. Working with Marta Viciedo, one of the campaign facilitators and co-founder of Urban Impact Lab, we’re going to co-host the first ever Miami Public Transit Day.
Miami Public Transit Day will be a one-day community-wide event where we invite all elected officials, community leaders, and engaged locals to use public transit to get to work. We believe this shared community experience will lead to several critical outcomes. First, we want our community to prioritize improvements to our public transit system as one of its core issues going forward, and we believe that hands-on personal experiences will touch people far more than reading an article about the value of public transit. Second, we want as many people as possible to actually learn how they can use existing transit offerings to get where they go every day. For some, this will highlight gaps in our service offerings, but for others, we hope it will lead to more frequent use.
We’re working with our friends in the transit department to pick a date make it a massive community effort. But we’re going to need more partners to help make it happen, and we hope our 100 Great Ideas network will help us bring it to life. We’ll be looking for event sponsors, video and photography support, media partners, writers, and co-hosts to help us turn this into a massive and memorable community-wide experience.
Other cities have started asking 100 Great Ideas for help engaging their own locals. We’re exploring what it would take to make that possible. And in the next few months we’ll begin generating topic ideas for the next local campaign. This continues to be an experiment of sorts, and we’re loving what we learn along the way.
The most important lessons have been clear. People will engage positively and constructively in shaping their own communities when they are invited to the table. Technology has the ability to massively improve communication between leaders and locals. Many of the most innovative ideas we’ve presented are not far off from what leaders intend to do already…but they need additional momentum, resources, or community will to be brought to life.
Want to see what your neighbors, friends, and colleagues prioritized for the future of transit in Miami? Click here to check it out.