Friday, June 23, 2006

Choosing neighborhood projects with technology

- Was at lunch with a friend yesterday and we were discussing a paper about how social pressures impact autonomous decision-making, which inhibit reaching the best solution.

- Read a community bulletin board two days ago and the posts were complaining about how people in the community don’t get involved in local efforts.

- Received an email today from the Youngstown Business Incubator and it stated the CEO of Turning Technologies won an award from Ernst & Young for “Entrepreneur of the Year” as that company produces the #1 audience response system in the world.

- Listened to a radio show this morning and some city residents were complaining about elected officials and how as citizens they have very little input in the matters of local government.

What do these have to do with each other?

Maybe we can come up with a method to increase residential participation, strengthen the power of neighborhood organizations, create neighborhood improvement projects, and disseminate local technology all in one swoop.

Well I have an experiment to propose:

Youngstown City Council will set aside $40,000 for this “grassroots neighborhood development” exercise. Each of the 10 residential zones in the city (as defined in the Youngstown 2010 plan) will be appropriated $2,000 to spend on neighborhood improvement projects – and the money can be spent on anything the neighborhood chooses, reached by consensus or some voting technique. A $10,000 bonus will be awarded by the city to the two neighborhoods with the best ideas, as chosen by the Community Development Agency or some committee.

Letters will be sent to every household describing (a) the structure of the program, (b) a number to call if they want to join a neighborhood blockwatch, and (c) a fill-in page where residents can anonymously list projects in their neighborhood that deserve funding and why. Their responses can be mailed or dropped off at some central location in their neighborhood. They will also be told of a future date where the neighborhood will come together to vote on how to spend the money.

At these various neighborhood meetings, a powerpoint presentation that contains all of the ideas provided by the neighborhood residents will be shown. Incorporating Turning Technologies’ audience response hardware, the people in attendance will use that technology to help them to autonomously choose how much they favor certain projects, and perhaps consensus can be reached on how to spend the $2,000.

This type of system may produce certain benefits:

(1) In addition to having ten initiatives to fund as chosen through the process, city officials will also now have a laundry list of suggestions as submitted by a hopefully diverse set of individuals.
(2) Give residents the feeling they have the direct ability to impact how money is spent and thus, a larger (and more content) voice in the process
(3) Introduce residents to the products of YBI companies and the novel approach of incorporating technology into the decision-making process.
(4) Increase the possibility of individuals joining a neighborhood group, and increase the ability for the neighborhood to improve its surroundings.

Well, this is just a brainstorm after absorbing some opinions today. Can something like this ever work, or have the desired effect of a stronger Youngstown?

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