Emergency Preparedness

How to we plan ahead for what might happen? In the Midwest, we face disaster in the form of tornado, flood, snow storms, hail, as well as concerns around terrorism.  Around the country, government, non profit, and interested citizens are developing creative methods to support this effort.  Here are some of my favorites:

Evacuteer.org One of the controversies during Katrina and Rita was the process of evacuating residents, who, if they did not have a car, were nearly powerless to leave the city (http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/background-katrina).  Enter Evacuteer, which trains citizen activists to assist with residents leaving the city, via public transit and rideshare. Evacuteer utilizes social media, the City of New Oreans’ Emergency Preparedness office, and local non profits as partners in selecting pick up points (which now have eight foot high sculptures to signify a pick up point).

PrepareMetroKC. Kansas City Metropolitan Emergency Managers Committee manages this site, which in 2013, included a series of Youtube videos, and implemented a Wireless Emergency Alert system which goes right to cell phones within the tower range.  They’ve also set up a “Create My Plan” webpage for people to develop personalized preparedness plans.  Finally, PrepareMetroKC utilizes VolunteerMatch for community members interested in volunteering.

And last, FEMA (and Ready.gov) has done a fantastic job of integrating social media into their platform, from text message alerts, twitter, facebook, and youtube feeds.  Another interesting part of FEMA’s platform is their think tank, which has two components: an online forum and discussion sessions.  All are open to the general public.  Finally, my favorite FEMA resource is their open platform, whose mission is so awesome, it’s posted here:

The mission of the OpenFEMA initiative is to expand and promote a culture of Open Government among the Agency and build public trust among the Whole Community; to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration in support of the Nation’s ability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.”



Political Fundraising in the Social Media Era


Last week in class we focused on social media and it’s influence on transparency, campaigns and activism. There is no better example of using social media to influence a political campaign than taking a closer look at the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. These campaigns have provided new meaning to interacting with your supporters and have been toted as a game changer in how candidates interact with their supporters. Besides using tools such as twitter, Facebook and You Tube for rallying campaign support and relaying campaign messages, these tools also proved valuable when it comes to raking in the cash.

Why does social media work so well you may ask. According to MGD advertising, social media users tend to be more politically engaged. Its no wonder that campaign strategists are using social media tools when social network users are:

  • More politically engaged than non-social network users,
  •  Twice as likely to volunteer their time, four times more likely to encourage others to contact political representatives
  •  Five times more likely to recruit others to join their cause then offline supporters are

Social Media has provided a convenient “one stop shop” tool to support your favored candidate. While any candidate will certainly not turn the traditional check donation away, it appears that the $5.00 donation does make a difference.

These media tools have provided political candidates an avenue to utilize a new strategy to engage voters and tap into the pockets of the “small donor” In fact The 2008 Obama campaign provided a game changer in terms of reaching out to small donors.  Campaign leadership took advantage of this new strategy and. They played it smart and were strategic in assuring they had the staff capability to utilize the power of an online media campaign.

The “online office” for the 2008 Barack Obama political campaign was www.BarackObama.com  and www.mybarackobama.com. Supporters could give money, set up fundraising circles, post blog entries and even earn points to encourage additional involvement. These two online strategies proved to be the game changer for making social media the norm for future political campaigns.

Here is a link to a info-graphic that breaks down statistics of the 2008 Obama campaign and the use of social media tools for political fundraising.


Social media provides an easy, time saving, streamlined approach to making a donation.  While traditional methods will probably stick around there is definitely a future in using social media tools to finance campaigns.

Kelly Monson

Calls to ACTION!

blog image

(Courtesy of Jacob Gube, Flickr)

The two class presentations on political campaigns showed the potential social media has in getting political support. The question remains does social media alone lead to followers/support? Probably not. A strong message + social media might, however.

What is a call for action?

A call to action can take form as an image or line of text. It prompts your followers to take some kind of action. The action you want people to take can the be anything: sign up to volunteer, attend a meeting, donate money, call a legislator, you name it!

How do you craft a message that will result in followers or action?

While this topic is as complex as complex can get, below I summarize some tips listed online. I also highlight tools that will help in your call to action.

Step one: You need a strong, clear and concise call to action that will answer the questions of “Now What? What do I do Next?”.  Check out the list of popular call to action phrases composed by HJMT, a Public Relations and Social Media Agency.

Step two: Make your call to action stand out visually. The Social Media Examiner has a great piece on where to position your calls to action (top and bottom of text), use the “Don’t make me think approach”. Socialmediatoday also discusses the best locations for call actions.

Step three: Equip your public with the immediate tools needed in your call to action, if possible. For example, if you want your followers to call their legislator, make sure you include how they can find their legislator.

Step four: As an analyst, I cannot highlight enough the importance of evaluating your call to action. If your call to action is not achieving its results, don’t be afraid to test another one, until you find the one that best suits your needs. You need to find what appeals to your audience, and depending on your mission it may require  your call to action to have a specific form.

Other great sources to help you create the most effective call to action:

 [Infographic] Social calls-to-action work 

HubSpot’s 101 effective calls-to-action

Keep in mind this list does not cover all there is to know about calls to action. However, it provides you with the basic information to help you think about key steps in creating your call to action.

By: Rosario Plascencia

Doing Social Media Well

By James Chan

Yesterday in class, we said anyone can use social media, but only some use it well. And that is what made President Barack Obama’s campaign so successful. He knew how to use social media to his advantage.

Using Surrogates

In politics, we often talk about having surrogates in a campaign. For instance, Barack Obama was not the clear contender in the 2008 election for the Democratic nomination. However, he started to have party leaders endorse him for the nomination, which eventually put him above Hillary Clinton, who was the originally presumed nominee. This same strategy could be used in a political campaign on social media. People often say Barack Obama got one of his first high endorsements from Oprah, which put him in the spotlight. The strategy is to use other individuals or organizations with high name recognition to showcase you. For example, that’s how Wendy Davis became a national star. Even President Obama and high profile organizations, like Planned Parenthood tweeted about her filibuster. By the end of that night, everyone in the Democratic Party knew who Wendy Davis was.

digital activism

Engaging Your Audience After the Election 

Most of the time, people think of using social media to win an election. But, it’s important to use social media well to keep your followers engaged. There’s no better politician that does this than President Obama. Even after the election, the POTUS knew he had to have an engaged audience to be able to implement his change while he was in office. He held different events like Townhall events on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep his followers engaged. He kept his followers engaged on Facebook during important events like the ACA fight and the Shutdown fight.

Wendy Davis also did this well. After her filibuster, everyone wanted to know what her future plans were and most encouraged her to run for governor. When she finally decided but didn’t announce her plans officially, she engaged her enthusiastic followers by asking them to sign up to be the first ones to know her plans. In a matter of weeks, she fundraised tons of money from across the country and amassed a huge following on Facebook and Twitter. Continuing the conversation about using surrogates from above, she was able to increase her reach by using nationally recognized progressive organizations to spread her word, like the Democratic Governors  Association, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood.

The ability to have a huge online presence is important. However, the ability to engage your followers and mobilize them is extremely important to winning elections and further your agenda.



Civic hacking is a “good thing.”

By Elyse Levine Less

When I first heard the term “civic hacking” yesterday in class, it sounded like something that Jack Bauer on “24” would illegally use, but justify for the good of the country. I was surpised to learn that civic hacking was a good thing, and that it even had White House support. I decided to explore the internet a bit more about this concept. Along with the term “civic hacking” I added two additional new terms to my vocabulary -“Hacktavist” and “Hackathon.” I found two interesting articles set forth below that explore the value of personal data, justification for easy access to open data, and government support of civic hacking.

What’s the Value of Personal Data? Intel Free Press

May 30, 2013

Hacktivists advocate power of public and personal data at nationwide civic hacking event.

Amid growing concerns about how corporations and government use people’s data, nearly 10,000 “hackivists” are gathering this weekend in an attempt to put the power of data in the hands of individuals. If these self-proclaimed civic hackers succeed, people will begin to see their personal data as invaluable to decision making and daily life, not just as a way for advertisers to target them.

National Day of Civic Hacking Logo - event promotes value of public and personal data

The National Day of Civic Hacking event is backed by the White House and organized by Hack for Change with local coordination at 95 different spots in cities across the country. The high-minded goal is to democratize access to data and build understanding of how public and personal data can be combined to solve everyday problems such as finding childcare or eldercare, education, transportation services and disaster recovery.

“Five or 500 apps might come out from this national event, and any one of them could be worth taking to the next level as a product or service,” said Jonathan Reichental, CIO of the city of Palo Alto, Calif. “But the broader impact is the conversation individuals will be having when they see the power of combining the data they have and public data already available to a create a greater social good.”

For the National Day of Civic Hacking, Reichental is working with Facebook, Google, HP and other Silicon Valley companies to put on a street fair. “My goals are to create a family event that aligns city residents with the civic hacking movement and to connect civic problems with civic solvers,” he said.

At the event, which Reichental describes as hackerspace meets Maker Faire with help from TechShop, hackers will work on sustainability, response and recovery from terrorist attacks or natural disasters, and connecting residents with city services.

Hailey Pate, an EMS data program analyst at California Emergency Medical Services Authority, is helping organize a local event in Sacramento. She said the event will be distinct to California’s state capital with its friendly, unassuming vibe but serious “wow factor” skills from local hackers.

We’ve got some really interesting data sets available in our new open data portal on topics like education and environmental health indicators,” said Pate.

Hackers Huddle on Project

From Big Data to Little Data

The big challenge that organizers of the National Day of Civic Hacking confront is how to use existing data and community resources to empower people locally to address their needs, according to Brandon Barnett of Intel Labs. Intel is a lead sponsor of the event. Rather than just consume information, he wants to see more people use their data to produce real value in their lives and the lives of others.

“Rather than focus on big data sets, we’re interested in putting the focus on individuals and communities engaging and using their data,” he said. “Local events should be asking, ‘How can people use their own data in combination with publically available data?’ and ‘What do we need to address that’s unique to our city or community?’ That’s what these events are about.”

People leave a trail of personal data in their wake every day. Location information from smartphones, Facebook likes and shares, Google searches and purchasing behavior from loyalty cards could become useful to people with the right tools and know-how.

Much of this personal data has remained unseen and inaccessible to individuals, but that is changing. According to Mark Little, principal analyst at Ovum, a U.K.-based tech and business analysis firm, more people will get to see and use personal data, or what he calls “little data,” as more companies like Tesco, the British grocery store chain, share collected data with customers. Commenting an Ovum report issued earlier this year, Little said, “Prepare for changes where consumers start to want more of a relationship with their own data and the people who are collecting it.”

Barnett thinks that when people can get a hold of it, many will see their personal data as an asset. “We’re at one of these junctures where companies can continue to make money using people’s data when that helps them to better serve people,” he said.

People are already benefiting from creating personal data through the so-called quantified-self movement, where people record exercise routines, diet, moods, sleep patterns to help improve their own health. In many cases, people are actually sharing their collection of personal data to help others who share similar goals or challenges, according to Barnett.

National Day of Civic Hacking organizers hope that it will be an early step toward changing the relationship most people have with data.

“The scale and scope of this national event allows us to assess what can be done to move things forward and how to catalyze or start movements around people who are improving their lives by using their data,” said Barnett. “This movement will shape the next wave of policy.”

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Civic Hacking: Good News for Government and Communities

On May 21, 2013   /   Technology & ITUnlocked
 reichental-finalHacking 101

When US Navy warplanes returned to base after bombing missions during World War 2, engineers would use hacksaws to cut pieces off broken aircraft and apply them to good planes to get them to fly again. Thus, it is purported, the word “hacking” was born.

Unfortunately, for many, hacking conjures up images of something sinister. And if it’s criminal hacking—using software skills to steal credit card numbers from banking systems for example—then it is a bad thing. However, the contemporary use of hacking is largely positive. Today, millions of people apply their creativity through hacking to make software and hardware do amazing things for all of us. Hobbyists that hack everyday objects have created a new global movement of “makers.” Engineers hacking at software through twisting and flipping code are churning out innovation from companies new and old, and they are launching hundreds of start-ups each month that will drive America’s future economy.

If we are going to sustain America’s economic prosperity, we’re going to need a lot of hackers. Specifically, we’re going to need to inspire new generations of Americans to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM); competencies largely prerequisites to successful hacking. We’ll also need a healthy dose of creativity that will come from being exposed to various forms of art. So while our future is rooted in STEM, the A from art really makes it STEAM.

While the private sector has thrived for several decades through multiple generations of hackers, the public sector—not an historic context for innovation— is being exposed to the benefits of hacking  for the first time through partnerships with private sector hackers and through making government data accessible by computer programs. An emergent and highly promising hacker movement for government is now well underway. Equipped with empowering skills, software engineers, data analysts, entrepreneurs, artists, and others are applying their profession and passion to helping to solve seemingly intractable civic problems. Bringing together these disparate worlds is, in fact, quite magical and transformational. Public agencies across our nation desperately need help, and a new movement of civic hacking is a bright spot outlier. Through a mix of non-for-profit organizations, motivated individuals, and enlightened public leaders, new solutions are emerging that solve problems ranging from parking to budgeting, from transparency to disaster responsiveness, and from potholes to accountability. It’s early, but the promise is inspiring.

The National Day of Civic Hacking
If we want to change the game entirely for government and our communities, we’re going to have to scale up this new movement of civic hacking. We need to formally launch it and inspire millions to be part of this public-private partnership of action. And that’s exactly what we intend to do on June 1, 2013.

Encouraged by the results of civic hacking events (often called hackathons) across the country over the past several years, including a notable and large event in downtown Palo Alto, California last year, the White House announced a National Day of Civic Hacking for the weekend of June 1 (Learn more here: http://www.hackforchange.org). Loosely guided by a small national team, cities across the country have been asked to consider holding an event that is commensurate with their experience and comfort level. These events can be run out of City Hall or led by individuals or groups within the community. The national guidance was clear: each event would be independent and managed locally.

CityCamp Palo Alto – June 1, 2013
For us in Silicon Valley, and particularly Palo Alto—where plans were already underway for a large hackathon event—we jumped at the opportunity to align our efforts with this historic, national event. A culture where hacking is embedded in its DNA would have to be an epicenter of this movement. As Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Palo Alto, I felt an obligation—supported by our forward thinking City Council, Mayor, and City Manager–to step up and deliver a great event and a potential model for other cities. Our vision was to host an all-inclusive community event. We wanted everyone across our city to participate. Activities would need to be diverse enough to appeal to many different groups.

We pulled together a small core team to get working on the event, and also engaged our recently formed Innovation Council—a group of community volunteers helping to advise on decisions around civic innovation—to assist with idea generation and event planning. We opened up our contact lists to see which local enterprises, community partners, and businesses might be interesting in sponsoring the event.

After several months of planning we’ve designed a wide-ranging day-long festival of civic innovation. Much more than simply a hackathon for software developers, our event dubbed CityCamp Palo Alto, includes arts activities, hands-on making, displays of robots and electric cars, expert talks by notable speakers from across Silicon Valley, an idea hackathon, local bands, local food, and much more. In addition, we’re receiving support in many forms from a stunning array of public and private organizations.

Every event should leverage the qualities of their community. We’re privileged in Palo Alto to have an environment of such quality supporters to promote an event of this diversity.

What Can We Achieve on June 1?
We have three major goals for the National Day of Civic Hacking in Palo Alto.

  1. First, we want to support and promote the national movement. We believe in it and want to play an important role in its success.
  2. Second, we want to have an inspiring, engaging, and fun event for our community. This will be a first-of-a-kind festival that will be a mix of chaos and wonderment for everyone.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly, we want to begin an ongoing effort to connect civic problems to civic solvers. On June 1 we expect that people will discuss, brainstorm, create, and prototype solutions. But what happens the day after and beyond? Of course, we’ll host more events, but our central goal is to inspire the spark that creates momentum all of its own. If CityCamp Palo Alto inspires the creation of even one important solution for our community or one new start-up that focuses on civic innovation, we’ll all consider that a huge success.

For those of us lucky enough to be immersed in this space right now, we deeply recognize that something unique is happening. As more stakeholders get engaged, they are struck by the same thing. There is a lot to be concerned about in our country. There is a lot of negativity. Let’s be honest, there are large, complex problems to be solved. A national movement of civic innovation is a glimmer of positivity and a beacon of possibilities.

Join us on June 1 in downtown Palo Alto from 11am – 7pm. Will you inspire and be inspired?

For more information, go to http://www.hackpaloalto.org

Guest Columnist Dr. Jonathan Reichental is the City of Palo Alto’s Chief Information Officer and Founder and Co-creator of CityCamp Palo Alto

The Power of Crowdsourcing


(Courtesy of Ed Senter, Flickr)

Crowdsourcing shows what power the people have when they come together via social media. Just as democracy allows the crowd to select candidates for public office by a majority of votes, so too does crowdsourcing provide means to the public to achieve results, whether its designing T-shirts (via Threadless), mapping disaster (see Ushahida), alerting your city to immediate needs (as in SeeClickFix), or anything else.

Once, critics informed us of what was worth consuming from Hollywood. But just as YouTube shows us that we can make our own stuff to watch, RottenTomatoes crowdsources tastemaking. Now, the crowd can itself assert what’s worth watching. Similarly, Yelp! flourishes beside restaurant reviews in newspapers. Amazon reviews sway the market like review magazines do.

Crowdsourcing can even solve crimes. A woman who stole from a Brainerd bar was identified after the bar’s surveillance video appeared on YouTube. Sadly, the “wisdom of the crowd” is not always wise. Minsun, Michael, and William showed the folly of the crowd when Reddit users hunted the Boston Marathon Bomber. This reminds me of a newspaper column I read years ago while on vacation. A man was accused of rape after a rape victim spotted his picture on Facebook. She then spread his photo across North America with the warning, “RAPIST”.  Does social media facilitate posse comitatus?

Just as democracy empowers its people for political power, crowdsourcing enables economic power. Large tasks can be smashed into lots of small ones and disbursed to lots of people, as our class discussed with Crowdflower and Mechanical Turk. The crowd can be its own economic force. Etsy allows us to be a free association of producers. Pre-Internet days had fund drives, telethons, and the March of Dimes curing polio. In the social media era, Kickstarter (just to name one site) has hundreds of projects by ordinary people seeking other ordinary people to work together to collectively invest in projects.

Social media hasn’t created a socialist uptopia yet. Only for early adopters has the means of production moved from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat? In fact, could social media be used to maintain the masses as a tool of the upperclass? Is Mechanical Turk a sweatshop? I haven’t found a case where exercise of social media actively exploits underprivileged people. It’s clear that few still have money and power, but some of them use social media for philanthropy. The visit from Kari Ruth from Minnesota Philanthropy Partners was a good example. Since social media is still very new and widespread crowdfunding is even newer, I look forward to see what new shapes and dynamics form in the crowd.

The History of Crowdsourcing

This week’s discussion focused on crowdsourcing and increasing public participation on the internet, including guest speaker Kari Ruth who discussed GiveMN and Minnesota Idea Open.  As with many of the topics we have discussed online and in class, I was interested in looking at the history of crowdsourcing:

History Of Crowdsourcing

  1. Did crowdsourcing exist before the internet?
  2. How has it changed with the internet?

I found a number of examples of crowdsourcing prior to the internet, two of my favorites are the Audubon Society asking the crowd to participate in a western hemisphere bird count since 1900

http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count and the invention of margarine as a result of a French government’s contest in 1869 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margarine.

Looking at the history of crowdsourcing and how it is used today mirrors many other uses of the internet as compared to history, such as news reporting versus blogs and twitter.  Today, with the use of the internet, crowdsourcing is much faster and pulls from a wider audience, but the incentives, motivations, and results are largely the same.

For example, margarine was invented because of a contest with a monetary prize.  The inventors/chemists working on the project had a monetary incentive to participate.  This could be compared to the Minnesota Open Idea which included funding for the winning project.

On the other hand, the Audubon Society does not provide any monetary compensation but bird watching is a hobby for many people and the annual bird count allows bird enthusiasts to contribute to a larger mission while participating in an activity they enjoy.  This could be compared to crowdsourcing forums such as Wikipedia where people interested in a subject contribute for their own enjoyment and/or public good, without compensation.

In addition, an interesting article from the New York Times looks at how crowdsourcing is impacting our world today. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/28/crowdsourcing-a-better-world/?_r=0

Diversity of Ideas or Race/EthnicityHands

After looking at the history of crowdsourcing, I then wondered about Kari Ruth’s question regarding diverse racial and ethnic participation in crowdsourcing projects.  Searching the internet on diversity and crowdsourcing returns a lot of results on the diversity of ideas that crowdsourcing can generate, but this notion of crowdsourcing only addresses reaching a wider audience and perhaps people who think differently about an issue or problem.  This type of diversity could include racial or ethnic diversity, but does not necessarily.

In addition, a lot of information is available on the digital divide and lower income or marginalized communities not having access to the internet, but not specifically how this impacts crowdsourcing participation and results.  This was part of the reason that Kari Ruth said she conducted “on the ground” engagement with communities for the Minnesota Open Idea projects, to bridge that digital divide.  If you look at the Pew research on internet use, however, minority communities are actively using the internet, more commonly on mobile devices or phones.  This could indicate a need to make crowdsourcing projects readily available on mobile devices and market the projects on those devices (e.g. text messages, Twitter).

On the other hand, if you look at crowdsourcing from a historical perspective, the issue is not necessarily one of access to the internet.  Historical reasons for participating in crowdsourcing centered on personal interest or monetary reward.  If minority or marginalized communities do not see an immediate interest or reward for participation in crowdsourcing projects then they might not participate even if internet access is available and the project is broadly advertised.  This also could be paralleled to town hall meetings on issues of public interest, the people that are impacted or care deeply about an issue are the people who show up and are vocal.  From this perspective, then it is not one of access to the internet but one of mobilizing a community (marginalized or not) to act on an issue for the public good or their own interest.

– By Katrina Mosser

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