On the Path to Civic Innovation

In the Summer of 2007, Facebook had yet to replace MySpace as the dominant social network. If you’ve never experienced MySpace, let me be the first to congratulate you for missing out on what ended up being a fairly perverse corner of the web. The idea that any business would be on MySpace, apart from the bars and music venues, would simply not have occurred to most people. Nevertheless, I had a plan to unite local businesses in the Oregon District with the neighborhood association through a social network that resembled what I knew of Facebook at the time. As it so happened, my partners and I managed to get an initial investment from the Oregon District Business Association (ODBA) and built a prototype that we presented to other local neighborhood and business associations. While we did manage to launch the initial website with the support of Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin cutting the yellow ribbon in front of a wonderfully packed house, we never quite got the rest of what was called the Impresto Network off the ground.

After finishing the contract with the ODBA, I started pursuing opportunities to explore the capabilities of social networks in other industries, including military, healthcare, and advertising. My current position as an Idea Designer at LexisNexis is a continuation of my journey, as I’ve since come to discover that law is the source code upon which our society is built. As such, the parallels between law and software provides us with seemingly limitless opportunities, being that software code has evolved into not only being a social activity, but one that researchers have developed ways for kids to get involved. Can you imagine the effects that the open source app economy could have on not only the laws which regulate society, but on society itself? Granted, that was a whole string of techno-jargon which might not excite your imagination the way it does mine, but through my eyes I see the world coming online, and still yearn to find a way to bring the power of social networks to my local community.

According to a recent article in UX Booth titled Design in Service: Crafting the Citizen Experience, an increasing number of designers have been stepping up to serve their local communities. While the phenomenon is currently more common in larger cities, there is evidence of civic innovation in smaller communities closer to home. For example, the town of Westerville just north of Columbus has launched a civic idea generator called The Bubble 2.0. It allows residents to share their ideas and vote for their favorite one. Regardless of the fact that I currently design and promote a similar service at LexisNexis for internal customers, I never knew exactly how to pitch something like this to our City Council, not without sounding a little crazy in the process. Now that Civic Innovation and Citizen Experience are both part of a design movement of sorts, more resources are coming online to help answer these types of questions, and hopefully make a little more sense of my efforts on Open Springboro.

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