What Would I Do with Some Elbow Grease?

Over the weekend I had the strange opportunity to interview for the Code for America Fellowship over video. Instead of it being a two way conversation, the video turned out to be a two minute recording of my responses to a number of different questions. While I spent the majority of my time recording over multiple attempts at each answer, in the end I felt like their open ended questions provoked a fairly generic response.

Take the last question for instance, about “What I would do with $100 and a team to provide some elbow grease?” The problem with that question is that I tend to think in the local context, and when asked what to do with some elbow grease, I immediately think of how my local community, including the local government, teachers unions, and the voting public, how would they react to a bunch of developers ready to roll their sleeves up?

What I attempted to explain in my two short minutes is that our community hasn’t reached the point where we think about the government as ours, but as something controlled by someone else over which we have very little say in what actually happens. No matter who we vote for we’re left with an Us versus Them, which doesn’t leave much room for a bunch of geeks who are simply interested in fixing the plumbing of their internal processes.

With 45 seconds to spare I recorded over that last bit and recommended that we throw a community brainstorm. I briefly explained how this would give us the opportunity to look at our community as something that we could all participate in building, and finally gave some brief examples about how we might do this with or without the local government’s involvement. In the comments I gave more description of these community brainstorms, such as posting a whiteboard in a public space for passerby’s to contribute their ideas.

Not sure if that was the answer they were expecting, or if a group of coders are the right people to change the local views of who runs the government, but in the end I’ve discovered this to be the greatest challenge of the Open Springboro Project:

How do you change the conversation from “Us versus Them” to “Ours”?

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