Tales of Tools and Tactics: Host a civic write-a-thon

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

A new breed of online projects that make a difference in local government are popping up in cities around the world. One of the best parts of these new models? Anyone can contribute something, regardless of their tech skill level. With this Tool and Tactic, you can learn how to produce a crowdsourcing event that involves the community and begins a collaboration between government and citizens. No coding required!

In 2012, the city of Honolulu debuted Honolulu Answers, a website intended to allow citizens easy to access government information. Building the site was pretty simple; filling it with content turned out to be the challenge! With help from Code for America, the city hosted a day-long “write-a-thon” wherein more than 55 community members and city employees collaborated on researching and writing 120 answers to common civic questions.

Below, Sheba Najmi, a 2012 Code for America Fellow, tells us about her personal experience helping to organize the event:

Sheba

Q: What was something that surprised you about how the write-a-thon went?

A: One of the things that took me by surprise was that 14 city staff members (including a police officer in full uniform) came to participate. They were there, bright and early, at 8:45 AM on a rainy Saturday, unpaid.

I was surprised and grateful that they made the time to share their expertise with citizens, and in the process of answering citizens’ questions, I could see their perspective shifting—from the way the city is structured internally to the way things would make sense from a citizen’s perspective. They explained things to the people, and they also sat down with their computers to write answers to questions themselves. This was truly the first time I’d seen “government being what we do together” in action.

I was also very touched by their dedication to doing “homework assignments” for four months afterwards. I asked them to review and rewrite citizens’ answers over and over, and they did. Not because they were mandated to, but because they wanted to.
And a nice update: Oakland, California city services website Oakland Answers is holding its second annual write-a-thon this weekend! Great to see this idea spreading. Check out their event website: oakanswers.eventbrite.com.

Read the civic write-a-thon Tool and Tactic here.

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Loan assistance for careers in social good

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

College debt can greatly affect the career paths of recent graduates concerned about paying back their loans. New York University’s Stern School of Business recognized this issue and developed a loan assistance program for MBA graduates working for the public good.

Through the program, alumni earning $100,000 or less while working for a nonprofit or social enterprise can receive as much as $15,000 annually towards their school loans.

Our Tool and Tactic on the subject can tell you more about instituting this benefit at your school, and this article on Stern’s website, featuring alumna Dorrit Lowsen, is a perfect case study in how the positive effects of the program can be felt beyond graduates’ bank accounts. Lowsen, a 2008 Stern MBA graduate, has spent the last few years living and working in different countries as an IT project consultant for social enterprises:

Dorrit NYU

Dorrit Lowsen (photo via NYU Stern School of Business)

“I’m incredibly thankful to Stern for recognizing the importance of nonprofit work and for supporting alumnae like me who sometimes forgo larger salaries in more traditional industries to do other meaningful work. Because of the Loan Assistance Program, my decision to switch career tracks into the social enterprise sector went from a tough choice to a no-brainer. ”

Read the rest of Dorrit’s story here, and check out the loan assistance Tool and Tactic here.

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The wheel’s been invented: Resources you can use now

Not reinventing the wheel is an important part of this Network, starting with identifying existing resources that can help us all be more effective Connectors. Finding and sharing these resources is a group effort, and we’re already seeing some great offerings bubble up from Teams.

Take these three, recommended by Connectors in San DiegoFayetteville, and St. Louis:

Tool Box

Jude Jordan Kalush of San Diego, California likes The University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box, an online suite of resources for people who want to up their social good game:

“The Community Tool Box was created to help people build healthier communities and bring about the changes they envision. We provide educational modules and tools to help people work together to make their communities what they dream they can be. Although the Community Tool Box has thousands of pages of resources, its design makes it easy to find what you want.”

 

Bank

Amanda Bancroft of Fayetteville, Arkansas suggests consulting the Solutionary Knowledge Bank’s Community Engagement Sources section which has how-tos on everything from developing a community asset map to creating a shared vision as a team. The Bank was created by Grand Aspirations, a non-profit which cultivates youth leaders:

“This knowledge bank was compiled for sustainable community organizers around the world to allow for the replication of innovative green economy projects and the sharing of tools and resources. We hope the site will allow organizers to avoid ‘recreating the wheel’ and rather harness the work of others to build more effective projects which meet the needs of their communities.”

 

Fairplays short

Lloyd Kinder, of the St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri Teams, offers an innovative spin on the traditional (aka un-fun) meeting model with Fairplays:

“A ‘fairplay’ is a fun event in which all attenders, if possible, take up to 5 minutes each to give a speech, a performance, or just an introduction, which are called acts. The purpose of fairplay acts is to facilitate maximum information, education and entertainment. Members may do their acts individually or in groups. Speeches may be informative, educational, and or entertaining. Performances are educational especially for performers. Performances may also be demonstrations, which are also educational for audiences. Cooperation is involved in preparing for Fairplays and ‘executing’ them.”

Do you have a resource to recommend to the Idealist Network? Post it to the Resources section on your Team’s page!

You can also share it in our discussion forums, or drop us a line at idealistblog@idealist.org.

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Donate time through pro bono services

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

Organizations need helping hands of all kinds. Those with skills in especially great demand—like lawyers—do an extra-good deed when they donate their time and expertise to people who need it. If you’re a lawyer or work in a law firm, this Tool and Tactic can show you how you can help nonprofits and individuals who could benefit from your support.

Jessica Perrin is Head of NGO and Social Enterprise for TrustLaw Connect, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, based in London. Below, she tells us why it’s so great to go pro bono.

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Q: How did you get into pro bono work, and what’s your favorite thing about it?

A: Up until joining TrustLaw, my career had firmly been on the NGO side. When I made the jump to the pro bono sector and started here, I knew we had something big to offer. I knew the value of external expertise for NGOs, and I knew that without it most organisations aren’t able to have the impact they set out to.

So, what does it look like sitting on the other side of the table? In all honesty, it’s pretty wonderful.

Instead of working with beneficiaries who want to create change in their own lives, I have walked into a buzzing network of passionate lawyers who are willing to help create that change using their own expertise, and from their desk! This means my day job is saying ‘yes’ to NGOs who reach out for pro bono legal support, ‘yes’ to helping them grow, ‘yes’ to helping them have an impact, and ‘yes’ to my favourite question of all: ‘Is it really free?’

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here.

Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Online platforms to improve your city

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

Whether you’re a municipal employee or an ordinary citizen, delivering feedback to your local government—and getting it from your fellow locals—can be a challenge, but online platforms are proving to be one good solution.

Wichita, Kansas’ local government has seen great success with Activate Wichita, an “online conversation about the future of the Greater Wichita metropolitan area.” The city created the site last year to help it reach and ask a larger and more diverse representation of the population for feedback about municipal priorities and services. By all accounts, it’s already become a rich and useful source of questions and comments from the community.

Below, Cynthia Berner Harris, Director of Libraries in Wichita and a key organizer of Activate Wichita, talks about her experience with the website as a librarian and administrator:

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Wichita encourages all its residents to use Activate Wichita.
(image courtesy Wichita Public Library)

Q: Can you tell us about a particularly memorable moment in your planning or using the site?

A: An obvious moment was when we were notified we’d won a national award, the 2014 LibraryAware Community Award. A large part of that was the Activate Wichita project, as a component of the way we just get out and partner with the community, listen to the community, because we are ourselves a part of the community, too.

It didn’t occur to us that this work was extraordinary or revolutionary, and certainly we’re not the only library involved in engagement. But perhaps we’re a little farther along than other libraries. We don’t often consider ourselves in that position. It’s catching notice.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Meaningful product donations to nonprofits

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

Many nonprofits can’t afford to pay sticker price for services, software, or other expensive but beneficial products. To help bridge the gap, companies can choose to provide in-kind donations or very deep discounts to organizations. This practice can help to spread a company’s name, identify its brand with “good” stuff, and make a real and lasting impact on the ground.

For over ten years, the Salesforce.com Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Salesforce.com, a cloud computing company) has been offering a very useful product donation: ten free licenses of the Enterprise Edition of their customer relationship management application to any eligible nonprofit or higher ed institution in the U.S. or Canada (with similar programs in many other countries). Great discounts on further licenses, as well as on other Salesforce products and trainings, are also on offer.

Below, Nat Robinson, CEO of Juhudi Kilimo, a nonprofit that provides loans and business training to farmers in Kenya, relates his experience as a recipient of Salesforce.com Foundation donations:

Juhudi

Juhudi Kilimo works to empower farmers in Kenya
(photo via Juhudi Kilimo)

Q: What are some of the ways these product donations have affected your work?

A: Our business is all about generating large volumes and sustaining high efficiency, since we cannot charge high interest rates to our rural farmers. When we collected information on paper, it used to get ruined in bad weather. With Sales Cloud, staff can enter information straight into our Farmers Lead Management system. Also, other organisations don’t venture beyond 20 kilometres from the closest rural town. Thanks to the Salesforce1 Mobile App, we can go as far afield as 100 kilometres, which opens up a lot more communities.

We now have much better visibility of our finances and can check each farm’s repayment status on a daily basis, which makes it easier for us to manage potential risks. With Salesforce, staff only need to come back to one of our eight field offices once a week, which cuts down on our operational overheads. We can also track the different ways we are reaching people and determine which are the most cost-effective.

By giving the right people the right tools, we’ll be able to meet our goal of supporting 100,000 farmers by 2015.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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