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:


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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