Evanston Project

July 21, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Play, Society, Web

We’ve learned several things developing over 20 independent online network websites designed to enhance communication and cooperation between activists working within local organizations.  What became obvious right away was that technology alone, without humans integrally involved at almost every level, would be ignored.  On a playground, the slides and swings are great additions.  It’s the humans having fun.

This winter, 130 Evanston citizens gathered to discuss the city, its inhabitants, local institutions and businesses reducing carbon footprints to comply with the Kyoto Accord targets.  People broke up into ten committees to discuss and plan how these changes could be made.  I volunteered to be on the communications/PR committee.

I found myself asking myself the same question many times in different ways.  How could a website best assist people to communicate with one another, encourage one another and provide information to one another in ways that made the process fun?

It’s been coming back to this point.  There are 130 people showing interest in the project.  There are about 60,000 people in this town.  What is the best way to use established networks while nurturing new relationships that connect these 130 people with the 60,000 people?

I sent out a survey to the 130 requesting a list of all local organizations that each of those people is a member of.  Twenty-eight people responded, noting membership in 77 organizations.  In that list of local organizations, nine organizations had 2 or 3 members of the 28.  One person, a human hub, was a member of 10 organizations.

Five categories covered most of the 77 organizations noted:  business, faith, school, sports & recreation, social change/environment.

There are over 100 churches in Evanston.  Three faith-based institutions were on the list.  Almost no African Americans were among the 130 in a community with a large minority population.  Clearly, the model I was forming had its limits.

If we’re looking to be able to receive ideas from the community on reducing our carbon footprint while at the same time share the programs developed by the project, we need a communications network that is healthy, has multiple overlaps and can reach constituencies not initially involved.

And, it has to be fun.

So, looking at the website as a playground, what can we design to behave like swings and slides?


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