July 27, 2004
Swan Song for a Weblog Virgin ...
I suppose it should be with some shame that I admit I've never had much use for a Blog. I'm a syndicated columnist for Canada's largest radio network. I've already got airtime and web columns with a burgeoning set of public forums. I've got all of the soapbox real estate I need.
At least that's what I thought.
But at a recent retreat I found myself amongst the unwashed few during a show of hands on blogging. Normally, I wouldn't much care that I was part of a minority. It's a place quite familiar, and comfortable at that. But this time the hands were attached to people that I find to be perhaps the truest kindred spirits I've ever known. I was beginning to think that blogging was no longer a bandwagon, or toolset, or process, but rather the gateway to a culture and community of natural allies.
The show of hands became a question, and then an itch to be scratched, and finally an unbearable, beckoning call. So, with a gentle nudge, I tread here lightly, in the undiscovered country of talking to myself and wondering what kinds of souls might be inclined to listen, or rather, (nirvana), might be inclined to join in. For at the end of the day, what I want most is nothing less than an honest diaBlogue with kindred souls, and the chance to inspire a little thought, and provoke a little, sticky change.
A Telling Cliché: The Desert Aisle
So I'll start here: my books, the things that I covet most, to the extent that there are things that I covet. (Okay, so I do covet chocolate, and cherry lifesavers, and maybe sushi ... maybe a lot, but I'm not about to let that derail my train of thought, because that's another list, and this is not.)
The books. From the very earliest moments in our lives as explorers, they are our portals. They are our gateway to the world, and to the universe, and to the delicious nooks and crannies of our very own soul. They are a collective footprint for who we are, and what we believe, and how comitted we may be to expanding our horizons through sometimes disparate points of view. They allow us to change our world to something grand and worth having at times when it feels it is not. They challenge us to be daring, and brave, and hungry. They tickle long, sweet veins of curiousity and exquisite, 3-day-long thoughts that plant themselves like tendrils in the fertile soil of our conscience and soul.
So here's my window. It's a small place to start, but full of rich and daring adventures that I've completely loved. Perhaps they will move you too ...
Blogged, Not Flogged: Planting Seeds ...
A few weeks ago I met a bunch of people who gave me a great big "thinking infection". It's a term my daughter coined when she was four-years-old, and the best way I can describe the double-edged sword of a retreat that's created both a fountain of innovation and a crisis.
The crisis part is the result of far too many active ideas having planted themselves in my head, and finding myself overwhelmed as they try to take root. It's the very thing that finally motivated me to dive into the wonderful world of blogs. A colleague suggested this was the one way (place? thing?) that would help me begin to sort out and manage this noisy cacophony of thoughts and the boisterous relatives that they bring along for the ride.
I'm sure there are lots of elegant ways to get such big thoughts out, and down, in a way that makes them worth sharing. But for now I'll just start here:
- topic maps
- The Brain (tm)
- community capacity building
- deep thinkers with philanthropic souls
That's the mix, and if I get it right, I suspect it's a recipe for something profound.
Because sharing these things in a braindump to a mailing list might get one summarily flogged, I thought I'd try to find simple ways of starting to tell the story of why I think these are important things to be thinking about, and especially in relation to one another.
Forgive me while I fumble, and please, please, please join in and help me as I do! What's at stake may be nothing more than my sanity, but what's to be gained is the possibility of healthier, happier communities and the people that live in them.
Consider yourself invited. This ain't no monoBlogue ... ;^)
July 28, 2004
Can Topic Maps Help Share/Duplicate the Success of Programs Like CitiStat for Accountability & Transparency in Municipal Governance?
I've received emails and calls from a number of you who were interested in continuing the thinking I started regarding Topic Maps as a way of making knowledge and resources more accessible to cities attempting to cultivate greater transparency and accountability in municipal governance.
I had a great conversation with Tom Mandel the other day about the potential for this. Today there exists perhaps a bigger opportunity for this because of the national nod that the CitiStat program itself just got, encouraging it's creators to find simple ways to share and replicate the success in Baltimore. (news story below ...)
As I've mentioned in discussion with other colleagues, Windsor (where I live and am tasked with assisting in this exploration) is only one of the cities struggling to get their arms around this challenge. There are hundreds of other cities that are feeling their way through on this, and a lot of wasted dollars. In the U.S., the Department of Justice funded large portions of many municipal programs. In Canada, there are various levels of municipal, provincial and federal funding poured into creating similar programs/systems/processes, many of them in a vacuum.
For those of you who are interested in continuing to explore this, particularly in the context of creating a team that might be able to work with the folks in Baltimore to a) topic map it, and b) find simple ways of sharing knowledge and resources broadly with other community stakeholders, I invite you to come and help me talk to myself through this blog.
Still scratching my head on this. I'm accustomed to "threaded dialogue boards" for this kind of thing, but I'm willing to give this a try. To the extent that it works, I'll continue trying to share some of my own thinking on the need that exists, and invite you to explore with me some of the ways that we might be able to cultivate an easier and more fruitful path for other communities.
(I can't help but think that tapping into John Abele's resources at the Kingbridge Centre and getting a few community champions' noggins together -- Baltimore team, mayors of various cities, topic map and knowledge product gurus -- to do some brainstorming around this thing would produce an interesting cascade of community uplift ;^)
(news story below)
Baltimore CitiStat Program Wins Government 'Oscar';
Program Ensures Wise Use of City Resources, Monitors Accountability at All Levels of Government;
Wed Jul 28,12:13 PM ET
To: Metro Desk
Contact: Sarah Howe of the Council for Excellence in Government, 202-530-3270 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 28 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The City of Baltimore's CitiStat program - a groundbreaking initiative that ensures wise use of city resources by holding managers and workers accountable -- has won the "Oscar" of government awards from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University and the Council for Excellence in Government. CitiStat is one of five winners of the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award and will receive a $100,000 grant to support replication of its significant and creative efforts.
Begun in 2000, CitiStat regularly reviews every aspect of Baltimore City's government - ranging from employees' use of overtime and sick leave, to trash collection and snow removal -- ensuring that the city is meeting the needs of its citizens. Bimonthly meetings between agencies, the mayor, the first deputy mayor and members of his cabinet serve as a key component of CitiStat. Before the meetings, agencies are required to submit performance reports, which are compared to data from the city's 311 Call center, an independent body that manages service requests from citizens.
By creating a structure within which city leaders can regularly assess performance and quickly make improvements, CitiStat has significantly improved the city government's responsiveness. The participation of cabinet officials ensures intergovernmental communication and cooperation is maintained, and keeps the administration on track to meet its goals.
The program has reduced overtime, saving almost $24 million -- an important feat as state and local governments across the nation work to close the largest cumulative budget gaps since World War II. Within certain agencies, the program has also reduced absenteeism by half. Through the city's 48-hour pothole abatement guarantee, pothole complaints have decreased considerably. Towing of abandoned vehicles has increased 22 percent and the city has removed four times as much graffiti as it did two years ago. To round out its successes, integrating data from the city's call center into CitiStat ensured the resolution of 1,200,000 citizen service requests derived from one and a half million contacts -- without the loss of a single call.
"CitiStat is a management tool for public officials that translates into real, tangible results for citizens. Government leaders across the country and around the world are taking notice of its success-and for good reason," said Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis, former Innovations Award winner and currently faculty chair of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard's Kennedy School. "Representatives from more than 100 local, state, federal and international government entities have visited Baltimore to find out how the CitiStat model could work for them."
Citizens can also log onto the CitiStat website to read reports and updates on Baltimore city government's progress and key initiatives.
"By providing agency heads with real-time performance data, CitiStat allows government leaders the opportunity to make wise decisions when it comes to resources. And that allows them to make changes not year-to-year or month-to-month, but week-to-week." said Patricia McGinnis, President and CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government. "That benefits the customers and owners of government...the people of Baltimore."
CitiStat was selected from among nearly 1,000 applicants for the award, which was presented today in Washington, DC. For 17 years, the Innovations in American Government Award has recognized quality and responsiveness at all levels of government, honored government efforts that are creative, effective and address significant problems, and has fostered the replication of innovative approaches to the challenges facing government.
About the Innovations Award:
The Innovations in American Government Awards is a program of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The award is administered in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government.
The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation fosters excellence in government around the world in order to generate and strengthen democracy. Through its awards program, research, publications, curriculum support, and global network, the Institute champions critical milestones in creative and effective governance and democratic practice.
The Council for Excellence in Government is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to improve government performance by strengthening results-oriented management and creative leadership in the public sector, and to build understanding by focusing public discussion on government's role and responsibilities.
On the Web:
CitStat ( http://www.ci.baltimore.md.us/news/citistat/ )
The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation ( http://www.ashinstitute.harvard.edu )
The Council for Excellence in Government ( http://www.excelgov.org )
August 15, 2004
Sidelined, but back at it ...
So, I decided to try a new kind of surfing. It involved the back porch steps, a good dose of salt over the winter, eroded mortar, and a pair of red boots. I didn't win the battle. I didn't get to my meeting. Enough said.
Sitting at the 'pooter these days is somewhat of a challenge. Managed to tear the lateral ligaments and ACLs in my left leg because I thought a Zimmer leg brace and crutches might make an interesting fashion statement. Yesterday developed a blod clot in the leg to remind me why taking mobility for granted -- and I don't mean 802.11g -- is something I ought not do.
So, I've been sidelined, and this presents an interesting dilemma. My life, which is technocentric (and that may perhaps be one of the biggest understatements I've uttered yet), is back in a familiar holding pattern as it was in '92 when I first went down this road: unplugged. It's a double-edged sword, that one, and one I proudly came to terms with at a recent retreat. I was invited to spend the weekend with a handful of pioneers and compassionate souls, most of us resembling an odd twist on the Borg collective when it comes to the umbilical cord between us and our laptops as we sit in the same room chatting both in person, and via our gadgets. It was the first time I'd chosen to leave the beast at home, and simply listen, take it all in.
It was delightful.
While I'm anxious to resume this journey, there's something to be said for getting that little tap on the shoulder that says "slow down," and then promptly puts your gluteus maximus square on the DL list. Given the chance, I would be wired from dawn to dusk, because there's such a rich playground and braingym to feed my constant appetite for learning, and discourse, and community uplift. But, for now, the pace will be slowed, and I'll reaquaint myself with the red bell peppers and the gerbera daisies out back, while I try to get the steps of this new dance just right.
It's the one where a life is called back into balance again, one foot in cyberspace, and the other firmly entrenched in meatspace once again.
I've left this journey hanging while I've been on the mend, but I will find a way to continue taking steps with it again, because I think that the idea of communities using technology to collaborate on transparency, accountability, problem solving, uplift and sustainability, is a terribly important one. There are some interesting things afoot right now in a number of them, and convergence seems to be the word of the day.
Hoping to engage a few kindred spirits along the way with this, and turn it from a conversation with myself into a discourse that allows us to share a few good ideas about the things that are working best in healthy communities.