N2Y4 Project gets Local in Philadelphia

Amy Sample Ward's picture

The N2Y4 Mobile Challenge called for innovative mobile applications supporting social good. There were many excellent ideas and the top 15 Featured Projects were selected through a Community Vote. Those Featured Projects came together May 26-27, 2009 in San Jose, CA, at the N2Y4 Conference to pitch their ideas, find collaborators, and get valuable feedback. Many volunteer organizers from the NetSquared Local network convened at the N2Y4 Conference to build relationships and expand their knowledge and resources for local community building. Organizers and Project teams shared a space and many collaborated in person and long after the event.  

Here's a story of one such collaboration: SeeClickFix and NetSquared Philadelphia!

Seth Horwitz and Ivan Boothe have been organizing the NetSquared Local group in Philadelphia since early 2008. Both organizers attended the N2Y4 Conference and share their side of the story below. Ben Berkowitz is part of the SeeClickFix team from New Haven that attended the N2Y4 Conference to represent the Project and shares his experience in the story below.

How did you get connected?

Seth: We discovered SeeClickFix at the N2Y4 Conference in late May, 2009. Since we hold our Philly Net Tuesdays on the first Tuesday of the month, we had decided to devote June's Net Tuesday to describing some of the cool applications that Ivan and I had seen just the previous week at N2Y4. (We had done this same "theme" after N2Y3, and it worked quite nicely.) We chose, I believe, 5 of the most interesting mobile applications we had seen, of which one was SeeClickFix.

Serendipity of sharing

Seth: The session was well attended, and people seemed to enjoy it. As far as we knew at the time, that was the end of the story. However, it turns out that a few months later (October?) I/we were invited by Rob Stuart to a meeting with some local civic groups and Ben, who was in Philly for some reason(s) about which I was unaware. I was glad to get a chance to see Ben again, and knew a couple of other folks at the meeting -- one of whom was Katie Edwards from the Clean Air Council. I knew nothing about Katie, except that I recognized her as having attended one or two Net Tuesdays in the past. (I didn't even remember that she had attended our June meeting specifically). I was then pleasantly surprised (shocked?) to discover that learning about SeeClickFix at Net Tuesday was just what Katie and the Clean Air Council were looking for at the time, and that in the intervening months they had been collaborating to create IdleFreePhilly.

Implementing SeeClickFix in Philly

Ben: We had a few phone calls to show the Kate Zaidan how to embed the SeeClickFix widget. They made idlefreephilly.com and did the work to promote it including putting out the SeeClickFix phone number which also gets a few phone calls a week for reporting idling vehicles. We sent those calls on to Clean Air Council and they post the issues manually to the site.

How has that collaboration impacted SCF?

Ben: We love the story of idlefreephilly because it shows how NGO's and citizens can take burden off of local gov. Philly 311 used to handle the majority of the idling vehicle calls to SeeClickFix. Now Clean Air Council takes and respnds to those reports and holds the drivers and businesses responsible for idling vehicles accountable.

Coming full-circle

Seth: This was a completely unanticipated success story, which, frankly, may have remained undiscovered for some time, if not for the October meeting. As it turns out, our upcoming November Net Tuesday was about Mapping and GIS for Nonprofits, and Katie was kind enough to join the panel and show off her SeeClickFix application.

What was the best part about the collaboration experience?

Ben: The fact that the SeeClickfix tool was so perfectly aligned with a social agenda (clean air) that we had never envisioned it for.

Advise for other Local groups

Seth: When you (Amy) ask about how we can make more connections happen, I feel a little sheepish that we hadn't really attempted to take any specific action to build upon this success and facilitate more connections. I think that the things we TRY to do each month (distributing contact information and scanned business cards, providing links to sites mentioned...) can help (and perhaps may have enabled connections we don't know about). And, part of the answer lies in exactly that phenomenon... I think it's important to lay the groundwork for connections to happen -- even when the "groundwork-layers" don't know about such connections.

As networkers, it's important that we do both: act as an explicit bridge to connect parties who may benefit from collaborating, as well as encouraging connections to happen out of our sight. And I think that working to think and act on both of these tracks is important. Saying this makes me more aware of things I/we COULD be doing, but haven't really done much of so far. Off the top of my head, what occurs to me is: 

  • Personally greet new members as they join the meetup group, opening up the possibility of discovering more about the new member and perhaps suggesting a connection to a fellow member or known resource.
  • Make sure not to sacrifice unstructured networking time at meetings. Aside from the gathering time before an event gets underway and the "going out for a bite or drink" after the meeting, I always intend to leave at least 10 minutes as a break in the MIDDLE of the meeting. (The middle is important because it is AFTER we've done our go-round introductions and have had a chance for people to express/reveal themselves, and BEFORE the end of the meeting, when many people are anxious to leave, or have already left). But, frankly, if the agenda is packed, or we get behind schedule, it's all too easy to sacrifice this important, unstructured time.
  • Use our website to compile in one place all of the URL's and references brought up by presenters or participants during meetings. This way, if somebody is thinking, "I seem to recall that something was mentioned at an event last year about ..." They would have a place to search for it.

Advice for other Projects

Ben: Keep the platform open for uses beyond your original intentions. We could have said SCF is for potholes and graffiti only but we broadened scope to say its for any geographically specific non-emergency issue that you want improved in your community.

What else are these groups up to?

SeeClickFix has a new site launch this month, and has recently partnered with the Washington post.  They are also signing on Richmond, VA as a government client and spreading internationally! Connect: on Twitter, email (ben @ seeclickfix.com) or blog.

You can find notes, slides and more from previous NetSquared events in Philadelphia, or register for upcoming events on the meetup group, or website. Connect: on Twitter or facebook.