Manifesto Multilinko
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Sunday, June 20, 2010
fact-finding trips & social media:

[NCC CEO Marie Lemay] made the comments as she prepared for her departure on a 10-day bicycle-themed fact-finding trip to Europe. Lemay, along with Gatineau Mayor Marc Bureau and Ottawa Councillor Jacques Legendre, will meet with city officials in The Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen to discuss ways of fostering cycling as a mode of urban transportation.

At the end of the tour, the delegation will spend four days at the Velo-Cité Global 2010 conference in Copenhagen, which will bring together urban planners, politicians and cycling experts from around the world. Topics of discussion range from bike-share programs to cold-weather cycling.

Ottawa Citizen - NCC boss talks cyclable city - June 19, 2010

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien has said he's not very interested in cycling, and turned down the invitation by the NCC head to attend the Velo-City conference.

Ottawa Citizen - Could Ottawa get Copenhagenized? - June 20, 2010

So Lemay, Bureau & Legendre are going on an urban cycling fact-finding trip. First let me say, I am 100% in favour of this. Learning from other cities by visiting them is an excellent way to truly understand what is possible. And so when they come back bolstered by personal experiences, shared information and new connections, I think that is of huge benefit to the NCR.


This is a major initiative. 10 days, concluding with Velo-city 2010 in Copenhagen, is a huge fact-gathering project. Velo-city is an event that has been building off and on for the past 30 years.

And we have a traditional system: we elect or appoint representatives, and they go off and worry about 100% of the issues as our representatives, while we go about our lives. There are reasons for this:
* in the past it was impractical for representatives to communicate rapidly with constituents
* constituents are busy and not experts
* we want representatives to be reflective and not reactive


All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

This is 2010 and we have social media. Which means that you can share what you are observing. You can share it in real-time, or you can share at the end of the day, or the end of the week.

You can also still follow a traditional process which is some combination of:
* you take your own private notes and they inform your own private decisions
* you present about your findings but only to your colleagues
* you eventually produce a Great Big Report which is poorly announced and buried many levels deep (on your website and in the bureaucracy) so only political insiders ever find it and read it

So here's the thing: I think if you're going to send a bunch of representatives off to find facts, in 2010, it is encumbent upon them to engage the public in the process. That means reaching the public through traditional means, like the news reports cited above, and through consultations like (which has a ton of information, as PDFs, at the bottom of Open House 1), and through posting your Great Big Report.

But is there no responsibility to bring people along with you on your journey? Is engagement just about your personal learning followed by a Great Big Report? While it's true that many urban planning enthusiasts and cyclists will not be reached online, many are. If the information is online it can be shared, emailed, retweeted, blogged about, cited on Wikipedia... it can be used by citizens. This sharing can expand the scope of information beyond the hard core of people for whom this is a primary interest, to the broader public. Just look at the list of urban issues blogs and sites, just related to the Mid-Centretown consultation (from the Mid-Centretown planning blog):

* Apartment 613
* Blogawa
* Capital Neighbourhoods
* Designing Ottawa
* Greater Ottawa Blog
* Images of Centretown
* Modern Ottawa
* Ottawa Meme
* Ottawa SkyscraperPage Forum
* Somerset Street West Today
* Spacing Ottawa
* The Ottawa Project
* Urbsite
* Watawa Life
* West Side Action

Shouldn't those citizens also be served? And that's just urban planning enthusiasts. I'm sure the list of Ottawa urban cycling enthusiasts online is as long, if not much longer.

Engagement doesn't have to be hugely complicated. Twitter accounts + TwitPic. A hashtag. And/or a Flickr account. Individual blogs. And/or an aggregator. Or a group blog specific to the particular fact-finding mission.

I'm a citizen. I want to engage Lemay, Bureau & Legendre about this issue. I want to engage other representatives and citizens around this issue. Where do I go? There's no hashtag I can use. There's no aggregator I can feed into. There's no blog I can post to. I can contact each representative individually, through a private channel like email or a physical letter. Or I can post in my blog like this, but that's certainly not a central shared discussion space.

Plus which, citizens can inform the representatives in real-time, it's not just some one-way representative gathers information thing. Wouldn't it be great if the representatives were tweeting and informed citizens could make suggestions and provide additional information? Like "oh, you must go around the corner and see this amazing city cycling facility with showers and indoor parking" or "here is a report written by the person you just tweeted about" or "could you ask the person speaking a question about..."

We can, of course, disagree about this

@------ What proportion of the public would they reach that way? Also, instant reaction not same as deep thought. Not sold on this one yet.less than a minute ago via Power Twitter

@------ The delegations do all file reports with the House of Commons, which are tabled during routine proceedings and I think posted onlineless than a minute ago via Power Twitter

But I think if you want to maximize the value of what is a significant investment, you will get the biggest impact by engaging citizens through all channels before, during and after the event.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Lemay, Bureau & Legendre aren't on Twitter, don't have blogs, and there is no central information sharing & discussion space for their fact-finding trip. I think this is a substantial missed opportunity.

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