A few weeks ago I discovered a new social service called Neighborland, currently only available in New Orleans. The service gives residents a voice to be heard, encouraging users to suggest ideas to improve New Orleans and the neighborhoods within. Other users can vote and discuss each idea, and once an idea gains critical mass, community facilitators work to bring the idea to fruition.
After using it for a few days, I was reminded me of something David Simon said a few years ago regarding the future of investigative reporting. He was speaking at a senate hearing fighting to save newspapers,where he theorized that we’re entering a dark age:
The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be a halcyon era for state and local political corruption. It is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician.
He suggests that the shortage of local investigative journalism caused by declining newspaper profits will give politicians an unprecedented decade of unaccountability.
Well I think a service like NeighborLand could cut his “10 to 15 years” short.
Neighborland at first glance seems to be similar to seeclickfix. Seeclickfix is a great way to get street lamps replaced and potholes filled, but the similarity ends there.
Neighborland is open ended, encouraging users to point out all kinds of things that could be better. And instead of hoping that the city is listening, Neighborland employs community facilitators who poke and prod at city officials to get citizens heard.
This is what really impressed me, and spurred me to write about it. Neighborland community director Alan Joseph Williams is engaged with Neighborland’s users. He pushes for their voices to be heard by bringing in the right voices from local authorities to add their expertise to each idea. Take a look at what happened when I asked "How we reduce corruption in New Orleans"?
His ability and initiative to call on civic authorities is what makes Neighborland so effective. So the key to Neighborland’s success in other cities, will be finding good community facilitators like Alan who can bridge the gap between crowd-sourced data and the city’s politicians.
(Hey Neighborland, if you’re listening, do KCMO next!)
—Tex Jernigan, Neighbor.