Saturday, 6 June 2015

CLE HELPER BOT

I created a Twitter bot named @CLEHelperBot. It retweets the hashtag #WhereInCleveland. That’s all it does. What’s the point?

My thought process:

  1. I frequently don’t know where to find stuff in Cleveland. Stuff like gaffer’s tape, a decent tailor, an old-school barbershop, a date.
  2. How do I find people who know the answers to these questions?
  3. How can I make this useful for other folks?

For the bot to be useful, two things need to happen:

  1. Many Cleveland folks need to follow @CLEHelperBot and reply with answers to the #WhereInCleveland tweets it retweets.
  2. People need to use #WhereInCleveland when they want to find something around here.

I’m trying to crowdsource local knowledge to help out visitors & residents alike. If you use Twitter & live in Cleveland, I’d appreciate your help getting this off the ground.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Everybody wants to be the vanguard

I kibitzed a bit of online spill-over of an argument between anarchists, Occupiers, activists, & sundry interested parties regarding organizing & protesting around the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The discussion was about organizing & activist methodologies & the argument (whose provenance is in dispute) was about “diversity of tactics” which, as far as I can tell, is just spin for “we’ll join y’all if all y’all let us do whatever we want”, which defeats the purpose of organizing in the first place.

I don’t really have any thoughts worth voicing about the specifics of that argument/discussion, but it got me thinking.

One of the things I’ve learned over the past decade I’ve spent involving myself in various civic organizing initiatives is that most people want to do something big and flashy that will get them recognized. Everybody wants to be the vanguard.

I’ve also learned that the vanguard gets wiped out first.

The thing that no one wants to do is the legwork. You can have a badass army, but if you don’t have competent folks bringing bread and cheese and water in on trucks, your soldiers get turned into sausage.

There’s nothing flashy about the work of being a Congress-critter. They’re all sausage-makers. The power lies in the willingness to do the tedious preparation and unsung heavy lifting to achieve your goal, whatever it may be. That’s the way it works with any great process. That’s the great test of commitment. People who show up to do the boring shit are the ones you want around, because they know how to make sausage.

There will be plenty of people coming in to town to protest the 2016 RNC, and even more folks coming to participate in it. The folks in Cleveland preparing to protest might consider (if they haven’t already, like I said, I’m only tangentially aware of their discussion) whether they’d rather be 1 of numerous uncoordinated & questionably trustworthy vanguards, or the unsung ground crew that keeps it all together.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Poetry 4 Free Update

Today I wrote my 50th poem in my Poetry 4 Free project. It’s been great fun so far; despite the heavy mocking from my coworkers and the obvious & unspoken doubtfulness from certain folks I know, it has fulfilled, at least in part, all of the goals I had in mind when I started this back in April.

I’m definitely less afraid to write. I have become much better at taking a topic and starting to write on it immediately. I think the poems I produce in 5-10 minutes could be deemed fair for that time frame. I’ve gotten into a few ruts though, and have been trying to change up my methods in order to keep things fresh. I don’t want to be a poem factory, so the repetition is a bad from which I am attempting to draw some good.

I received open-armed permission from the wonderful folks at the Cleveland Public Library to set up every Friday in the Eastman Reading Garden, and post-facto benediction from the lady who manages Star Plaza for Playhouse Square Development. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a public park.

Lots of people give the side-eye, fewer stop for a poem, and, it seems, a large majority of the folks that do stop are interested in telling a story about the dude with the hand-painted sign and a typewriter. The first was a post on Captured Cleveland. Dan Moulthrop from Civic Commons stopped by for a poem and tweeted about it. A fellow writing for Edible Cleveland wanted to put a blurb about me in an article on Walnut Wednesdays. A collage artist asked to use my poem & photo in one of her works. My friend David Jurca even stopped by and took some video one day. Another day, another fellow did so.

 

I’ve had several folks ask for poems as gifts, and a few return to tell me how much the poem was appreciated. I’ve had sad and poignant requests from estranged husbands, sweet requests from loving wives, silly requests and challenging ones. I’ve written about everything from mortality to anal bleaching. I once accepted a silver dime as a tip, and I still feel vaguely guilty about that.

I’m having a blast, even on days when I get skunked. But I’m also starting to sense that the current status quo isn’t as fulfilling as it once was. I may need fresh ground to cover (I plan on setting up shop in Lincoln Park during the Arts in August events), or I may just be feeling too at ease with the paradigm. I’m open to suggestions about how to shuffle the project in different ways, and I’m very interested in further ways that I can make it less about me. One thing I need to do is write poetry outside of this project. I’ve been very prolific for me, but the practice has resulted in little actual poetry game time. Another change to be conscious of.

You can follow this project on Twitter @Poetry4Free; find out where I’ll be and stop by for a poem. I hope you will.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Poetry 4 Free

This summer, at the very least, I’ll be erratically planting myself in various semi-populated places around Cleveland where there is foot traffic with a sign that says “Poetry 4 FREE” and a typewriter. I’m hoping that folks will stop and ask me for a poem. They give me the subject and I write it for them, right then. They walk away with the poem, and hopefully I’ve gotten a bit better at writing them. If this sounds intriguing to you, you can follow @Poetry4Free on Twitter to find out where I’ll be.

Many years ago, I read an article about a professor who ran a summer poetry program for high school students. One of the things they ended up doing was camping out in the town and writing impromptu poems for strangers/passerby. I wish I could find the article. I’m sure it took place on the East Coast, and I keep thinking Jersey. (Help.) I told my friend RA Washington about appropriating this idea around the same time, and, true to form, he’d already been there. Chopping out poems for fivers in Public Square. (My details may be a bit hazy here as well.) When I decided to finally get rolling with it, quite recently, I mentioned the project to my friend Kevin and he immediately brought up Abigail Mott, who has, and perhaps still is, doing basically the same thing.

So this idea isn’t even remotely original, but I’m doing it and here’s why.

Because I’m arrogant

I have extremely high self-esteem. I think that folks might actually be interested in having a complete stranger write them a poem, on the spot. I think that I can do it, and be good at it.

To practice humility

I need to keep my ego reined, so I am giving the poetry away; the only copy. If it’s the best poem I’ll ever write, I’ll be letting it go with whomever requested it. I’ll be letting go of control for a change. I’m not asking for money, I’m not even promoting myself. I’m still going back and forth on putting my name on the poems I produce.

Because I’m a coward

I rarely do any thing publicly because I’m afraid of sucking, being ignored, or being dismissed. This should help me sack up a bit.

To practice writing

I need to write more, and having someone else give me a topic means that I get to practice without feeling the guilt that I’m just ego tripping. Even though, in most ways, I still think I am.

Hopefully I’ll see you out there.

 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Stop, Collaborate and Listen: EfficientGovNetwork Regional Collaboration Conference

On Thursday 13 October 2011, I used a vacation day to attend the EfficientGovNetwork Regional Collaboration Conference on behalf of the Cleveland Coalition/Transparency Action Plan Summit. I met up with Pepper Pike councilwoman Jill Miller Zimon and we carpooled down to Akron. Jill was there on behalf of The Civic Commons; they are helping with outreach/education for #EGNetwork.

This conference was designed to help local governments learn how they can work together to save money. If you need more background or context, click the links. A bit of note transcription with elisions and partially polished spots is what you get next, with a bit of commentary at the end.

Notes

Brad Whitehead from the Fund for Our Economic Future had the opening remarks. He said that the Fund’s purpose for sponsoring this conference is to help the economic health of the region. His main points were:

  1. Regional Government collaboration is important;
  2. Successes will be cumulative (no such thing as a big fix), and;
  3. It’s going to be hard work.

He mentioned that the combined economic power of our governments is around $20 billion, which translates to 10% of the region’s total economy. He conceded that this kind of collaboration & efficiency is harder for governments to accomplish than it is for businesses, and mentioned that it takes a combination of will and skill to be successful in these types of endeavors. He tasked the attendees to learn from each other.

His remarks were followed by a plenary session that provided the conference attendees with some food for thought regarding collaboration.

Tom Pascarella, the Administrative Director of Tallmadge, OH spoke about how his town dealt with a 10% drop in their revenue by consolidating their dispatchers with Stow and by joining the Regional Income Tax Authority. This saves them $880,000 per year.

John Hoornbeek, Director of Kent State’s Center for Public Administration and Public Policy told us about 4 good things and two challenges about regional collaboration.

  1. This conference and other conversations are good, as are;
  2. The applicability of collaboration across many different policy areas;
  3. The statewide attention the collaboration is garnering, and;
  4. The development of networks for collaboration.

This remains challenging, however, because collaboration is hard and the region isn’t well organized right now.

Ed Jerse, Regional Collaboration Director for Cuyahoga County, spoke about the ways to get communities to work together, specifically, by doing what we already know works. He spoke of the need to recognize that collaboration is an evolutionary process, and there will be dead ends as a result of this. He said that it is very easy to have an idea, but it is even easier to kill one, and that it takes courage to try new things in the face of that challenge.

Dave Kaminski from the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce spoke briefly regarding the differences between government and business efficiency. His main points were that businesses think that government should be run like a business, but they need to understand that governments are required to provide services, even if they impact the bottom line. He got a lot of laughs with his on-point line that you can’t layoff  the 3rd grade.

The question & answer period resulted in the following points:

  1. Top-down pressure (or buy-in) is needed to force collaboration & good networking.
  2. It’s easier to collaborate if you’re not an elected official.
  3. Building trust before collaborating is imperative.
  4. Collaboration should be redefined to extend beyond working with “whomever looks like us.”
  5. Forming a collaboration habit makes further collaboration easier.

Breakout sessions followed. I attended the IT collaboration breakout. Much of the discussion centered around collaboration that had already been implemented and the lessons learned during the implementations. Let me know if you’d like further details. For the most part, the breakout sessions were somewhat inside baseball/hyper-specific, so I’m not going to say much about them here.

During lunch a fistfight broke out and while everyone was distracted at my table, I ate their desserts. Paying attention again? Good. Actually, during lunch Randy Cole from the State of Ohio spoke about the ways that the Kasich administration has made it easier for local governments to deal with the huge cuts in State funding. Afterwards, I got the sense from a few different people that it seemed more like a press conference than anything particularly useful for the government folks there. There’s a $45 million state fund for collaborative projects, but the committee isn’t fully assigned and they haven’t met yet, so there are no details regarding what would qualify for the funding. Mr. Cole mentioned the State Auditor’s Shared Services portal, which is something I hadn’t been previously aware of.

After lunch I divided my time between the Economic Development breakout and the Mergers breakout. In the economic development session I learned a bit about Joint Economic Development Districts (JEDDs) but, as important as Economic Development is, I still find it hard to keep attention focused when they get to the nitty-gritty. Dan Mamula spoke about his work with the Mahoning River Corridor Initiative and how they’ve managed to get communities 40+ miles apart to collaborate on economic development issues. I really enjoyed listening to him speak about the work they’ve done.

By the time I got to the Mergers breakout session, they were deep into the details about the proposed #burbmerger of 4 communities in the eastern part of Cuyahoga County. This seemed like the perfect example of what the theme for the day was: “Collaboration is Hard”.

Commentary

I thought this conference was a decent start. I think there needs to be a well-turned-out follow-up meeting (The follow-up meeting is on November 10th at 9am at the Richfield Town Hall) and some sort of technical support persons to wrangle and facilitate continuing conversation about collaboration between the collaborators. I didn’t get the sense that any of that was in place.

While there were many great examples of money-saving collaboration opportunities, most of them were fairly antiquated. I don’t know how many examples I heard about communities who had combined their dispatchers. Both of the IT initiatives that I heard about were a decade old, and it appears that there aren’t any particular leaders pushing for new and innovative collaboration opportunities. To reframe using the watch-phrases from the conference: “Collaboration is hard, so do what already works first.” I agree with this. However, it needed an addition that wasn’t present. The theme should have been more like: “Collaboration is hard. Do what already works first, but make sure you seek out other opportunities at the same time.”  As someone commented in the IT session, all of the collaboration mentioned was at the network layer, and nothing at the application layer.

Three final thoughts:

  • I felt that lunch would have been better if there hadn’t been a speaker. Quite a few fruitful networking discussions were cut short.
  • I thought there should have been a discussion or some speakers specifically addressing the reasons these communities haven’t felt the need to collaborate until now. The reason they are collaborating now is obvious. The money ran out. If they’d been collaborating beforehand, this pickle wouldn’t be such a big dill. (NO APOLOGIES).
  • I thought there should have been some sort of action item or umbrella goal for the participants to leave with other than the super vague “collaborate”. Is the Fund for our Economic Future going to act as a liaison or networking and technical support source for this initiative, or is the expectation that ad hoc collaborations will be the norm. I feel that if there is an expectation for regional collaboration, there should be a group wholly dedicated  to promoting that.

Someone at the conference said that collaboration isn’t something you can do part time. I completely agree and think that applies to transparency as well. These are the hot new paradigms, and if you can’t give them the effort they deserve, you shouldn’t try them at all.