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Engaging the Population of a City to Reinvent Itself

Engaging the Population of a City to Reinvent Itself

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012


Guest Post By Don Tapscott, Curator Social Media Week. As Global Curator, Don Tapscott is leading a series of discussion on our global theme of Empowering Change Through Collaboration. Read previous discussions here.

Around the world there are cities in desperate need of rejuvenation and transformation. Elected officials are scrambling to equip their cities for the 21st century, talking about creating “open,” “networked,” and “smart” cities.

The problems are legion. Mexico City is now one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Megacities such as Johannesburg are straining to the point of paralysis from population influx, lack of infrastructure, traffic congestion, pollution and crime.

Cities need new strategies for meeting these challenges, and fortunately, the Internet and new digital tools provide a low-cost and effective way of doing this. These tools allow citizens to contribute ideas to the decision-making process and be engaged in public life. Residents can offer their wisdom and enthusiasm on an ongoing basis. When citizens become active, good things happen. People learn from one another. Initiatives get catalyzed.

One somewhat surprising example of citizens networking to improve the lot of their city is Bogota, the capital of Columbia. The beleaguered city has been beset by crime and corruption, but recently residents have become optimistic that improvements are possible.

On October 31, Bogota residents elected Gustavo Petro as mayor. He replaced the previous mayor, Samuel Moreno, who had been suspended from office in early May 2011 after charges of bid rigging and accepting kickbacks.

In the wake of the corrupt Moreno mayoralty, there was a crisis of government and a political vacuum. Huge changes were required but it was unclear who would take the lead in achieving it.

The Bogota Chamber of Commerce had been a relatively strong and active organization in the city for many years. Under the leadership of a new CEO Consuelo Caldas, the Chamber wanted to take a more active role in the city’s economic and social development.

With a municipal election scheduled for the end of October the Chamber saw an opportunity to challenge the mayoral candidates with ideas and proposals to fix the city. But rather than doing the back room lobbying that characterizes municipal politics, it took a different approach. It decided to engage the citizens of Bogota in a process to reinvent their city.

I was fortunate to participate in this process as an advisor and from my perspective it was an extraordinary exercise that is rich with lessons for anyone wanting to help their own city. The goal was to encourage local businesses, community leaders and citizens to become involved in the city’s affairs.

The process was launched in the spring of 2011, and involved a mix of online and local face-to-face initiatives. The Chamber wanted voters to help set the agenda for the new mayor and government. However this was not simply about asking the candidates to adopt platitudes about building a better, more open city. Many of the proposals were not only fresh, they had teeth.

The Chamber was able to involve more than 10,000 citizens. Its 26 roundtables attracted 1,800 citizen, business and student leaders. During the sessions participants made 1,600 proposals and 1,700 commitments towards the city. More than 8,000 people filled out the virtual and face-to-face surveys.

The results were impressive, which I’ll explain in my next post.

 

For three decades Don Tapscott has been the world’s leading thinker about the impact of the digital revolution on business and society. He is the author of 14 books, most recently Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World and with Anthony D Williams: Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. You can follow Don on Twitter at @DTapscott.


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