The idea of organizing without organizations – using new social media tools and other technology we now have at our disposal to empower people to help each other – is incredibly exciting to me. We have been reading about how these new technologies dramatically reduce the cost of participating, allowing a large number of people to join an endeavor. And even their small efforts add up to result in truly impactful things (this is a simplification, but think Wikipedia).
I’ve been struggling to figure out ways to apply this idea to public health. I have no doubt there are tons of possibilities, but I haven’t been able to stretch my mind quite far enough to find them.
But I think a speaker event that I attended this evening brought me one step closer to an answer. We heard from the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Their basic approach is one of citizen-centered, technology-enabled, service delivery. So awesome.
A couple examples of this “new urban mechanics” mentioned in today’s talk:
- Citizen’s Connect: An iPhone app the City of Boston is using to enlist residents and visitors to gather information and report back about the physical state of the city (traffic lights that are out, graffiti, etc.). An example of crowdsourcing, or more specifically in this case, “citizen sourcing”.
- Participatory Chinatown: a 3-D immersive game designed to be used in the planning process for Boston’s Chinatown. Throughout the game, participants consider the future of their neighborhood and comment on proposed development sites.
The idea of empowerment so central to this approach is also central to public health endeavors – empowering communities instead of serving them is an important part of sustainable, systems-level change. I’m still trying to think through the public health possibilities of citizen-sourcing/new urban mechanics, but the approach and these examples have certainly got me musing. Can you think of other examples (existing or new), public health or otherwise? Click ‘leave a comment’ and share your musings!