Anyone who organizes public gatherings knows how hard it can be to attract a good showing of local folks (unless major controversy erupts). Some thinkers reason that people just don’t care these days or they’re too busy.
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s more a case of the message being drowned out by the din of competing media… too much information swarming around us. Posting an announcement on the city’s website and in the local newspaper does not mean people will notice and act.
So it’s compelling that reports are piling up of people using Front Porch Forum to gather crowds for events. No single example impresses, but taken together…
1. Newly (re)elected State Representatives for South Burlington held a meeting this week to solicit input from their consituents. One incumbent reported “the majority of folks who got there did so through Front Porch Forum notification as contrasted to the notice in the [local daily newspaper].”
2. Burlington’s several Neighborhood Planning Assemblies meet monthly and provide an important community link to city government and are involved in many valuable projects. Recently, a city staffer who has attended countless such meetings reported the largest turnout ever. While the agenda contained a couple of hot issues, the sense was that a fraction of the crowd would have shown up if not for the new set of neighborhood forums covering that part of town.
3. My neighborhood is blessed with a great park. A concerned neighbor reported tonight that the Parks and Rec department may significantly change a portion of the park, and he posted the date and time for the public input meeting (first I’ve heard of it). I’m guessing this will be the next example of a big turnout generated through a Front Porch Forum posting.
Lots of other examples of neighbors pulling neighbors into local government goings on. In a way, this is using the internet to increase citizen participation in public policy and to hold officials accountable. That’s similar to the Sunlight Foundation‘s mission. I met with it’s National Director, Zephyr Teachout, today (still digesting the spread of ideas she laid out!). The Sunlight folks focus on citizens using the internet to press for transparency and accountability in the U.S. Congress. Amen!
Ultimately though, Front Porch Forum is about helping neighbors connect and foster community. Other benefits, like engaging your city councilor about property taxes, are an important bonus.