03 Feb

Design Action Research for Government (DARG) project (part 2 of 2)

In addition to research oriented around projects, DARG is also engaged in some context-setting research on the changing face of government.


Perceptions of new media amongst government officials 

The use of new media tools in government is shaped by the perceptions of government officials (elected and appointed). We have embarked on a national study that will consist of between 20 and 30 semi-structured interviews with officials from a variety of cities. The study will explore the following questions: How do city officials currently use social networking sites to connect with citizens? How could online platforms be designed to better meet the needs of city officials? What do elected officials envision as the challenges and opportunities for using social media to engage citizens?


New Approaches for Partnerships

Relationships between civic institutions and local organizations are most often hierarchical and entrenched. Requests for projects (RFPs) require jumping through bureaucratic hoops and knowledge of the system; dispensing fiscal aid to neighborhoods or advocacy groups often must be done without attention to micro-level conditions. In order to provide locally-productive solutions and open the civic process to new and different groups, innovation in technology must be accompanied by innovation in process.

In order to foster more collaborative relationships between government and stakeholders, the DARG project is experimenting with new kinds of partnerships.  These include partnerships with universities & community groups, residents, and private businesses.


Partnering on Problem Solving with Universities & Community Groups

The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics has connected with the Community Innovation Lab (CIL) at Harvard University to create a course-based model for sourcing ideas. The course, taught in two consecutive semesters (Spring 2012 and Fall 2012), produced over 12 ideas currently being considered for implementation. The CIL had students propose technological solutions for community problems in cooperation with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, the Orchard Gardens Residents Association and Uphams Corner Main Streets.

The DARG project is evaluating this approach, evaluating its ability to serve as a source for creating original and effective solutions to long-standing community issues.  In order to measure this, we are gathering data regarding the communities’ perceptions of success of the projects through a series of in-depth interviews with relevant community groups. Perception is key in this undertaking, as community groups’ understanding of their relationship to the city, universities, their own efficacy, and the success of projects implemented under these plans are the main markers of successful restructuring of how ideas and interventions are sourced. Additionally, we will investigate the actual implementation of these plans by employing ethnographic observation of their use within the community. The long-term plan for assessing this area involves iterating and refining the CIL class and implementations of the ideas it generates. Best practices observed from the CIL will be used to develop new methods of restructuring relationships of service provision.


Partnering on Problem Solving with Residents

The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics has connected with IDEO, a leading design firm, to propose a new approach to handling residential trash in Boston.  Problems with trash and litter are routinely the most frequent resident complaint heard by the City.  Rather than addressing this problem by looking only at refining the City’s existing operations, this effort with IDEO, supported by the DARG project, is crafting a solution that stems from engagement with residents and an analysis of their interests and behaviors.

Through the evaluation and documentation of the pilot project, we will help record the efficacy of this more interactive approach to the improvement of municipal services.


Partnering on Problem Solving with the Private Sector

Traditionally, when government is looking for a private sector company to partner with, it issues a request for proposal.  For the reasons mentioned above, this process can exclude some potential respondents and the ideas they might have.  With support from the DARG project, the City of Boston was able to experiment with a different approach.

The City ran an open competition for companies that could help small & local businesses use social media to drive in-store sales.  Dozens of companies, from a range of sectors and of various sizes, responded, netting a wide array of potential approaches.  The selected winner of the competition is actively working with small businesses and already showing success.  We will document this competition process as an alternative to the traditional RFP approach to partnering with the private sector.

Across all of these projects, we will not only draw conclusions regarding best practices for engaging the public, but will create recommendations designed to scale across cities. By building a network of organizations and innovators within and between cities, the DARG project ultimately seeks to reduce the cost and risk of implementing new technologies in the civic space.


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