Monthly Archives: July 2016

Engaging the Community in Emergency Preparedness

About a year ago, my boss asked me to research “resilience” and determine whether it was a trend our municipal government needed to heed.

Resilience seems to be the term du jour. Depending on the author and audience, the term may mean system redundancy, emergency preparedness, risk mitigation, climate adaptation, psychological well-being… Every field has its own definition for resilience.

Across all these disciplines and varying meanings, it became clear that resilient people and organizations 1) identify trends, threats, and opportunities in a  timely manner, and 2) acquire and utilize available resources efficiently. By doing these two things well, resilient people and organizations adapt to, respond to, withstand and/or recover quickly from adverse events and chronic stressors. As I wrote in the one-page white paper I wrote summarizing my research, “resilient communities have well-honed foresight, responsive feedback mechanisms, sufficient organizational capacity, strong community leadership and all of these pieces work together in synchronicity.”

In resilient communities, citizens contribute to the emergency preparation, mitigation, response and recovery efforts. For example, Knoxville’s Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Program equips neighborhoods, such as homeowners’ associations, to perform their own emergency preparation, mitigation, response and recovery. The program publishes a guide for creating your neighborhood emergency plan and provides training opportunities. While not a substitute for professional response, this program helps neighbors to fill the gap until first responders arrive.

Citizens’ engagement in these traditional emergency management functions allow resilient communities to rebound quickly and more strongly from challenging trends, be it a highly disruptive adverse event–such as hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes–or one of the many chronic stressors that tend to siphon away a community’s economic potential, such as climate change, health epidemics, and structural economic changes.


Using augmented reality, gamification, and Pokémon GO! for community engagement

Augmented reality and gamification provide new and better ways for government and nonprofit organizations to engage with more citizens and stakeholders and on a deeper level. First, we will define and differentiate these terms; then, we’ll explore how these two elements combine in the Pokémon GO!, a hot new mobile application with great community engagement potential.


Augmented reality refers to a viewing one’s real-world surroundings with supplemental computer-generated outputs such as sound, video, or graphics. Often, the computer-based platform customizes its outputs based on one’s inputs, using the device’s video or GPS data.

Several government and nonprofit organizations use augmented reality to guide citizens through their facilities and engage with stakeholders. For example, the U.S. National Park Service has released augmented reality mobile applications for several of its parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park and Washington D.C.’s National Mall. The National Mall application provides a virtual tour guide, helping visitors to navigate the Mall’s 22 memorials, providing history lessons, and sharing lesser-known facts and tips. Lassen’s application allows visitors to explore the science behind the park’s geology, weather, and natural flora and fauna. The Smithsonian Institute’s “Skin and Bones” augmented reality application allows users to put skin over the bones displayed in its Natural History Museum.

Many augmented reality platforms employ one or more elements of game design. Gamification refers to using game design elements to create more game-like and engaging experiences. There are 47 elements of gamification, including providing feedback on progress, issuing challenges, creating mysteries, and generating time pressures. Read more about the elements of gamification here.


On July 6, 2016, the Japanese video game and console producer, Niantic, released the augmented reality game, “Pokémon GO!” The game has quickly become the first widespread augmented reality sensation.

The Pokémon GO! application for smartphones and tablets uses the device’s camera and GPS to add virtual Pokémon — or “pocket monsters” — and their accoutrement (e.g., Pokéballs, eggs, incubators, etc.) to real spaces. Users collect, incubate, and train these virtual monsters in order to increase the size and strength of one’s team; then, users’ monsters battle other users’ monsters at gyms to increase their ranking and win in-game prizes.

Finding and maturing one’s Pokémon requires a user to walk around their community, as measured by the device’s GPS and accelerometers: neither walking on treadmills nor driving count towards one’s walking total. Niantic tagged many of Google Map’s local attractions — such as parks, museums, and other popular destinations — as Pokéstops (places where users can find key Pokémon, game supplies, or accessories) and gyms (places where users’ monsters compete). Users currently have the ability to purchase and drop lures, which turn any location into a Pokéstop and attract nearby Pokémon for 30 minutes. Niantic President John Hanke reported that future releases will allow businesses and other organizations to sponsor a Pokéstop or gym designation at their location. Hanke also reports that future releases will allow organizations to add information about their site to the platform.

Thus far, Pokémon GO! has proven successful at getting citizens to explore new places around their communities. Pokémon GO! has value for governments and nonprofits interested in highlighting less popular local attractions. Additionally, by getting citizens to explore new areas and meet new people, Pokémon GO! has the potential to create bridging social capital, possibly making it a powerful tool for community development. As a result, several leading government organizations are already using this platform to boost their social media presence and increase local attendance. For example, on its Twitter and Facebook pages, the North Carolina Zoo highlighted Pokémon hanging out near certain exhibits (see photo). The City of Norfolk, Virginia, paired Pokémon GO! with its existing Instagram contest by encouraging Pokémon GO! users to post photos of City parks, with the best photo winning a survival pack that includes a sling-back bookbag, water bottle, snacks, and portable phone charger.

 LEFT: NC Zoo official Facebook page, accessed 17 July 2016. RIGHT: Twitter search for #PokemonGo & #innovategov, accessed 17 July 2016. HEADER: HEATSTREET, accessed 17 July 2016.

In addition to encouraging citizens to explore facilities, government and nonprofit organizations can leverage Pokémon GO! to increase attendance at local events by publicizing when and where they’ll drop lures. For more on potential government and nonprofit applications for Pokémon GO!, check out this GovLoop article.


Based on Hanke’s comments, future releases of Pokémon GO! may have the ability to become powerful augmented reality platforms that governments and nonprofit organizations can use to share information about their facilities without the cost or effort of developing customized augmented reality applications, like the National Parks’ or Smithsonian Institute’s. Time will tell whether this application becomes just a temporary success or the basis of a new augmented reality platform. However, based on citizens’ initial reaction to this application, those of us working in government should be asking ourselves: How can we use technology to deliver digital experiences that are as or more engaging than Pokémon GO!?

Going online to meet the neighbors


In the age of Facebook and craigslist, Front Porch Forum seems rather quaint and simple. If it were founded a few years later, it may not have survived; however, the niche market of cultivated message boards now serves over 100 Vermont neighborhoods and about 1/3 of Vermont’s nearly 670,000 residents (Soref 2015, US Census Bureau, 2014). Member testimonials cite the content as positive, helpful, and uplifting; “It’s people saying thank you and helping each other out.” Co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis attributes the difference to the level of participation: 50 percent of members are actively contributing, in contrast to the more popular social media environments where “the bulk of the content comes from 1 to 10 percent of the membership, with the vast majority staying silent or just observing.”

The Front Porch Forum was founded in 2000 in Burlington, VT. Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis were surprised that after two years in the area, they felt little personal connection to the neighborhood and wanted to foster a sense of community. They understood that people had shifted away from personal introductions and the ‘welcome wagon’; however, the need for connection, community information, local recommendations, and the “skills of neighborliness” remained. Wood-Lewis decided the internet could help fill these cultural gaps, develop social capital, and increase involvement.

They launched the Forum by distributing 400 flyers inviting neighbors to “share messages about lost cats and block parties” and compiled daily email of announcements for a few neighbors. The service grew steadily to encompass 90 percent of the neighborhood by 2006 (McKibben 2010).

The Forum has evolved to serve as a platform for community organization and action, a tool for local governments to communicate and solicit input from citizens, and a place for people to establish virtual relationships that evolve into personal ones. The Forum fosters community through technology–by enabling a generation to first engage on their platform of choice, then recognize the value of we and opportunities to become more proactive local participants. I see the Forum as a valuable way to encourage personal interactions that sustain community and encourage civic engagement.

Front Porch Forum website.


Additional References:
Bill McKibben. “Neighbors and Online Networks: Local networks are bringing people together in Vermont.” Yankee Magazine. March 1, 2010.
David Soref. “There’s a New Way to Meet the Neighbors.” Organic Connections. May 21, 2015.

How Social Media is Reshaping Political Involvement and Engagement

Millennial are getting older, and political interest and engagement is on the rise for this generation. Forbes reports that as millennials are reaching their prime adult years, staying informed about current events is becoming increasingly important. According to a study from American Press Institute, 69% of millennials get the news daily and 85% say that keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important to them. Although millennials  access news differently than boomers, according to Guardian, they access news regularly to keep up-to-date with new information.

The Millennial Impact Project, a new study conducted by Achieve research agency, investigated how millennials’ engagement behaviors may change during an election year. It also looks at how those changes may be influenced by factors such as political affiliation, location, gender, age, race and emerging candidates. The study, currently in its second wave, has found key trends that explain how millennials view politics and social change.

According to the study, a majority of millennials had posted in the past week on social media about the issues they cared about (as of June 22, 2016). Social media has the potential to influence millennial voters in two specific ways:

1. Participatory politics: Participatory politics, a new political movement that encourages individual engagement and participation in ongoing debates and discussions, takes place predominately in the social realm. Millennials are more demanding that their local and national governments and politicians listen to them and want to be involved in the conversation at all times. Jeff Fromm, contributor for Forbes, reminds us that this is the co-creation generation.

2. Ongoing, real-time conversations: Twitter specifically has changed the political landscape for many politicians. Twitter is typically used as a platform for self-expression and news management, providing local and national leaders with the opportunity to gauge sentiment in real-time in at a rate that has never existed before.

For more:

Gaming for the Greater Good – Community PlanIt

Looking to increase the diversity of participants in your planning process, cultivate civic learning, and receive better data about stakeholder views? “Community PlanIt is a game that makes planning playful, and gives everyone the power to shape the future of their community.”

Community PlanIt (CPI) is an online, social game that engages communities in local planning. The basic structure of a CPI game is a series of time-limited missions, where players are prompted to complete a series of challenge questions. Players receive coins (in-game currency) for most game actions, and certain actions such as commenting, liking, and sharing are reinforced through badges. Coins function to rank players’ performance in the game, and also serve as a currency that can be spent on “causes” which are local projects that benefit the communities playing, such as college application assistance for low-income youth or funding a neighborhood bike program. Players with more coins accumulated have a greater impact on which causes win. While competition is key to players’ motivation, cooperation and sense of community are fostered through easy comment filtering tools and weekly emails to players that summarize game activity. At the end of the game, the distribution of coins to causes is meant to represent the community’s general sentiment.

CPI is more than an online game. Each implementation is part of a process that involves community outreach and content creation prior to game play, and is followed by a face-to-face community meeting that also serves as the game finale. There, players and non-players are invited to debrief on game results and plan for next steps. Once the game is complete, the data is available to planners and community organizations via an interactive data visualization tool as well as spreadsheets. Most simply, this data can verify the relevance and urgency of previously identified issues. The “thick” responses elicited by CPI’s unique design can also help reframe these issues, and even highlight new or emerging issues that had escaped prior notice. Lastly, CPI’s accessibility can help clarify the relative weight or magnitude of public opinion about particular issues.

Facebook Live

This year Facebook rolled out Facebook live videos, similar to Periscope a user can live stream an event, a speech, or a volunteer project. This feature allows for live commenting by anyone watching, as well as reactions through Facebook emoji’s. This creates a way for an agency to receive instantaneous feedback and to be able to respond to that feedback instantly as well. Given that Facebook is a more popular social media tool than others that offer live streaming, such as Periscope, their live streaming has the potential to reach even more users and engage people on a broader scale. It’s going to be really interesting to see how people react to this new feature, and how agencies and organizations use it to reach a wider audience, and to engage with that audience.




Aurasma is a free augmented reality app that any person, organization, or business can use to connect with people; the app can be downloaded to any smartphone or tablet. In order to create the content you want to deliver you have to sign-up through the Aurasma website then you can begin creating your first aura. This app can be used to more effectively communicate with people interested in your cause, or want to become more engaged in their community.


Step 1: Take a photo of whatever you want your trigger image to be, if you want to create content to let people know about a volunteer opportunity for example, you may take a photo of a volunteer to use for this image. Then upload this image to the website.


Step 2: You will now add an overlay to this trigger image. Following the example above you may want to take a vide of the volunteer talking about why they volunteer.


Step 3: You are ready to finalize your aura by naming it or making any edits and then saving it.


What this app essentially does is it makes your photos, and your message, come to life (think Harry Potter moving images!) This technology can be used to effectively communicate a message, or a call to action, or information to citizens in an effective and fun manner. This is something that could be very effectively used during those “must-do” moments. If you have photos that are linked with Aurasma at the DMV for example, people could have the opportunity to receive information while the wait in line. Information that might move them to engage