I recently attended an event at my local neighborhood library, in Columbia, SC. Before then, I had never heard of Placemaking. What was interesting is that I had actually participated in it, without knowing what to call it. Placemaking is “is the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in.” It is the act of people getting together to revitalize under-utilized parts of cities, most of the time through small-scale intervention and community collaboration. It could happen in a neighborhood square, or even in an urban park; in any place that is void of personality but that needs to be filled with a soul–the soul of the people that dream it up.
The great thing about Placemaking is that, when it is community-led, it allows people of all ages and walks of life to play a vital role in reinventing a place. It enables citizens to network, and congregate around a common goal: to create a representation of their community.
To me, it is one of the highest forms of community engagement because it calls for a partnership between citizens and local government to roll up their sleeves, develop a vision, and bring change. Unlike other government-led efforts, this one is led by the community: the citizens are the experts because they, as the users, will have the most substantial insights about how an area functions or how it can be better used.
Come to find out, there are many Placemaking projects in my community and I am excited to become part of the movement that is very popular in countries like Australia. We, as citizens and community members, have the ability to influence future town planners and community leaders to help shape our city spaces in the ways we envision them. What better way to love a community even more, than by actively building it up?


EdTech: Fad or Future of Education?

With the introduction of free online learning through organizations like Coursera, Khan Academy and edX, access to elite academic content is now available to the masses with the click of a button. Massive open online courses (MOOC) were created with the intention of providing open access and participation to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, problem sets, and interactive forums. Partnerships with prestigious universities like Stanford, Yale, Harvard have added to the content credibility and growth of this new method of learning. This begs the question; is EdTech a fad or the future of education.

In the last decade not only have the amount of MOOCs increased but it has created a new market for universities — the birth of online degrees. Fact is online education eliminates a lot of barriers for those interested in pursing higher education. I am a California Resident living on PST, working full-time and completing a graduate program  through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on EST. A quarter into this year’s spring semester I accepted position in Northern California, seven hours from home. Had it not been for UNC@MPA’s online program I would have been required to sacrifice a promising position for a promising degree, technology has allowed me to pursue both.

TechEd such as MOOCs and online degree programs helps mitigate barriers, making education an available resource. I still wonder if this is what the future of education looks like — thoughts?

Is social media the way to share?

The University of Kansas released an interesting study this week which found that people still prefer face-to-face interaction when sharing hyperlocal news, news that is focused on a particular community or neighborhood. Despite digital media and websites being a primary means for consuming information, citizen still prefer to discuss issues face to face instead of sharing it on social media platforms.

However, there are key takeaways from this study that public administrators need to take into account. Level of education and socioeconomic status are strong indicators of a person’s likelihood to share hyperlocal news through social media. Those with high levels of education and a higher socioeconomic level are not more likely to share hyper local news, but those with lower levels of education and socioeconomic status are. Researchers speculate this is due to the level of involvement different groups have with local organizations and government entities. “The bar to community engagement is a bit higher socioeconomically, but social media lowers that.”

This is an interesting study to consider when approaching how to get more people involved in community engagement. If sharing content through face to face communication continues to be the preferred method of sharing hyperlocal news, pursuing new ways to promote word of mouth information sharing is key.


Krings, Mike. “Study shows word of mouth still top way readers prefer to share hyperlocal news” The University of Kansas. http://today.ku.edu/2018/03/20/study-shows-word-mouth-still-top-way-readers-prefer-share-hyperlocal-news-over-social.

Tech Spotlight: Constituent Management Software -Romulus


Municipalities are often inundated with emails, tweets, and phone calls from constituents. Government workers are often asked to do more with less, resulting in jumping complex mazes delaying constituent response time. Constituent management software the federal government uses is often very expensive and not what is needed at the local level. Local government deal with issues like potholes, trees that need trimming and other types of direct services to people.

Tech Solution:

Seneca Systems build products for local governments, its first product Romulus, was created and designed to help local governments interact with their constituents regardless of method of communication they use. Romulus gives local governments the ability to manage and response to service requests that come from phone, email, text message, social media, etc. Seneca Systems will be launching its mobile app version to expand access to field workers and local officials document issues, and request service fulfillments on the go. Romulus centralizes constituent communications, allows to streamline service requests, and generates reports on constituent trends and work performed; the constituent management software can be accessed directly from any browser.

Video Demo

Historical Community Engagement

I would argue that one of the earliest (if not the first) use of modern technology for community engagement occurred with Franklin Roosevelt and his fireside chats. He used 30 speeches, given on the radio, to address the public throughout the Great Depression and World War II on topics such as unemployment and war updates. Obviously, this form of communication is one-sided, and its primary purpose was to inform. By today’s standards, it is so limited. Yet it succeeded not only in informing the public but in inspiring them to action and encouraging them through some of the most difficult times in US history. These chats contributed to some great sacrifices and resilience (not just those on the war front, but rationing, can drives, women and minorities entering new professions, moving across far distances to find some hope for one’s family, fighting fear by NOT running to the bank to withdraw all of one’s money).

What made it so effective? Unlike today, where people have a wide choice of technologies bombarding them everyday (and those that don’t have access issues which limit any efforts at using technology for community engagement), people in the 1940’s and 50’s had radios. 90% of households had radios (above the percentage of adults with internet access at home today). Moreover, the radio was the singularly new source of information and entertainment. It drew people together for a shared listening experience. Many of today’s engagement resources pool together opinions, concerns, or ideas, but they allow individuals to remain relatively individual, with more limited interpersonal interaction.

We also must believe that FDR’s personality and style of delivery made this engagement so particularly beneficial. He became the public’s friend or family member. Indeed, they were called “fireside chats” because it was informal, as if chatting at home by the fire. Perhaps today’s efforts may learn from that level of personability. Citizens may respond better to actual people, even from a distance, than words on a phone or computer screen.

FDR really set a precedent for using technology to engage with citizens. Perhaps it was so effective because of the time in which it happened – times when individuals needed extra inspiration and hope. But I’m not convinced that today is that different with the need for hope. Yet despite the abundance of technology options, today’s government is probably not engaging with the public in a way that will make it into every US History book (although Twitter and YouTube may show up in world history with uprisings and revolutions around the world, and perhaps some presidential tweets might be mentioned, unfortunately). But the term “fireside chat” is a common vocabulary term for any US History class. Hence, the right person in the right time may use even one-directional technology to foster engagement. Indeed, perhaps there are aspects of this type of engagement which might still be genuinely effective.

Can Email Marketing Make a Comeback?

Most organizations in the public sector utilize email-marketing resources like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact, especially nonprofit organizations. So much so, those nonprofit emails are in a state of limbo according to the Aly Sterling Philanthropy. On average the nonprofit sector averages a nearly 25% open rate, the seventh highest by industry.[1] However, nonprofits don’t receive as many clicks to their content, only 2.76% on average. [2] These numbers suggest that nonprofits are getting people to answer their emails, but they are not getting people to click to review the email content.

What can be done? Aly Sterling Philanthropy suggests that adding videos to the email will increase the opening rate as well as the rate of people clicking and reviewing the nonprofit’s content. Creating content that is exciting, personalized, and actionable is what can sway a one-time donor into recurring donors.[3] Creating a video can help the nonprofit organization tell their story, whether it be a success story or stories of what would happen if your nonprofit didn’t exist and who would go unserved. A simple thank you video can also go a long way. Everyone loves to feel appreciated and show that appreciation via video; nonprofits are destined to increase the review content.

There is one problem…Some email platforms do not allow or have the functionality to place videos directly within email.[4] Meaning that some readers may not be able to view the videos. However, Aly Sterling Philanthropy has come up with a solution. When developing an email, nonprofits can use an image resembling an online video player and then they can link that image to the video that they want their readers to watch.

Check it out below

image (4)

So, there is hope for email marketing in the nonprofit sector. Thanks Aly Sterling Philanthropy! Telling a story through video is one way to improve the rates of opening emails and getting readers to actually look at the content. What will your first video be?

[1] “How to Get Started Using Videos in Your Nonprofit’s Emails”, Aly Sterling Philanthropy. Retrieved from https://alysterling.com/how-to-get-started-using-videos-in-your-nonprofits-emails/.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Community History


A professor at Marshall University began Clio in 2013 by engaging with his students about the history that exists around us all. The website and app were developed to enable individuals or universities to submit cultural sites to the website, where they are reviewed and published. Users can search their surroundings for these sites, finding detailed descriptions on their history, photos, Google maps, and related academic sources. Clio even includes some user-created walking tours, guided by Google, for areas where there are multiple nearby sites. AmeriCorps workers have created more extensive tours for major historical events (such as major battles of the Civil War). There are over 30,000 entries to discover.

While Clio does not necessarily have to relate to public engagement, it can be used to engage the public in a few ways. First, it gets people out in their community, learning more about its culture. This could contribute to a sense of pride in one’s community, or it could inspire community members with stories of strength and courage from their local history. It could also foster community ties by bringing people together as they learn. It could encourage people to participate, not just in the walks, but in contributing to the descriptions and research on Clio. Finally, local governments may consider utilizing Clio to support their cultural agenda. For example, if Davie County wants to highlight their history with Daniel Boone, they might consider engaging with the community to create an entry for related sites. This may have the added benefit of increased tourism.


It’s a neat app. I look forward to using it when the weather improves!