Friday, June 7, 2013

Innovation + Civic Engagement = Secret Sauce

Who doesn't love a Venn diagram?
Secret Sauce...that's what we're all after right? Finding the balance, the intersection between civic engagement and innovation, where capable, hungry individuals and organizations are working to streamline access to new and exciting ways to help their communities in both times of disaster and not.

The fluid nature of innovation and the reactive spikes in civic engagement following disasters makes harnessing the confluence of these two elements difficult. However, I believe what happened following Hurricane Sandy is a great example of Secret Sauce in action; where volunteerism and civic engagement fueled by new tech platforms aided community-wide response and recovery activities. At the time it was messy and chaotic, but the new ideas and perspectives on how to approach many of the challenges that continue to pervade response and recovery, were a welcomed breath of fresh air.

Because the life cycle of a technology employed in response is so short, it's almost guaranteed that the next time it's used, lessons learned from its previous deployment will have gone into creating version 2.0. While creating newer and more efficient applications and systems is good, I believe the key to retaining the secret sauce is to maintain a technology's simplicity while enhancing its functionality. Of course that's easier said than done, but it's important to remember that during times of disaster people revert to what they know and what's easiest, which is why you see so many people doing coordination with a pen and legal pads.

The confluence of motivated people and new technology rallying around a common cause is rare, but we have the good fortune in disaster response to have an abundance of both. I believe the key to ensuring that every community gets their own brand of Secret Sauce is to aggressively promote innovation while nurturing and rewarding civic engagement that promotes community cohesion.

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