Austin’s Open Government Showcase 2017: 5 Civic Participation Exercises in 1 Event

The City of Austin Innovation Office hosted a free Open Government Showcase on December 6, 2017, celebrating government and community, and with a focus on civic participation.

The event featured thirteen lightning talks highlighting civic participation, transparency, technology, and accountability projects in city departments. We held the event to raise awareness of our Open Government Partnership (OGP) work and to recognize the many people who commit themselves to open government everyday.

OGP is an international association of organizations and nations, collaborating on making government better for the people they serve. In 2016, OGP allowed cities to participate in their work for the first time and chose Austin as the only American city in the first group of 15 local level “Pioneer” participants. OGP tasked Austin with identifying 3–5 open government projects, or “commitments,” for 2017.

Mayor Pro Tem Tovo opens the Showcase and talks about the Open Government Partnership.

Civic Participation Goals: We designed the Showcase to maximize civic participation. We integrated participation tools and activities to assess and measure attitudes, make new connections, and gather feedback.

Daniel Honker presents on Austin’s OGP “Project Tracking Tool” commitment, as news station ATXN films.

Assessing Attitudes: The Cynefin Triad.

To gauge whether the OGP Showcase impacted attendees’ attitudes about open government, we invited them to participate in a “triad” exercise. A triad exercise fosters attitude understanding, not attitude evaluation, and purposefully uses terms that are all positive (or all negative, or all neutral) in connotation.

For our triad, we asked each participant before and after the event to complete the statement, “Open Government is…” and gave them 3 options: impactful, important, or transformative. Each corner of the triangle showed one of these choices. To visually articulate their response, they placed a small sticky note inside the triangle relative to how strongly they felt about each label.

The image below shows the exercise’s results. We used the pink sticky notes during the pre-event activity and the blue sticky notes during the post-event activity. You can see the shift — as people entered, they considered open government important, but maybe not impactful. As they exited, more people considered open government to embody all three characteristics, as designated by placing their blue sticky note in the triad center.

The Triad — a low-tech approach to civic participation.

Measure Attitudes: Poll Everywhere.

To measure attendee’s attitudes in different open government categories, the event featured presentations in civic participation, technology, accountability, and transparency. We invited the attendees to vote for their favorite presentation via text using the Poll Everywhere tool. The tool allows a real time vote, with voters texting their preferred presentation’s 6-digit identifier to a 5-digit phone number.

The audience chose the homelessness presentation in the civic participation category; the Project Tracker Tool in the transparency category; the Affordable Housing Data Hub in the technology category; and the Equity Tool in the accountability category. We recognized each winner with a closing award ceremony.

Real time polling results — a high-tech approach to civic participation.

New Connections: Presenters & Table Talks.

The award ceremony at the end of the event featured representatives from civil society organizations presenting each award — Open Austin, Vision Zero ATX, Leadership Austin, and the Austin Technology Council. Including them in the event planning and presentation gave them all a connection not just to our OGP projects, but to a wider range of activities at the city.

Leadership Austin presented the civic participation award; Vision Zero ATX presented the transparency award; the Austin Technology Council presented the technology award; and Open Austin presented the Accountability award.

After the event, attendees had the opportunity to meet with project and award presenters at tables around the room, giving everyone a place to meet and ask questions.

Toya Bell and Christopher Kennedy from civil society partner Leadership Austin present the Civic Participation category crowd favorite award to Taylor Cook. Taylor presented on the city’s work to understand homelessness through public input.

Feedback: Net Promoter Score.

The event program included a link to an online survey attendees could fill out after the event. The survey asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, “Based on the Open Government Showcase you attended, how likely would you be to recommend attending a future Showcase to others?” We also asked the open ended question, “What feedback do you want to give us?”, with the option to include their organization. Most responses scored the event a 10, with great feedback on content and future showcases.

Our online attendee feedback form, with the classic Net Promoter Score query — how likely are you to recommend this event?

Over 100 people attended, with a diverse mix of City staff and community groups. Attendees were as local as our Mayor Pro Tem to as international as representatives from the European Union and Open Government Partnership.

The City of Austin has successfully completed the 2017 OGP pilot, and OGP has renewed our membership for 2 more years. More celebrations, partnerships, and showcases will come as we explore new and exciting ways to make Austin open.

Thank you to everyone who presented and attended our first ever Open Government Showcase. If you have feedback on what the City could tackle as part of its next OGP cycle, please leave a comment below!

Sabine Romero is an open government professional and Chief Administrative Officer in the City of Austin Office of Innovation. #opengovpartnership #OGPLocal

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