6 October 2016

Open Seattle meeting September 2016: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Seth Vincent opened the meeting, and Candace Faber, the Civic Technology advocate for City of Seattle, introduced the Department of Neighborhoods (DON).

Engage Seattle / Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON)

Tom Van Bronkhorst (DON) presented on the Engage Seattle initiative, which is championed by Mayor Murray. DON provides consultation, support, and oversight on Engage Seattle. Every city program – for example, SDOT or Seattle Public Utilities - has individual outreach programs to get to communities who are affected by their projects. DON provides advice to them to improve their community engagement processes.

Key work of the Dept. of Neighborhoods: Outreach & engagement Leadership Development Community investments Community assets

Early and broad engagement has benefits to the community as well as the city - such as not having to go back and re-do major projects because of community dissatisfaction.

The city has a special focus on under-represented and under-served communities. Contractors from different communities help with that outreach, including over 50 different individuals who represent a variety of languages and cultures, as well as the LGBT and disabled communities, among others. Outreach and engagement is tailored specifically to whatever group you’re trying to reach – for example: renters, cultural groups, people within a certain geographical area.

For DON, equitable outreach: Is easily understandable Creates clear opportunities for a public response Provides a wider range of ways to participate Reflects the ways that people communicate today Promotes greater involvement of under-served and under-represented communities

Ways Engage Seattle is reaching out:

Through surveys on the DON Facebook Page: Survey monkey - Two questions: how do you currently get information; how can we make it easier to participate? https://www.facebook.com/SeattleNeighborhoods/?fref=ts

Through Engageseattle.consider.it (the topic of the next presentation): a series of open-ended questions about potential ideas. Users can votes on ideas and comment on one another’s ideas. Good ideas flow up based on user input. It is a way to create congoing discussion.

Engage Seattle’s biggest challenges are in translations and websites. They can do this, but how do they integrate those into their outreach? They are finding ways to push them to the communities, to excited them to go to the website and take advantage of that.

Tom would like to know: How can DON engage Open Seattle? You can reach him at: Twitter @SeaNeighborhoods or #engageseattle Facebook SeattleNighborhoods NewDON@seattle.gov

Some questions from the group for Tom:

How are you measuring engagement and ensuring that it’s representative across all demographics? This is an ongoing challenge, and often depends on what DON is engaging about. Evaluation criteria are set program-by-program. Tom can show that outreach efforts are getting better and better about doing inclusive outreach, but are not there yet. They have a long way to go, for a variety of reasons.

The city has been developing a universal demographics profile for all outreach and engagement. The criteria are broad and include ethnicity, age, gender identity, and many others. DON is trying to push it out to all departments so the City has a consistent way to determine who is responding, because the current data is not consistent across departments

How do you know when you’re inside or outside of your neighborhood? The different cultural groups don’t really match up with the map of neighborhoods. How do you work within these senses of community and interrelationships? Do you break your map down into smaller chunks based on these sub-neighborhoods?

No. These regions morph constantly, depending on who is moving there, and what’s going on with the business district, among other things. The boundaries are constantly changing. There is a lot of engagement happening within neighborhood councils. Those are the bedrock of engagement for a lot of different communities. Engage Seattle is reaching out to other areas without councils, or people who aren’t available to serve on them – trying to touch many different access points. This can be a one-time contact, or maybe it becomes something broader than that. There is also a goal to step people up the ladder of engagement. Can we get someone who’s been involved once to get involved again? Tom sees this as growing the next generation of leaders on community issues.

You had mentioned getting these community groups talking to each other. Are there thoughts on that format? The Mayor’s Executive Order is not about replacing one system with another. DON is working on adding a publicly-available database, including fiscal agents who could sponsor neighborhood efforts, and interactive maps. The goal is to remove barriers to getting people involved, and promoting interconnectedness. Engage Seattle is heading towards an inclusive convening by geographic area or by subject matter, then helping to facilitate a discussion.

Ethan Schaffer – Consider.it

Ethan is the Chief Strategy Officer of Consider.it, a technology for helping groups achieve shared understanding. They work primarily with governments, although many interest-oriented groups use it as well, such as the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO).

One partnership between Seattle and consider.it is HALA, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. HALA includes a set of proposals to address population growth and housing costs, which are both rising rapidly in Seattle. Hala.consider.it shows different proposals that members of the public can comment on. Civility of discourse is really important to the City, especially because HALA has been controversial. The conversation can be moderated; however, the way the site is designed, no comment has had to be moderated so far. When a comment was posted that was false, consider.it staff encouraged the city staff to engage and provide correct information, pushing the conversation into constructive dialogues. Also, a key point: don’t feed the trolls.

The city is also presenting these results of the consider.it and other dialogues back to people: Seattle and the HALA process have a website where they’re reporting back on what they’re hearing.

Ethan also showed us two other consider.it sites, one for a non-profit and another based around a common interest: The Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network (WSFFN), and the crypto-currency world, Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO).


Mathias Burton is working with the Office of Planning and Community development on localbrainstorm.org to determine how to engage communities in the planning process. He is developing an interactive application, which can capture information as data. He would like help and input. This is an opportunity for people who might be commonly left out of the public engagement process – people with inflexible jobs, who are renters, or who don’t have the ability to easily attend public meetings – to engage. If you would like to help, please contact Mathias at Hello@mathiasburton.com, or visit http://localbrainstorm.org/

Chelsea Glaser (Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement Seattle) and Candace Faber are working on a directory and report on what is happening in civic tech in Seattle. They would love to hear from you and interview people working on civic tech projects. For more information, please contact Chelsea at Glaser.chelsea@gmail.com or v-chglas@microsoft.com.

Dorene asked for donations for the State of Washington Council of the Blind’s upcoming state convention. They are looking for 250 items of swag for their goodie bags. If you have fun things that are tactile or something you think blind people might be interested in, please reach out to Dorene at dorenefc@gmail.com, or @dorenefc on Twitter.

Adrian from Turn off the App – Go Outside is looking for contributors. They are working to help people access nature, by planning outdoor trips if you don’t have a car. If you’d like to learn more, please visit www.totago.co or contact Adrian at Adrian@totago.co.

Andrew Sullivan is working on nomos.com, open data catalogue of legislation and policy. He is currently working on SPD policy in javascript. Andrew presented on this at the July Open Seattle meeting. If you’d like to learn more or help, please contact Andrew on the Open Seattle Slack channel: @andrewsullivan, or on twitter at @nomosproject

Jacob Caggiano from Hey Duwamish is looking for help building their platform so people can collectively map environmental health issues for the cleanup of the Duwamish River. Contact: jacob@heyduwamish.org, or go to heyduwamish.org - click “Get involved”.

Pat Tessel is looking for participants for the 2016 Seattle Give Camp, which will be a three-day long hack-a-thon from October 14–16 at Microsoft commons. Non-profit organizations have proposed work that they need done in advance, and made sure that the work is doable within a weekend. They’ll also have someone onsite – the customer is part of the team, Agile-style. Friday evening is introductions and the opportunity to decide what project you want to work on. Sunday afternoon, things finish up. Participants can establish a longer-term relationship with their organization if they want, but the goal is to have the specific work that the organization requested done. For more information, please go to http://www.seattlegivecamp.org/.