Shared Success, Knowledge – Time for a “Civic Knowledge Network?”

By Tanja Aitamurto

Want to find out how to raise $1.2 million to build a baseball field for children with special needs? Ask the city of Acworth, Georgia. Community leaders, area businesses and state and local government united to raise the money and make the field happen.

Lynwood, California, used technology and civic engagement strategies to dramatically reduce the local crime rate. Again, the problem was solved by uniting the community and various local agencies.

A drive to collect socks for the homeless children in Rancho Cordova, California, led to a permanent program to provide clothing for homeless students and raised community awareness of the problem.

All of these success stories in the recently awarded All-America Cities were possible only by communities coming together and residents being deeply engaged in efforts to work through the problems.

This country is full of similar success stories, large and small. However, it is rare that cities are recognized for their  success. More often they are seen through their problems.

The 2010 All-America Cities have been recognized on the basis on their community improvement successes. The All-America City Awards, the oldest civic recognition award in the country, is given to ten communities each year by the National Civic League. This year, the three-day event took place in Kansas City, Missouri, a five-time winner of the award.

This is what the participants told me when I asked them why they came to compete with 24 other finalists:

“I’m proud of my city. We made the change happen by collaboration. I want to share that story with everyone.”

“My town used to be the armpit of the state. It is not anymore – it has turned into a pleasant place to live. It is an excellent example of change done together in community.”

“Our youth leadership program has really changed lives of many kids. I want to share our experience with others so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

After hearing these answers and getting an inkling of the large amount of civic knowledge that exists in communities, I have only one question: How can we share this knowledge and link people with questions to those who have answers, in the most efficient way?

Would this be the time for a civic knowledge network, which functions both on a virtual space, and through real-world events? Interested, anybody?

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a new media adviser for non-profits. She has been working with National Civic League to create a new media strategy to the organization, including this blog. More about her here.

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