The Pittsburgh CitiWiki Project
CitiWiki is an experiment in collaborative creativity conceived and created in Pittsburgh, USA. The goal is to harness the intellectual firepower of the Pittsburgh region’s thoughtful citizenry to make the city and the surrounding region as vibrant, diverse and exciting as possible.
Pittsburgh’s city leaders think of the CityWiki as a bold, innovative plan to get everyone involved in making their region a better place to live. The project aims to answer the following three questions:
- How do you get more people in Pittsburgh involved in moving the city forward?
- How can we harness the intellectual capital that digital communities can offer to create real transformation?
- How can Pittsburgh tap the power of the web to tackle major issues crucial to its success so the region can move forward and become the great 21st century city we all want it to be?
The first CitiWiki project focuses on transportation and the challenge of creating an integrated plan for the region that provides true mobility for everyone who lives here – rich, poor, old, young, student or worker. In the coming months it is planned the development of Pittsburgh CitiWikis on a variety of subjects from business, diversity and education to entertainment, recreation and the arts — whatever can improve the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania.
According to the Chip Walter, CitiWiki Founder:
Our problems aren’t unique to Pittsburgh, but our solutions can be. The idea is to give voice to people interested in regional issues and provide them a tool for collaboratively and democratically developing concrete plans to influence positive change. How? By generating real documents that apply real — and expert — solutions to real world problems. We’re going to take this Wiki document and turn it into a plan that we’ll present to policymakers in the region. We’ll know it’s a success when we affect change. Please be a part of it.
Chip Walter, also speaks about the project’s principles and goals:
Our wiki is a little different than Wikipedia, but operates on similar principles. Whereas Wikipedia is a compendium of subjects from genetics to Star Trek written by people passionate and knowledgeable about them, this particular Pittsburgh CitiWiki, or PittsburghWiki, focuses on transportation, and the goal is to create a WORKABLE, FOCUSED PLAN designed to solve the transportation problems we face. It is meant to provide those who have a vested interest in creating a better transportation system, a tool and a venue for sharing their ideas for productively building such a system. This plan will then be presented to politicians, policy makers and the government agencies (at the city, county, state and federal levels) that are responsible for transportation, and followed up with a second public event to get their reaction to the plan so we can see what steps should be taken next.
In some ways this is a pure, 21st century form of participatory, grassroots democracy. The only rule is that any contributions to the wiki-plan should be constructive and focused on improving the document so that at the end of the process, we have a credible, workable, professional blueprint that can be put into action. As the wiki grows, there will be places for big ideas, lively discussions and debate and all the creative thinking participants can imagine, but the plan itself is not a place for grandstanding, whining or arguing (see Guidelines for Great Wikiing). It is a place where each participant can take the high ground and collaborate with others in our community to bring about tangible, positive change that benefits everyone who lives, or will live, in this region.
The CitiWiki Process
CitiWiki’s Founder explains the process for developing high quality, collaboratively developed Wiki plans for urban centers:
- An issue is chosen.
- A public, foundation-supported event that features a moderated discussion is scheduled. Word about that event is spread in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
- The event is a catalyst for discussion and gives people an opportunity to begin to collaboratively explore important regional challenges and their solutions.
- A CitiWiki is set up with help areas, informational resources (studies, articles etc.), the beginnings of research, and a plan template. A group of “editors” who have been invited to help kick start the wiki may make some initial contributions, but the goal is to involve as many citizens as possible. Many minds make short work and grow the pool of creativity. Or put another way, the more the merrier.
- The wiki collaboration continues for 90 days with a plan being created online. This is the hard part. Those who are the most knowledgeable and passionate participants will likely emerge as ad hoc “editors” for the site who help keep it focused and on track. But the key is the open, frank and polite involvement. The executive editor keeps an eye on the evolution of the plan. His job is simply to try to guide the plan to professional completion. He has no more power than anyone else to control content. He does have the power to require those who act inappropriately to leave the project.
- At the end of 90 days a plan will either emerge or not. If one does, the plan will be delivered to government politicians, policy makers and agencies in advance of a second public event which will already have been scheduled and to which they will be invited to attend.
- This follow up event will now take up the discussion begun at the first event in light of the plan that has been created. It will be asked, in effect, what does government think, how it plans to handle the plan, what are the next steps we take as a community.
- CitiWiki and Pop City (and other media, presumably) will continue to monitor the plan’s fate and keep those who helped create it informed about its progress. The wiki itself will continue as a resource as long as those involved continue to edit, expand, improve and shape it.
- There is no predicting what will come of this. But whatever unfolds, we expect it to be positive and far more productive than doing nothing.