The success of CommonPlace’s pilot was — and any future revitalization of CommonPlace will be — driven by an obsession with technology design and community organizing.
We believe in integrated networks. Single service civic sites — for example, those just for connecting with government or just for connecting with snow shoveling — often fail because they cannot organize a critical mass. Like Facebook, Craigslist, and local newspapers, CommonPlace aims to be a one-stop shop for multiple forms of civic engagement. That way, you can have civic serendipity: you come to the site to sell your couch, but see an even announcement for a neighborhood potluck.
We believe in ladders of engagement. Civic technology that relies on users to actively check into the site daily do not work. That is why with CommonPlace, you register and you’re done: immediately you start receiving daily email bulletins with posts written by your neighbors. Once you are locked in to receiving the daily bulletins, you organically move up the ladder of engagement: from reading to replying to posting to creating a page for your civic group to leading the conversation.
We believe in bounded networks. Civic institutions should not only be neutral tools for individuals to use for their own ends. To survive, they need to be organizations that you join, that have members (not users), and that expect members to give back, as well as take from the network. That’s why a town’s CommonPlace is a closed network that you join and become a member of, not an open tool that you only use when you need it.
We believe in real people. In-person civic institutions involve real people with real faces and real names, who are held accountable for their participation. That is the only way trust can be built. That’s why each town’s CommonPlace requires members to register with their real names and photos.
We believe in place-based (not space-based) organizing. CommonPlaces are not organized to connect you with the neighbors within a certain radius of your house. Rather, like town bulletins and local newspapers of old, they are mapped onto real-world communities — towns, villages, small cities, and large neighborhoods within big cities — and serve the whole community, not just you.
We believe in real world community organizing. The best civic technologies are alloys that mix in-person and online organizing. That is why we organize people on to CommonPlace the old fashioned way: knocking on doors, tabling at farmers’ markets, going to civic meetings, and getting buy-in from existing organizations.
We believe in distributed power. No one company should have the power over our towns’ local information infrastructure. That is why we encourages towns to host their CommonPlace platform on their own servers and modify our open source code to fit their own needs.
We believe in open source development. No single group of technologists knows what is best for every town. That is why we believe in open source development: building the CommonPlace kernel that outlines the civic platform, but encouraging volunteer developers to build versions and plugins that meet their own town’s needs.
Contact Pete Davis at Pete@CivicTech.us with questions or subscribe to our mailing list: