As cities are facing growing demands and shrinking resources, they have to find new ways of solving problems. Change by Us, a new digital platform that enables citizens to collaborate on projects for city improvement themselves, is a promising model of a new kind of civic engagement. Launched in New York City earlier this year, the application is now being used in Philadelphia as well and is freely available for reuse through a open source license.
Created by New York-based media design firm Local Projects and national urban advocacy non-profit CEOs for Cities, Change by Us enables citizens to share ideas on how to make their city better and then turn those ideas into action through collaborative projects. Change By Us launched today in Philadelphia with a press conference by Mayor Michael Nutter and was executed in partnership with Civic Commons’ founding partner, Code for America, and with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, The Case Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Technology and Engagement Initiative. Paula Ellis, Knight’s vice president for strategic initiatives, said, “Change by Us is great opportunity to put new technological tools in the hands of innovative community members, so that citizen action can be at the center of community change.” (See the video embedded below for more details.)
As a platform, Change By Us isn’t just designed for a particular city; instead it could be used in any city. So Local Projects and Code for America worked together to opensource the application. The source code and instructions for installation are available for download on Github under a GNU AGPL license.
What’s great to see is that both the initial development firm and the initial city sponsor understood the benefits of opensourcing the technology. Jake Barton, Principal at Local Projects, said, “At a time that cities are being squeezed for funds in all directions, Change By Us is a free software platform that turns citizens into collaborators, empowering everyone in a city to make change for good. This triple win for any city costs nothing to install, entices citizens to participate, and creates ample press opportunities to tell stories about positive collaborative change.” Bob Richardson, Director of Strategic Technology Development, NYC DoITT, added, “Now that the code has been open sourced, we’re especially excited that it will be that much easier for other cities to use it to ignite civic innovation. We look forward to learning what others are able to achieve with it, and we’re excited about collaborating with them and Local Projects in further developing the platform into one of the defining tools of open government.”
Here at Civic Commons, we too are eager to hear about other governments deploying this software and working together to make the platform even better — as that’s the power of shared, reusable technology.