One of the toughest aspects of community organizing and government transparency is disseminating information. Twenty years ago a newspaper ads, a few mailings and some flyers would have been enough for a government office to alert a community about a future meeting. Today, planning has now moved online which means that e-mails and web posting can almost be as vital as the former methods of contacts. Even with critical information now being put online, most government agencies still miss the mark of reaching a critical mass of people.
Let's be honest how many of you read the updates of your local county or township's websites or sign up to receive e-mail updates?
Enter Facebook, the social network with over 200 million members worldwide, the majority of which are in the U.S. The site which connects social networks and old friends is now being used by community associations and government agencies to draw people, specifically young people to participate in the planning process. For many associations, agencies and even politicians, creating a facebook page has been a tremendous success. In Evansville, Indiana, the local Metropolitan Planning Organization has created a page displaying photos and facebook surveys. The Evansville Courier reports,
"Locally, Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel has a Facebook page where users can read his 2009 State of the City address or find out where the next Traveling City Hall program is located. Vanderburgh County Sheriff Eric Williams uses Facebook as a resource to promote department activities and to help solve crimes."
Recently I attended a community meeting where the association was organized entirely through facebook. Instead of creating a community association website, all activity was moved to facebook where agendas, photos and other notes where posted. The association which had just been formed months earlier, had a tremendous showing for it's first several meetings. Not only did the word get out about the meeting throughout the neighborhood but the association captured the elusive 25-35 year olds who very seldom come to meetings. This is an example of facebook producing real results for a community meeting.
Unfortunately in many offices, Facebook is either prohibited or blocked, preventing the possible use of promoting agency agendas and meetings. Hopefully in the future, government will see the power of Facebook and begin seeing the website as a tool for community outreach instead of just a social network site.