#VizLou, an experiment in sharing inspirations and visions for Louisville

We recently beta launched #VizLou, a civic engagement experiment in Louisville, KY. #VizLou helps visionary young adults share what they love about living in Louisville, and their ideas for the future. Discovering and sharing visions can happen over Twitter and directly at vizlou.org. City leadership and staff, community leaders, and other adult allies can use the tool to share visions they like, offer comments and help make connections.

Over the past few months, we’ve been working closely with staff at Metro Louisville and Living Cities, the project funder, to build an engagement tool that’s targeted at civic-minded but disengaged young adults. #VizLou is an opportunity for these young adults to share their visions for the future of Louisville, and for allies to review, respond and help turn those visions into action.

Louisville is engaged in an ongoing community process to guide the future look, feel and flow of the city in the next 25 years – Vision Louisville. Using town halls and public meetings, an idea-gathering website, and special events, Vision Louisville will invite input from citizens across the city. Everything heard will contribute to a plan of big picture goals and specific projects that will shape the built environment throughout the city.

 Public meetings aren’t for everyone. Could a new web tool help engage people who might not participate in Vision Louisville through other channels? To understand what such a tool should look like, we met with young adults from West End neighborhoods of Louisville earlier this year. In our conversations, we discovered preferences for particular social networking tools (Twitter and Instagram), device ownership (capable Android and iOS phones and tablets used over wifi), and interest in engaging with the city about neighborhood improvements.

During the soft launch, we’ll be watching how people use #VizLou, and getting reactions and criticism from visionaries and allies. This is an experiment, and we have many hypotheses to test. Here are a few of the key ones we’re investigating:

For young adults, Twitter a good way to discover and share visions. We know that Twitter is a popular communication tool with people who might use the tool. We are assuming that because tweets and retweets spread fast, visionaries and allies can find and explore ideas. But participants have to feel comfortable about tweeting this kind of material, and letting the app tweet on their behalf.

Allies do more than just listen. Everything collected through #VizLou will contribute to the Vision Louisville process, but we hope the allies will open up more options for great ideas or serious concerns to reach the right audience. For example, hearing a need for community gatherings to share stories about successes and challenges, an ally could suggest checking out the NC3 Network Nite. The activity of allies will help us discover and prototype ideas for additional features that might get coded into the app later.

Sharing is caring. #VizLou isn’t a letterbox to collect ideas, it’s intended as an idea exchange that enables people to see and act on creative thinking and deep passion for change. Some visions will take decades to realize, but we hope the method of engaging and shorter-term responses make #VizLou rewarding and eye-opening for participants.

Everyone’s a visionary (given the right prompts). You might think that you’re already an engaged and informed citizen, but do you have visions to share right now? We know that contributing ideas ‘cold’ is hard, so #VizLou tries to create a fertile context: encouraging people to share positive moments about their neighborhood, featuring examples of provocative visions. We’re working to understand the right mixture of intrinsic and external incentives that encourage action.

We’ll have more to learn and share about the project soon. If you’re curious to see #VizLou in action, head over to VizLou.org, and keep an eye on the #VizLou hashtag. If you’re based in Louisville, please consider signing up as an visionary or ally.  And as always, take a look and get involved with the project on GitHub.