City of Mesa, AZ
3 May 2013
Imagine a place where residents consciously invest with the express intent of improving their community. This is iMesa – Mesa, Arizona’s grassroots citizen investment and improvement effort to develop transformational community projects that will invigorate the community.
An integral part of the iMesa process is the use of technology to engage residents like never before. The online tool for iMesa, “UserVoice” utilizes crowdsourcing, a type of mass online collaboration to collect fresh ideas and stimulate discussions related to a particular topic. Residents submit, vote and comment on ideas that will transform the community. The crowdsourcing site can be accessed via web, social media, and mobile apps. The iMesa site is located at imesa.mesaaz.gov.
The collected ideas are referred to the iMesa Citizen Steering Committee. The Steering Committee then brings ideas that have the potential to be transformative, meaningful and extraordinary forward to the Mesa City Council. There are no boundaries with iMesa. All ideas are considered.
In tough economic times, Mesa found itself at a crossroads – to either just survive - or grow and improve. The concept of iMesa evolved in 2010 to challenge Mesa residents to make a conscious decision to be in “growth” mode rather than “survival” mode.
One of the challenges faced was to find a way to engage residents in a new way that not only got people excited to be involved in the iMesa process, but also provided them the tools to make it easy, fun, and sustainable.
Another challenge was an issue of finances. With belts tightening in every department of the organization, the City of Mesa could not consider hiring consultants to conduct expensive studies and analyses on programs/solutions. The City had to find a way to do something unique, resourceful and cost-effective using the time and talents of existing staff, all while meeting the objectives of the iMesa vision.
City government provides residents tools and resources to support the iMesa program and is available to facilitate where needed in the process. Ultimately, iMesa is resident-driven. The City is part of the process to lend structure and support.
One of the major selling points for the iMesa technology component is that the City does not pay a dime for the crowdsourcing tool. UserVoice is available at no cost for civic engagement purposes such as iMesa. UserVoice is also low in support costs and has vast possibilities when it comes to gathering public input, stimulating creative ideas and managing information.
The response to the iMesa program has been overwhelmingly positive. Mesa residents have embraced the iMesa program and taken ownership of the process. Progress can be seen on the site where many of the ideas have already been accepted and are either in the planning stages or have been implemented – such as a community garden (The Mesa Urban Garden), new and upgraded city parks and recreation opportunities, (a $70M Parks and Recreation bond package was approved by voters and the city is underway with parks and recreation improvements and additions), higher education opportunities (the addition of five new private colleges and universities to Mesa and classes start in the fall) and many others. iMesa is true citizen engagement with real-time, measurable results creating the beginning of a new culture of transparency and action.
The successes of the iMesa program so far are twofold. 1) Residents of Mesa chose to be in “growth” mode by embracing the iMesa program as a way they can be directly involved - not only in their local government, but by taking ownership of the future of their city. Perhaps for the first time in Mesa, residents are given the opportunity to tell their city leaders what they want, decide how to make it happen and see their ideas come to fruition. 2) The technology component of iMesa engages a segment of the population that may not otherwise participate in civic engagement processes. Through web, social media, and mobile apps residents have opportunities at their fingertips to share ideas and solutions. Conversations, votes and the status of each idea are available, 24/7, for residents to see that their government is listening, considering and acting on their input.
The long-term outcome of the iMesa program will be tangible community projects and improved city processes. The intangible outcome is citizen participation in local government on an entirely new level and the resulting mindset that city leaders do, in fact, listen to the will of their constituents. Mesa residents can say, “This is the city that I built…one idea at a time.”
Visit http://www.mesaaz.gov/imesa/ to learn more.
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