More than a year ago I started an online discussion community for San Antonians to share their ideas and collaborate with each other to improve our city.
The project was well-received by many, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, who endorsed the project during her 2015 inaugural address.
My hope was that our City Council members would adopt the platform and promote it as a way for citizens to communicate more effectively with their offices. That hope was met with resistance and despite the initial momentum, the community ultimately dried up with only 100 registered members.
For eight months, I all but let the project go.
The original Ideas for CoSA community was launched on a Reddit-like platform called IdeaScale. I was intrigued by IdeaScale because of it’s voting and crowd-funding features. However, the jump to join and learn a new platform was too much to ask of new users?, ?especially considering that our leaders were not participating.
Facebook provides a lower barrier to entry considering more than 50% of Americans use Facebook and all of our City Council members have Facebook profiles. Political campaigns also are increasingly using Facebook to target voters with their messages. Easier access, including mobile compatibility, and the committed presence of our representatives convinced me that Facebook was the best place for Ideas for CoSA.
I decided to relaunch Ideas for CoSA on Facebook hours after a meeting with Drew Galloway of MOVE San Antonio. Our conversation about activating San Antonians, especially Millennials, in local government officially revived my interest in the project.
Within two weeks of the re-launch the community grew to more than 200 members. Currently, there are more than 400 group members.
There have been hundreds of posts and comments made in the group, all surrounding San Antonio civic engagement.
One recent post by Casey Whittington shared an article about the coming Bexar County Commission Race between incumbent Kevin Wolff and his sole challenger, Brandon Johnson?, a 19-year old UTSA student.
Johnson, an Ideas for CoSA member, joined the conversation.
“This election is about giving a voice to those who feel like their input and concerns are not currently being heard,” he wrote.
In another recent post, Gilbert Candia proposed transforming the San Pedro Branch Library into a San Pedro Parks Visitors Center.
“The Central Library can accommodate the small book collection,” he said. “… This opportunity can also tie into the San Pedro Creek project as a focal point for the San Pedro Springs and San Antonio 300 project.”
Notable people representing City departments and community associations have participated in the group too. SASpeakUp’s Laura Elizabeth Morales responded to questions and comments related to the group’s public meetings. TechBloc’s Marina Gavito, City Council reporters Josh Baugh and Joey Palacios, and NowCastSA’s B. Kay Richter and Charlotte Anne Lucas are members. Several neighborhood associations also have participated, including Beacon Hill, King William, and Woodlawn Lake.
City Council members have still been slow to join the conversation. Half of the members joined the group but only Ron Nirenberg (D8) has contributed with a comment.
Going forward I expect Ideas for CoSA and civic engagement to grow on Facebook. The ease of use, transparency of discussions, and growing importance of Facebook during political campaigning will continue to foster discussion. Facebook Live also provides opportunities for citizens to broadcast and share public meetings with each other.
If we can get through the funny videos, baby photos, and high school drama, Facebook is a real opportunity to communicate and collaborate with each other to make San Antonio a better city.
Top image: A laptop sits next to a notebook and pen. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Pixelmattic WordPress Agency.