It’s about community! –

Read the full post on GovLoop here. Originally posted 4/23/12 at 5:00 pm.

I heard an interesting story this weekend on NPR’s The State We’re In. In “Street Warriors”, host Jonathan Groubert talks to evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson about The Binghamton Neighborhood Project in Binghamton, New York. Wilson mentions that residents of Binghamton, himself included, don’t really have a great sense of community and the city has a poor sense of “self esteem.” Based on the concept of urban evolution, The Binghamton Neighborhood Project recognized the need for a community to work together to be productive and grow.

The program works by taking advantage of both group cooperation and competition. One project was designed as a neighborhood competition called “Design Your Own Park” and encouraged community input for designing and constructing a park on unused public property. The winning design came from one of the participants. The input from residents gave them a sense of ownership and involvement. (Perhaps not very surprisingly, the more affluent neighborhoods were not very interested.)

The group concept was also applied to a group of at-risk high school students with good results.

The entire piece is about 17 minutes long and very much worth the listen.

Also, he talks about religion and ants.

Have you heard of community projects like this? Can these kinds of projects really save failing communities?

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Teleworking Isn’t As Easy As It Seems (How in the world do you work from anywhere?) –

Read the full post on GovLoop here. Originally posted 4/17/12 at 12:30 pm

After a decade of working for other people, I’ve started my own business. I’m pretty excited. I’m using my skills, knowledge, abilities, and connections, and I have no one to answer to but myself. If I succeed, it’s because I worked hard. If I fail, it’s because I didn’t get the formula right. The best part is that I can work from home, I can work from my coffee shop. I can work in Virginia, in DC, at my mother’s kitchen table in New York.

Or can I?

The tricky part of working from anywhere is knowing how to do it. Anyone who works from home, whether you’re out of your home office all the time or you telework a few days a week, will recognize the challenges I’m working with.

Here are some observations from my first five months as an independent contractor and advisor with a home office. My biggest hurdles have been dealing with location, tools, surroundings, schedule. A lot of my issues I believe are just growing pains, and I’ll figure out what works best for me over the next few months.

  • Finding the right location
    Right now I’m sitting on the couch in my living room and writing, but I have both a desk in my “home office” and dining table that would probably make a more comfortable writing location. I could also leave my home and find a place to work, but will I have WiFi where I end up? Library? Coffee shop? What about the calls I have to make? Do I really want other people to hear my business conversations? Do they want to hear my business conversations? That’s kind of rude, isn’t it? And the panic that comes after the dreaded dropped call! “I’ll be in the car for an hour, let’s talk then.” Greeeeeeat idea, yeah.
  • Having the right tools
    I have my computer, some file folders, my new awesome custom notepads to give to my clients (that makes me legit, right?), and my printer. What else do I need? Internet. Cell phone. Cell phone head set? Accounting software or just an Excel spreadsheet? What if I have a face-to-face meeting? Where do I go? Meeting space is a tool. Might be a bit awkward to have a business client in my dining room. I need some promotional flyers. I need more business software. Argh! My brain is a tool. Is it in proper working order?
  • Dealing with surroundings & distractions
    I can’t get over the pile of laundry I forgot to fold last night. I know its there waiting for me in the next room. But I have some e-mails that I must return now, and I have to write up a proposal for a potential client before the end of the day. I’ve never wanted to fold laundry so badly!
    I have a pet who has gotten used to me being home during the day. She’s so excited to play with me, and she’s become so much more obedient recently…well…OK! Five minutes! We’ll hop around for five minutes and then I promise I’ll go back to work. (Literally, hop. She’s a rabbit.)
  • Creating the right schedule
    If you have the flexibility to work at any time of the day, chances are you will. I’m having a hard time knowing both when to STOP working and save some tasks for the next day, and when to stop doing whatever it is that is not proper work and start to be productive. I have no problem writing at 9 am or 9 pm. If my creative juices are flowing, I don’t want that to stop. I try to schedule several weekly informal coffee meetings with colleagues to make sure I keep on track. (“I’m meeting Chris at 10 am, so I should be done with XX by 9:30 am and then pick up with YY again at 12 pm.”) Also, I put EVERYTHING into my iCal now. I really didn’t do that before. Just tried to remember everything I had to do. Not so good.
    To add two other, tiny, little wrenches into the scheduling issue, I also have a little craft business and participate in a crafter group. I have shows and events usually two to three times a month. In addition to that, I help out at my friend’s store a few times a week. I’ve been there since before I went out on my own. They appreciate the extra hands and I like putting something else down on my calendar! I also use their location as another place to work, sometimes.

I’ll admit it, I’m a newbie when it comes to this work from anywhere business. I’m still getting my feet wet, but I understand these broad challenges now, and I’m learning to deal with them in a way that works for me.

What advice do you have for those who work from home? Have you done it? What worked? What didn’t?

(BONUS: Working from home allowed me to watch Discovery this morning from my roof deck. Here’s my full photo set.)

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Rural Governments and Social Media: The Moffat County, Colorado Experience –

Read the full post on Originally posted 4/11/12 at 4:04 pm.

Rural local governments across the country have historically had something of a tougher time than their more populated counterparts when it comes to connecting with their citizens. Greater distances, lower incomes, slower Internet access and hesitancy about adaption of certain communications technologies have proven to be the main challenges. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in the western United States, where there is an abundance of land and far fewer people per square mile.  (A bit about the “digital divide.”)

It is precisely for these reasons that rural governments should consider jumping on the opportunity to using social media tools – in cooperation with existing outreach and communications – to connect with their citizens. A great example is Moffat County, Colorado.  Situated in the northwest corner of the state, Moffat is the second largest county in Colorado (4,756 square miles) but has a relatively small population of only 13,818 people. Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner has seen firsthand the effectiveness of social media tools. Commissioner Danner spearheaded the county’s new website and has her own Facebook page. “I’ve embraced these tools, and they have really proven effective at getting the message out to my constituents. More importantly, they’ve provided a forum for the citizens to share information with me – which helps me do my job better.”

I’ll be detailing Moffat County’s experiences in future posts. Stay tuned.

Have you seen rural governments embracing new communications? How do you think they’re doing?

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What DC Government goes really well –

Read the full post on here. Originally posted 4/4/12 at 5:00 pm

Yesterday, Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia held primary elections. Yes, presidential primaries, but what some people might not realize is that there were many congressional and local positions up for grabs as well.

I had a really cool opportunity to play helper bee yesterday at the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, thanks to a former coworker who now works for the BOEE. Though most of my “duties” consisted of running errands for my friend and babysitting TV reporters (very friendly), I was also asked to be another pair of eyes on the Board’s social media. I followed the DC election tag, #DCision12 and watched for mentions of @dcboee for my temporary supervisors. Through the day, and earlier registration processes during the year, the staff responded quickly to concerns and questions that came in. Some of the tweets that really impressed me were general feedback about the Board’s social media presence and noted that city agencies worked together. A few really nice ones….

While this was a slower, smaller election than a general election, the entire staff was patiently waiting to solve one problem after another while still going about their usual election day business. Late in the evening, I watched the paper ballots (and electronic ballots) come in from all 143 precincts in 8 wards across the city. Each police escorted delivery was picked up and checked by election staff outside before being sent up to the office for immediate tallying. The staff worked quickly and efficiently at these processes, at least as much as I could tell.

I hope to have a piece in the next few weeks with my friend at the DCBOEE about the Board’s use of social media. Say what you want about politicians, but these local government employees are a great example for others.

The District of Columbia Board of Elections & Ethics is an independent agency of the District government responsible for the administration of elections, ballot access, and voter registration.

Please note, for this piece I commented ONLY on the day-of events at the DCBOEE headquarters, not at individual polling places or actions of candidates or campaign staff. I was there as myself and not representing my company, Red Boot Media. Other than yesterday’s unpaid volunteer gophering, I have no affiliation with the DCBOEE.

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What about the kids? –

Read the post on GovLoop here. Originally posted 3/30/12 at 12:04 pm

Certain topics in public education have become more controversial over the last few years. Parents and the public wonder whether it’s the place of the public schools to teach sex ed or driver’s ed, and sometimes they even debate the material in social studies and science curricula.

But what about social media? As in sex education, where’s the line between parents’ and school’s responsibility? Should students be required to take a course in online safety? What topics should be covered? Should they wait until high school or do it sooner?

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