[Guest blog by Angela Clark who founded EveryMap and www.Streetcorner.com.au, a Sydney hyper local news network where can locals and politicians report their own news. Angela was previously Chief Executive Officer of Macquarie Radio Network and Managing Director of JCDecaux Australia Pty Limited. She holds a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University.]
I first have to declare that the idea of using Ushahidi to empower local Australian communities was not my own and would like to credit Anand Gridharadas who first introduced us to Ushahidi and planted the seed which was to grow into EveryMap.
In essence, EveryMap.com.au is trying to empower citizens by the simple act of sharing what we already know. If you want change in your suburb, whinging is pointless and apathy is surrender, so we are encouraging Australians to collaborate, because we know that there is power in transparent and recorded collaboration.
While many Ushahidi deployments deal with crisis situations we believe EveryMap can help deal with another kind of ‘crisis’, that of disconnection and powerlessness that comes from disengagement. Disconnection is especially evident in local communities, a place ironically where collaboration and communication was once strongest.
The community holds 100% of all the valuable information but the knowledge is dispersed among thousands of citizens. When we lived in small communities, this wasn’t a problem. We regularly meet and socialised together, at Church, in the market or town square but as our towns grew, we lost access to this decentralised “treasure trove” of history, events & opinion. In the place of complex formal and informal networks most Western societies outsourced communication of community information to media organisations. The only problem is, much of what we still want to know isn’t news worthy and therefore isn’t covered by local media.
Through the power of collective and collated information, locals can make a difference on issues ranging from potholes and graffiti to neighbourhood crime, volunteering, road trouble spots to pedestrian death traps, garage sales and community protests. These may seem trivial things to report, just everyday conversations that we should be able to have directly or through other means, but the truth is that there are few broad and open public communication spaces for this ‘everyday information’. Information is controlled, “managed by spin doctors”, hidden for “our own protection” or sent off to government departments never to see the light of day again.
I want to know that my neighbour’s house was robbed yesterday, that 100 locals have been waiting for 9 months to have a dangerous pedestrian crossing signposted, and that there is a great garage sale four streets away and a local charity that would like my help to deliver meals to the elderly on Christmas Eve. And for my relatives in the bush, a locust sighting two farms away is essential information. This stuff isn’t news worthy but is matters to me. And there is something locally that matters to everyone.
We also tried in the design of the site to soften the look, with the hope of making it more appealing and friendly. Unfortunately, we were working with the prior version of Ushahidi and since upgrading to Version 2.0 (Luanda) we’ve lost some of Nighean’s beautiful work, including a number of birds which have flown off the page into who knows where, so we’ll have to have another go at trying to make the site look ‘warmer’.
www.EveryMap.com.au went live on 17th of December 2010, having been in beta testing for a few weeks and we have 550 reports across Australia, mainly in Sydney. A number of local councils and councillors (elected local government representatives) have already signed up to receive report and as with another project I am involved with www.streetcorner.com.au (a hyper-local news network) we are finding that a surprising number of local politicians are embracing the principles of openness, transparency and direct dialogue and are very supportive of EveryMap’s vision. Something old becomes new again perhaps.
So with EveryMap only two days old, I cannot yet share any insights into its successes or failures, but hope to have the opportunity to share more of our journey with you in the future.