Has this election been a wake-up call for you to stop thinking about getting involved and start doing something?
We’ve been hearing from a lot of people who want to use their energy, skills, and time to make a difference. They want their effort to be meaningful, but don’t know where to start so that their work has some real impact.
First, kudos on taking the first step into action.
Next, decide what drives your passion. What issues are important enough to sustain your interest to see a project thrive and have an impact?
Finally, don’t go it alone. One of the best ways to get involved is – of course – with local projects. Whether you are in a small town or a big city, there are groups and projects that improve the civic space around you.
Here’s few ideas:
Join a Code for America Brigade. The brigades work on projects in their local community, often in cooperation with local officials. As the name implies, many of these groups are focused on coding apps using civic data. But anyone in UX knows that the best use of data starts by understanding real needs. Code for America has embraced user research, design, plain language and all the UX skills, so your work can make the difference between a good project and an awesome user experience.
Volunteer for Design for America. Most of the studios are on university campuses, but putting students of all ages together with working professionals is a winning combination.
If you are specifically interested in elections, creating, editing, or designing voter information is a critical part of motivating turnout and helping everyone be an informed voter.
Start with the League of Women Voters. This amazing national non-partisan organization goes back to the suffrage movement. (Don’t be put off by the name – there are lots of men in the group.) In addition to the national organization, the local leagues work on a wide variety of issues in local and state government from advocacy to voter information.
You might know them from local candidate forums and voter guides. Their work is also online, with the non-partisan nationwide guide to candidates and measures in national, state, and local elections, vote411.org. This guide goes far beyond data, with carefully curated questions about local issues, and analysis.
As part of our work on designing better voter guides, we have partnered with the League in California. They produce an online guide, Voter’s Edge and create the Easy Voter Guide, written for (and tested with!) for people with lower literacy, in 5 languages. Their work is hands-on with an opportunity for you to use your web, plain language, or content skills to help people understand elections.
If you have other passions, take some time to find out who else is working on those goals. They all need your help – and one might be the place where you can make a huge difference. It’s a chance to work with people in your community, not just work for distant users.
Chances are there were a few new people elected to be your mayor or county council, or state legislator. Check in with them. Whether you show up at meetings or public hearings to speak out, or join one of their initiatives, it’s a chance to have a voice all year.
Most importantly, show up.
No matter what issue you care about, chances are that there are others with the same passion. Join them and commit your skills and time and energy to making your community a better place.
Democracy works best when we all participate. Every election. And every day.
Michelle Lee’s article Before the Commit is a good checklist of things to consider when starting a civic hacking project. She suggests some good examples, and some pitfalls to avoid