Mjumbe Poe is not one of the Avengers, he’s an open source software developer.
But speaking at the Reinventing Older Communities: Building Resilient Cities conference, the Open Plans software developer and former Code for America fellow — who said he’d recently been inspired by the new blockbuster movie — drew a connection between the Avengers’ world saving abilities and civic engagement software.
“The core of civic engagement software is really around two things, inspiration and empowerment,” he said.
Inspiration and empowerment, that is, for everyday people to fix their little piece of a city whose problems otherwise seem too big to solve. Poe explained that everyday life is “disempowering in several ways,” and outlined three barriers to solving civic problems that can be addressed through civic engagement software:
- Problems are often posed on an inhuman scale, but software brings problems to a human scale
- Heroes are often not visible, but software can improve visibility for unsung heroes.
- Even when people who are making change are visible, they are not visible in a tangible way. But civic engagement software can make the path to problem solving more tangible.
He offered Change by Us, which he and the other Code for America fellows built in 2011, as an example of software that accomplishes these goals.
Poe was speaking on the “Innovation with New Information” Wednesday afternoon panel in front about 40 people participating in the three-day conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Here is video of Poe explaining how civic engagement software can help citizens overcome what he referred to as the dis-empowerment of everyday problems.
Poe shared the mic with Steve Spiker, the Director of Research & Technology at the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland and Jason Kiesel, founder and CEO of CitySourced, a realtime mobile civic engagement tool. The panel was moderate by Lisa Locke, a community development specialist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Kiesel discussed the products CitySourced builds to help city governments engage with their citizens more directly, offering a practical example of how companies can help cities make use of the vast amounts of data they collect.
The conference brought urban policy makers and researchers to the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing for wide ranging discussions about how to improve and modernize cities across the country.
As Poe suggested in his talk, if you’re looking for The Avengers to solve problems in your city, you may be out of luck, but if you’re look for inspiration to help your city “aspire to greatness” you might want to start by watching the movie.