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Today, we are pleased to share with you a new report, Citizen-Centered Solutions: Lessons in Leveraging Public Participation from the Make it Your Own Awards. The report takes a look at our experiments to inspire passionate people and teams to embrace a citizen-centered approach to civic engagement, and our efforts to test a citizen-centered approach to philanthropy from 2007 until now.
When we launched the Make it Your Own Awards (MIYO) in late 2007 we were attempting to lift up a new approach to activating communities that combined dialog with action to encourage citizens to get engaged and stay engaged. We were also trying to walk our talk and create an “open” grantmaking initiative, using the (then) latest web 2.0 tools, which would be almost entirely shaped by people outside our doors. Both concepts were novel, mostly untested and we weren’t sure what to expect – would opening the process to the public matter? Would integrating new technology enhance outcomes? And would a citizen-centered approach to civic engagement really affect results?
As with any program we do, assessing impact was a critical component of the process. So it was with these questions in mind that we began to develop the concept of MIYO and we’ve been collecting data and information nearly every step of the way. We’re excited today to share the full results of that evaluation research with you.
The results and insights are both uplifting and enlightening – including the finding that two years after grants were awarded, 80 percent of the projects are still highly engaged and moving forward, and more than half had achieved substantial and concrete outcomes. We saw the impact that sharing an effective model and simply asking people to write down their ideas could have - while only 20 of the nearly 5,000 MIYO applicants received funding, a majority still chose to move their projects forward. And, we're delighted with the growing number of renowned institutions that are carefully experimenting with similar models to engage the public in the decision-making process.
Beyond the macro, program-wide results, we are most motivated by what transpired in communities across the country. We found that providing a little money, staff support, publicity, networks and tools led to some powerful results from small community efforts that were far off the radar screen. For example:
- Citizen Participation in New Orleans developed a charter amendment mandating a city-wide citizen participation initiative, which was passed by the city.
- The Front Porch Forum in Burlington, VT achieved statewide participation in an online-community forum, which now has 20,000 users and more than 100,000 postings.
- Hands Across North Quabbin in Massachusetts led to the creation of a community pavilion and a new environmental organization, which persuaded seven different town governments to join together to be certified by the state as a “green community.”
Of course, there were also some results that were surprising and provide ample lessons learned. For example, we found that among potential grantees, online voting – which has since become quite a popular way to engage individuals in the grantmaking process through programs like Pepsi Refresh and Chase Community Giving – was the least popular part of the MIYO process. This may be due to the underlying competitive nature of any form of voting that will determine who gets a grant and who doesn't, or it might reflect a larger concern about a level playing field in the online voting environment, but whatever the reason, grantees made it clear that this central aspect of the MIYO was not popular.
In addition, grantees reported that they didn’t feel they could decline optional resources provided to them – including new technologies – because they did not want to disappoint us as funders. We’ll continue to discuss lessons we can learn from these findings – whether it’s how to create a smarter and more effective public voting processes, or how we create authentic partnerships with grantees so we can have open and honest lines of communication.
After 4,641 grant applications, 15,232 public votes, 100 finalists, 20 semifinalist grantees and two years of hard work in communities nationwide, we are proud of the successes which stemmed from Make It Your Own. Of course, as always, there are some things that did not go exactly as planned, but all together, we are delighted to share it all.
So, please read the report, take advantage of the dozens of templates and resources we’ve released (ranging from grant agreements to scoring rubrics to marketing plans) and let us know what you think of what we’ve shared. But, most of all we hope the philanthropic and nonprofit sector keeps experimenting with new ways to open closed doors and activating citizens to own the challenges and opportunities they face each day.
And, if you have an iPhone or Droid, get the report now by scanning this barcode using the stickybits app: