Sarah Schacht

Sarah Schacht

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Something from Nothing: How KAP is doing a usability study of Seattle.gov

July 14, 2010 6 Comments

I’m known amongst my friends as resourceful.

I find a gorgeous designer dress, haggle it down to $56, make a few improvements to the dress, and wear it out to a wedding the next night. At the grocery store, I regularly save 30-60% through matching sale items with coupons. And in my work, I stretch a buck—KAP‘s upcoming civics curriculum development (writing, graphic design, compliance, online posting, distribution), was less than $800.

When I was approached by the Mayor’s office in March for ideas on open gov work that could be implemented across Seattle’s services, the first thing I pointed out was that our city, like many others, doesn’t really know what residents want from their government in terms of openness and online services.  It would be important to do a usability study, and use the results to guide future redesigns’ prioritization.  Problem was, there’s no money for that kind of work, especially  in governments that are slashing staff and announcing doomsday budgets.  So, I put my bargain-hunting to work, again, to help fuel the usability study.

I’m really excited to launch KAP’s first usability study, run with less than $250 in KAP funds.  The study of Seattle.gov will give Seattle’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT) and Mayor McGinn’s office a roadmap for improving the site, based on the feedback of Seattle residents. As far as I know, KAP is doing the most comprehensive usability study of Seattle.gov.  50 participants from all walks of life and areas of the city will participate in one-hour usability sessions led by Dustin Hodge, who has generously donated his time to designing and facilitating the project. The mayor’s office, and the DoIT are both supportive of the study; the hope is that the data will help the city make impartial decisions on prioritization of Seattle.gov redesign work.

Top that with Tippr.com, whose Seattle-based group discount site has generously donated $500 of credit to their site, to go towards usability thank-yous for our 50 participants, and Mayor McGinn’s office and DoIt have each chipped in $250 to match Tippr’s donation of $500, so each of our participants will receive a compelling $20 site credit.  $20 Tippr equals $40 to $80 worth of products and services from local business featured on their site.

The study is a great deal for everyone.  KAP gets to produce research which fuels citizen-requested improvements to Seattle.gov (and we think meeting citizen’s needs ultimately makes government sites more transparent and open), DoIT and the mayor’s office get valuable research, Tippr gets to be a part of a great community project, and Seattle residents not only get to buy cool stuff from local businesses for cheap, but get to fuel innovation in their city.

I love a good deal for all.

This Ameri KIN Life

July 3, 2010

I arrived at a Starbucks in Seattle, but had missed my bus and (as a result) missed my blind date. As I peered over the rooftop deck of the Starbucks, I saw a camera crew peering up at me. In a few minutes, found myself being interviewed by a BBC reality TV show about being on a date on their TV show. The show, called Perfect Partner, selected me and one other girl to go out on a date with a guy. The events of the date were excruciating; the guy was short and boring, but every hour, I was pulled aside by producers and coached to gush about him. He chose the other girl, a divorced 27 year old who worked at 7-11, over me. I got the pleasure of watching my rejection months later with my coworkers on a presidential campaign in New Hampshire. We all got a taste of what rejection in front of millions felt like, which was good practice for the Dean campaign.

In the months in between the date and Dean, I went on spring break to Whistler, BC, and ended up on Wild On E! (think girls dancing in a club, video cameras panning in). When walking to a coffee shop near UW, I was stopped on the street by Bill Nye the Science Guy—he interviewed me about “Why do humans have sex?” for a new show called, “Nye the Spy.” It seemed like wherever I went, a reality show was going to find me and draw me in. And it wasn’t just about me, it was about my relationships–a date, a night out with friends, and even about sex (what the hell, Bill Nye?!?). They were all being impacted by the motivations of those behind the camera.

So, when Facebook started serving me up ads about Rosa, a 20-something Microsoft was going to send around the country to see her friends and “friends,” I got a little hooked.

Rosa was clearly put on a huge national campaign, but so were her relationships, and her life was suddenly tied to the short-lived marketing campaign of the Microsoft KIN. For weeks, her travel videos were heavily promoted on social networking sites and the web. Here she was, meeting all sorts of “friends” and seemed to be having a series meaningful and fun reconnections. But just as quickly as they were pushed, they were suddenly gone. —Without her story being fully told. Something seemed wrong; Microsoft had switched to generic Rosas in TV ads, videos on KIN’s Facebook site that were “how to use the KIN” guides. Where did Rosa go? Clearly, from clips, she’d traveled to more places, seen more friends, than the video segments showed.

It seemed strange, and just as I poked around the web for her remaining videos, word spread in Seattle that the KIN was dead, pulled off the market by Microsoft. Which led me to wonder, where was Rosa’s trip, and her relationships in all of this?

With hundreds of thousands of views of her first few videos, it was kind of shocking to see this oddly cut together video, buried on You Tube, titled “Rosa’s Finale.” (Slightly creepy title, Microsoft marketing team.)

It only had 2,338 views.

So now, I’m strangely fascinated by what KIN’s marketing campaign did to the life of one stranger. The trips seem like a great opportunity, but the awkward departure seems to say that something happened beyond the market failure of a cell phone brand.

So, I don’t really care what happened to the KIN, I’m just interested in how Rosa came out of the experience of having her relationships at the center of a marketing campaign.

From Graffiti to Gallery

May 26, 2010

There’s an I-5 support wall at the end of my block in Seattle. Despite some greenery nicely maintained by WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation), the wall, and its surrounding small strip of land, attract transients, crime, and gang graffiti. Less than a year ago, a body was found in the brush.

The wall is not exactly a neighborhood jewel.

After living on the block for 8 years, I’d come up with an idea to transform this little space into something, well, fun. So, I wrote to a friend at WSDOT, this letter below:

…(I’d like to submit a) proposal & get permission
for a small art project on a piece of WSDOT property in my
neighborhood… I live almost immediately adjacent to I-5. At the end
my my block, there’s a small green space with a large, concrete
support wall for I-5 Northbound, next to the 65th street park & ride,
in Seattle’s Roosevelt Neighborhood. It attracts graffiti and
transients, and is an area that WSDOT employees frequently repaint or clean up.

With a few community volunteers and community dollars, I’d like to
install an art project on the wall. It’s pretty simple:

I’d like to use 2/3rds of the large wall, paint a large frame on it,
and fill the frame with chalkboard paint. A link to a Flicker page
for the “Roosevelt Gallery” would be posted, along with a hashtag
#RGallery. Artists, community members, graffiti artists, etc. could
use chalk to create whatever message or art within the frame, take a
photo of it, and post it to Flickr, tweet it, etc.
The art would
live on, after the rain comes, after the next artist wipes the art
away, online and public. It would add character to the neighborhood
and, perhaps with the regular foot traffic, keep transient use at
bay, and reduce the amount of paint graffiti that WSDOT has to spend
money removing. It seems that our local graffiti artists respect
public art, but not blank, public walls. I’m pretty confident they
wouldn’t vandalize the wall. And even if they did, community members
would just spread some chalkboard paint on it.”

I got a response back today! WSDOT has approved my proposal and wants to work with me on the project! I’m waiting to hear back on the permit for it, but should be able to start the project soon. If you’ve got ideas on how we could promote the Roosevelt Gallery and help the chalk art live on, online, let me know! I’d love to involve others in brainstorming in planning in the project!

I try to throw a good party.

April 1, 2010 3 Comments


20100326-DSC_4813.jpg
Originally uploaded by LawrenceSeattle

So, I, um, ran a conference last week.

And from most reports, people liked it.

It was a little odd, as the conference organizer/conference idea originator, to get people walking up to me with this slightly bewildered look in their eyes. They’d turn to me and say something like, “I just wanted you to know that this is a great event. I mean, the food is great, there’s a diversity of people, the speakers are interesting, the venue is great… It’s really cool.”  And they’d say it like they expected Open Gov West to be like every boring, corporate, feed-you-crap-food-and-herd-you-from-room-to-room conference they’d ever been to.  Shocked realization that they stumbled upon a genuine, diverse, quality, open government event for the low cost of a $75 ticket? Priceless.

If I sound cocky on this blog post, I’m actually not.  But I am really proud of what our team accomplished with Open Gov West and the outcomes in the pipeline for the event.  What we accomplished, though, wasn’t an accident.  It was the result of being flexible when needed and hard-nosed when necessary, when it came to choices for the conference.   Here’s the ingredients to the Open Gov West secret sauce.  Pass it around to other conference organizers—I’d love to attend more conferences where people love their event experience.

  1. Don’t serve crappy food. This includes heavily processed, simple-carb foods (pizza, white-wheat bagles, iceberg salads, muffins, cookies, bottled water).  You know what crappy food does to your conference attendees?  Sends them into either a) carb comas 1 hour after a meal or b) gives them preservative and artificial coloring caused ADD.  Neither are good for real conversations and sustained intellectual stimulation.  Yes, coffee is good, but it cannot be used for self-medication against food comas.  Try buying organics, too. And don’t give me the line that they’re more expensive. I bought enough organic salad at Costco for a small army and it only cost me $55.  Finally, serve food for the vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free folks.  They’re growing in numbers and they’re hungry at conferences.  Feed them protein, not just carbs or salad.  Show me a Q&A session that went horribly awry, and I’ll show you a ravenous vegetarian who asked an instigating question. (more…)

Canada, Eh?

January 23, 2010

Oh, Canada, my almost-home and almost-native land.  If the 48th parallel had been ditched for the 47th, I’d likely be a Canadian citizen right now.  Instead, I grew up American and watched a lot of Canadian TV as a kid.  I can do a fairly good Canadian accent when pressed, and appreciate a good dill pickle-flavored potato chip. I can sing the Canadian national anthem because all my extra-curricular activities as a kid involved teams from Canada.

That said, I’m decidedly American.  I have what the Canadians consider an unusually ballsy approach to citizen engagement; I’m more a fan of becoming the government than protesting it. I think, if you’re smart, passionate, and skilled—run for public office and replace someone who isn’t.  This isn’t normal in Canada.

Fine with me. I really respect the work that my Canadian peers are doing lately. From Web of Change’s world-rocking network, led by Canadians, to David Eaves, to the David Suzuki Foundation, to David Hume’s work in the BC government on civic engagement. (If you’re noticing a trend, yes, many open government leaders in Canada are named David.)  Canadians are taking real steps towards opening up their government towards civic inclusion and transparency.

Some of my American colleagues from the other Washington think I’m refering to them whenever I mention BC.  Conversations will go on for 20 minutes when they think I’m referencing their city, only to be shocked when I clarify, “No, I’m talking about British Columbia, not the District of Columbia. Not everything is about the Beltway.”

And so, here I am, in Canada again, fresh of a great concert at the Orphium Theater in Vancouver, and great conversations with my Canadian colleagues.  I’m determined to make Canada’s voice a strong one at Open Gov West because I believe their voices are crucial to creating real open government standards and policies that are flexible enough to adapt to various governmental configurations.  It’s also necessary because we need collaboration across boundaries, like the 48th, because many of the challenges we face as governments cross our borders.  —From pine beetles taking down our forests, to being able to mobilize in a regional disaster, to CO2 emissions, the issues we face don’t care about what side of the border you’re on.

So, it’s incredibly important that we work together on open government initiatives and open data standards—that work serves as the basis for our governments and our citizens to work together against our common challenges.

…And this is why I’m so excited to have the likes of Eli van der Giessen and Campbell McDonald, and David Hume, and David Eaves on Open Gov West’s convener team. I’m thrilled to have my Canadian counterparts on board with OGW—what they’ll bring to the conversation will be so important.

Meaning

December 16, 2009

Tim: “What is meaning?”

Me: “Meaning is a catalyst and a goal.”

I was sitting in Tim’s gorgeous, light-filled home, with Tim and Donald Summers, working through Shift Alliance’s process of business analysis—a process that helps companies and organizations establish meaning in their practices and products.  While it might sound a little “woo-woo,” Tim’s company, Shift Alliance, has really pioneered methodologies for helping organizations be conscientious about their values, the type of relationships they want to have, and what kind of results they want to get from their products and relationships.

It’s not an easy process—at one point, I found myself feeling a lot of resistance to this discovery phase.  I mean, here I was trying to imbibe Knowledge As Power’s work with meaning while I felt a simmering resentment towards a few people who had betrayed my trust and done harm to Knowledge As Power’s work or my reputation.  That resentment had led to plenty of sleepless nights and evenings spent pounding my gym’s boxing bag. It’d also led me to unconsciously pushing people away—I was afraid to be taken advantage of again.

Tim pulled me out of that state, saying, “What percentage of your year has been spent on people who do you harm?”

Me: “40%.”

Tim: “What would you consider success for Knowledge As Power?”

I answered my heartfelt wish for KAP—-a goal that I think really is possible for the organization in the next five years. It was a vision full of meaning, for myself and those KAP will serve.

Tim: “If you could have that for KAP, for yourself, but it meant accepting 10% of your work life would have people taking credit for your work, working ot undermine you, or defrauding you, would you accept that?”

Me: “I wouldn’t like it, I’d fight it, but yes, I’d accept it.”

Tim: “Great, so let’s find ways to make that 90% happen.”

With his help, I could move on and focus on what kind of organization Knowledge As Power is capable of being.  Meaning, I found out, is not only a catalyst and a goal, but also freedom from resentment.

Open Gov West

December 12, 2009 3 Comments

The more I traveled this year and talked with IT staff within different governments, the more I realized that they weren’t talking to each other.

It seemed like everyone working within government was wrestling with variations of the same problem: opening data despite their legacy software, funding improvements in a budget crisis, creating public policy support for transparency practices, implementing social media practices without violating public records and meetings laws.

These aren’t easy issues to fix, but I think they’re compounded by the relative isolation that government IT offices work within.  Policymakers don’t understand the financial or staffing restraints of IT offices; IT offices don’t feel like they can ask for retraining, resources, or realistic policies. And sometimes, IT offices hide their inadequacies, refusing to look outside themselves for solutions.

–These aren’t all governments or IT offices, but this was a trend.

A trend, frankly, that needs to stop.  There’s too many good resources and talented people out there for government IT offices and policymakers to be working in a vacuum.   I knew a bunch of smart people and I wanted them to start helping each other meet shared goals. An idea I had for a small gathering grew to a big vision for a larger gathering called Open Gov West.

Now hosted by the City of Seattle, and with the support of incoming mayor Mike McGinn, Council Member Bruce Harrell’s office, Comcast, and a growing team of 25 conveners, Open Gov West is quickly shaping up to become a conference of over 500 participants, two days, and a fair amount of work.

Every day, I’m talking to more governments that are excited about the idea that we could come together and share challenges, solutions, resources, and standards—moving all of our governments towards transparency and greater civic engagement.

It’s pretty exciting, and I’m thankful to have so many great people working on this project with me.