Our Organizational Patterns
At Open Savannah, we have a guiding set of beliefs – what we refer to as ‘patterns’ – that inform our thinking and guide our decision-making. Each pattern is short, general in application, and applies to almost all aspects of what we do.
- Local government is (can be) what we do together. Government can and should represent and serve the people in our communities, but it will only do that if we get involved and make it relevant to our communities’ needs. It’s up to us to make government work in the digital age in Chatham County.
- **Residents should be at the center of decision-making processes that will impact their lives.
- We believe that local knowledge is the most important type of knowledge when building for local purposes. Excel can do the math. No code is needed to start a project. Sometimes, the missing ingredient is locality knowledge. So, we value the knowledge of residents above all else.
- Change starts at the local level. Starting with Savannah and Chatham County lets us connect directly with users and allows us to impact people’s lives faster.
- We envision local government as transcending municipal borders. The City of Savannah and Chatham County exist as interconnected, interdependent and mutually symbiotic places whose borders lead to tribalism, infighting and inefficiency. To us, ‘Savannah’ doesn’t just refer to the area within the city limits; it refers to the broader sense of place with which all 540,000 Coastal Georgians identify as a region. Likewise, we think that unity, collaboration, and intergovernmental collaboration are necessary for the future of Savannah.
- We don’t blame people for a problem. We blame the problem for the problem.. It’s easy to blame our elected leaders and public servants when things go wrong. But rarely do we take into account the complex system of municipal government under which they operate. The problem is not the people in charge (usually); rather, it’s a rigid and outdated system of top-down, hierarchical vertical silos that apply 20th century thinking to the governance of a 21st-century society.
- We believe that economic development happens from the bottom-up first. No amount of recruitment of major companies to the region and no amount of jobs created alone can create broad-based prosperity. To fix poverty, we must start with the source, which means confronting thorny issues such as the digital divide, the continued effects of racial segregation on community stratification and how new development projects impact the incumbents of our community.
- We strive for impact at scale. The two biggest levers for improving people’s lives at scale are technology and government–we put them together, to solve some of America’s biggest challenges.
- We first create incremental change by doing. We make the change we want to see real as fast as possible, building visible product, and building trust and buy-in as we deliver results. (The strategy is delivery? Show the thing?)
- We then create catalytic change through advocacy and collective action. We aim to make civics sexy again. Civic illiteracy is a byproduct of cynicism, and is self-defeating in nature. We believe that by educating the public better as to how they can influence power as citizens in a democracy through their actions and their votes, we can change with the machinery of politics.
- We show up. All of civics is about ‘who decides.’ We believe that decisions are made by those show up. So, to bring the change we want locally, we show up – at council meetings, neighborhood associations, public forums and more. We reject the idea that we can change systemic cultural norms by sitting behind the glow of a computer screen.
- We believe in listening before building.. Too often, civic innovation builds solutions for problems that aren’t actually problems. We believe that to achieve change at scale and foster broad-based collective action, we must first listen to the needs of all citizens.
- We put process before product. We use technology, design, open data, art and locality knowledge merely as modes for our end goal: civic empowerment. It is about the process of civic empowerment, not the product of civic-technology. If the application of civic-tech fails to empower citizens in a way that spurs action, it might as well fail to work altogether.
- We believe that government is bigger than politics. Politics and hyperpartisanship has perverted much of our collective view of government. But government is not the same as politics.
- We meet user needs. We must also take care of government needs, like various forms of compliance, in order to do our work, but we privilege user needs, articulated through research with real people to understand their experiences, and ensure that services are designed to work for them.
- We are continuously improving. We start small and get a working product into people’s hands as early as possible, test with users frequently, and make continuous improvements based on feedback. (this could fall in with meet user needs). Every product remains perpetually in beta.
- We work in the open. We build open source technology, we invite participation and feedback, and we share what we are learning along the way. While we always lean towards open, we are pragmatic enough to adopt a proprietary approach when it supports the safety of our users, or the outcomes that we seek.
- We support public servants to serve the public. The choice to work in government is often a selfless one. We honor and those who work hard help people in their communities through government. Our job is to help them do that better, not here to replace them. We don’t view bureaucracy ipso facto as a bad thing.
- Government should work for all Coastal Georgia residents, not just those with access to power and resources. We define “citizen” as someone who shows up for their community, not by legal status.
- Our organization and our community should reflect the diversity of the country. The problems we face cannot be solved unless a greater number and diversity of people become involved in civic life and have input into critical community issues.
- Government as a platform means working with a diverse ecosystem of partners and contributors – We partner with community based organizations and government institutions that have the expertise in the challenges that we are trying to solve, we know that we can’t do this alone, and that we are stronger together.
- We believe in the strength of our local democratic institutions, and reject the notion that ‘things will never change.’ The moment we begin to give in to the status quo is the moment we lose collective agency. We can’t fix government without first fixing citizenship.
- We believe in the power of open data not only to make government more efficient, but to democratize our democracy. Open, linked data holds a range of benefits to everyone if used properly and made accessible to residents. Access to truth through data is knowledge. Knowledge is power.
- We offer up our hands, not just our voices. It’s easy to complain about our local officials on Facebook. It’s harder, however, to offer up our skills and seek to create the change we wish to see.
- We meet people where they are. To engage in meaningful dialogue with the entire Savannah community, we must consciously seek to communicate on the platforms and in the physical spaces citizens know and frequent most. We don’t believe putting code on GitHub can, in itself, have broad-based impact.
- We keep the main thing the main thing. We currently have three core focus areas we seek to use technology and government together to wield impact: (a) mobility and transportation, (b) safety and justice, and (c) ensuring residents have affordable housing.
- We do the hard work to make it simple. The easier to use a piece of civic infrastructure is, the more accessible it is the greatest numbber of people. But making something simple isn’t simple. It takes extra work and an attention to human needs to make things simple and effective.
- We help local government work for the people who need it most – We focus on improving services for the most vulnerable in our society and in restoring civic trust in an era of record cynicism.
- We acknowledge and seek to eliminate exclusionary behaviors, norms, and practices. It’s easy to say we aim to be ‘inclusive,’ but being inclusive is less a thing itself than it is the absence of exclusion. We must acknowledge our own exclusionary tendencies and course-correct them whenever possible.
- We’re building a movement.” The sort of fundamentally redesigned system of participatory democracy we seek can’t be solved in a day, a week, or a year. It can take a decade or more of work to change mindsets at scale.
No one is coming . . . it's up to us.
We are Open Savannah.