How's it going?
A short update on the first few months of Civic Source and some reflections on public service.
This week, I’m writing to share a note with you about where Civic Source stands after its first four months.
As of the most recent issue, Civic Source hit 300 subscribers and had an average open rate of 56 percent per post!
When I started planning to write Civic Source, I knew I’d be inspired and encouraged by people around me who care about building collective models for data and technology reform inside and outside of governments.
But I did not expect the astounding level of engagement and support I’ve felt from this community.
I want to take a moment to thank you for being an early reader of this newsletter. I hope you’ll continue to engage and challenge me to provoke dialogue around issues you care about.
After each newsletter issue, I hear from two or three folks doing brilliant related work in the field, who I get to learn from and chat with. (I hope folks will continue to reach out in the future!)
While I like to write about the gaps and nuances of what’s happening in local data and technology systems, these friends are sharing their own perspectives on the issues and offering solutions through their projects; projects others should know about.
In a first attempt to foster connection between readers of this newsletter, I’m going to be hosting a fireside chat at the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Flash Forward Fest on February 22 at 3 PM CT. You can learn more about the event and register here.
I’m exploring other ways to connect people who reach out through this newsletter! For now, I’m making sure I remember your stories and give them credit as they influence my future writing.
If you would like to be connected with others who are working on projects that I surface through this newsletter, please reach out by replying to this email or leaving a comment!
Since this is a ~*special issue*~, I’m sharing a peek into my other passion… movies 🤓. When I was planning out this issue, I wanted to share something that shows why I’m personally invested in local government as a site for meaningful change and exploratory futurism.
TV shows like Parks and Recreation that highlight the absurdism and high emotional stakes of local government have always really made me laugh and made me feel a little too seen.
I’ve always thought that the social dynamic they’re laughing at — what happens in local government — is what happens when people wield a precise and localized power while very few people are watching.
I’ll admit that as a college student working to support local elections in Southern California, with very little stake in the game, I loved having a front seat to the theater.
But there’s more to local government than paper-pushing melodrama. In my own work, I’ve met people who inspire me by fighting within their government organizations against decades of embedded practice to change things for the better.
It’s rare that I find content that captures the balance of absurdism with the dignity that comes from investing in public service in your community.
Ikiru is a movie co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, renowned Japanese filmmaker and artist. With a distinctive style in black and white, Kurosawa’s movies take a painter’s eye to cinematography, using light and darkness to convey depth in ways that we might take for granted in today’s overblown cinematic landscape.
Stills from Ikiru via FilmGrab
In the movie, lifelong bureaucrat, Kanji Watanabe, who has never missed a day of work in his life, finds out he has a terminal illness. On his last day, a group of mothers come in to protest waste being dumped on land in their neighborhood, demanding the space be turned into a playground.
Exasperated, Watanabe sends them to another department and leaves work for good, suddenly losing his desire to continue plugging away within the city’s bureaucracy.
Watanabe tries to find various ways to cope with his last days of life. He spends time with his family, he explores nightlife with an intriguing novelist, and he meets a young coworker who is leaving the city govermnent herself to pursue a new passion.
Without giving too much away, Watanabe tries and fails to escape the sadness of knowing life is ending, but eventually finds a way to leave a lasting legacy through his position at work.
He returns to the office for a last hurrah and his colleagues are left pondering the meaning of his triumphant return. He remembers he’s able to make a difference.
It’s a movie that tells the story of finding meaning in public work. The movie specifically points out the jurisdictional web that public servants can get trapped within, constantly referring people to other departments to get the help they need.
In the end, the solution rests in Watanabe’s decision to do things the messy way, to make things happen without following an ordained procedure. He chooses to honor relationships with members of his community over the bureaucracy that ruled his life before.
Still from Ikiru via FilmGrab
Maybe it’s the masochist in me, but I love the idea of toiling in obscurity, or rather I love those who do it proudly. I think it’s those of us who work toward a collective vision in small and important ways who are truly essential in building a better future.
It’s sort of romantic. And that’s what this movie is saying. There’s a romantic life that can be found in serving your community.
Ikiru says there’s a legacy to be made in public service. Today, I think that legacy is the future we leave for others. In local government, we have a chance to take joy in caring for those in our community who will come after.
Hope you enjoyed this special issue. As always, feel free to reach out to schedule a chat or learn more about upcoming issues. Thanks for reading!