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Win $5,000. Submit Your Idea About How To Improve Citizen And Government Interaction

Patrick McDonnell

October 31, 2013

Have an idea on how to improve how citizens and government work together? A competition launched Tuesday, Sept. 24, is tasking the public to submit their ideas for a chance to win $5,000.

Ideation Nation – the brainchild of civic engagement nonprofit Code for America and online engagement platform MindMixer – is a nationwide contest that will accept ideas through Oct. 31. Once the submission period is complete, a panel of judges will review the ideas for creativity, innovation and practicality.

After reviewing all of the submissions, the judges will select the top 25 finalists, which will be announced Nov. 11. After further review, the judges will announce the winning idea on Dec. 3. The finalist will then be awarded a free MindMixer website to continue the conversation with his or her respective community along with $5,000, mentorship and coaching to nurture the idea to fruition by 2014.

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  • mbstrawn


    I find this question and contest really saddening. Why are we reinventing the wheel? The connection between citizens and government has always been Mayors - Governors - Legislatures - Representatives - Senators - President. These people in power should be making decisions based on their constituents. They should be having active and ongoing discussions with the people they represent. I see that as citizens working better with government because we would be more connected and information would flow more freely.

    Was this what the Founding Fathers had in mind? If so, when did the breakdown occur?

    Now this idea seems laughable because our culture and society is used to a government run a particular way, which so often is filled with corruption, false promises, and little work actually being completed. Our Civil Servants have strayed far far from their purpose...

    Any thoughts on this? Did I completely miss the purpose of this contest?

    Mary Beth

    • Beads Land-Trujillo

      I'd argue that a large part of the breakdown is that the vast bulk of our political energies as a society are put into national offices, and very little of the attention of citizens goes to working with the mayors, town councilpersons, and special district board members that are closest to them and in the best position not only advocate on their constituents' behalfs at other hierarchical levels, but to actually act as brokers in coordinating the efforts of non-elected community leaders to enact change.

      I would imagine that our founders would be aghast at how enamored the public has become with national office-holders and how ignorant we tend to be about the operation of our own local governments.

      Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, gives some insight into how this has come to be the case, in that Americans are far less inclined to seek leadership roles in their own communities, or even to participate in groups whether political or otherwise, than only a few generations ago.

      The good thing about Code for America is that their focus is on local government, not national. Unfortunately, they are still working within the paradigm of government as institution providing services to constituents--rather than thinking of officers and appointees as citizens among others--and thus the technology solutions they promote tend to recapitulate the current imagined divide between government and public.

  • Beads Land-Trujillo

    Wondering if we can't find better models for innovation than contests for ideas.

    Contests work well if they're for achievement: the X-Prize being a good example of this. For ideas yet to be realized, however, they depend too highly on the ability of those selecting the winners to envision how an idea would actually manifest were it implemented fully.

    Unfortunately, truly radical innovations are radical for the very reason that few people can envision, prospectively, the world those ideas would create. Thus contests for ideas would seem to encourage ideas that are defined largely within an existing regime, rather than subverting current systems in favor of new ways of life.

    • Patrick McDonnell

      Hello Beads,

      Totally agree that there are much better ways to innovate than prize contests. As someone who enters lots of design contests, it's so frustrating to put all the time and energy into an idea and get nothing for it.

      I posted this DO, because it takes 5 minutes to put up a response, and who knows you might walk away with $5,000. Conversely, I usually put 50 hrs into an innovative project and maybe get a $1,000, and a lot of naysaying. Heh.

      Based on your thoughtful response, I definitely think you should post an idea.

      Have a great day!

      • Beads Land-Trujillo

        Having invested well more than 50 hours in my lifetime trying to find ways to present radical ideas for better civic engagement so that they are actually digestible, only to find that I'm asking my audience to think too many alien thoughts at one time, I'm confident that it would take a lot more than 5 minutes to try yet again to articulate a vision entirely out of keeping with contemporary modes of thought. So instead, I've turned my attention to trying to lay the groundwork to perhaps have an audience ready to think those thoughts in another decade or so.

        But again, this goes to my concern about contests of this type: if it only takes 5 minutes to submit something into the competition, what does that say about the quality and power of the ideas being selected amongst?

        • Patrick McDonnell

          Beads, thanks for your response. Now, I'm super curious to know what you ideas are?

          If you want to enter the contest or not it's up to you. Even if you don't, I think it's pretty cool to see what other people have already come up with. At the very least, participating in a collective community of people sharing their ideas is reward enough for me.

          Keep on thought'n!

          • Beads Land-Trujillo

            Perhaps I'll post something here on It's has been a year or so since I last tried distilling these ideas into bite-size pieces.

            With respect to collective community, I agree, but in addition to the problems with the contest model, the ways we currently implement technologies of online collectivity are highly constrained and not terribly representative of how humans share and explore ideas in lived experience away from the Web. Those constraints are both conventional (they rely on normative technologies that organize how we relate through them in specific ways) and gendered (they reproduce conversational patterns and modes of discourse that favor less than half the population).

            If we want to really improve technology-mediated interaction between non-office-holder citizens and office-holder citizens, it must start by changing the forms those mediators take, not simply find new ways to repackage those very limited mediation forms. (And that, in turn, may require changing the paradigms with which we think about programming those mediators in the first place.)

            Consider the above two paragraphs a sneak peak encompassing no less than four radical breaks from conventional thought about politics and technology.