Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Showing Dev Love

I've been thinking recently about how to enhance city institutions using tech skills. I'm still relatively new to really diving into it, but this represents some of my current thinking on the topic.

All I know so far is that this is a two-way street: people need to build up their institutions, and institutions need to support their communities in building them up.

The Gist...

For institutions:
  • Let your community help you.
    (Corollary: Avoid, when possible, legal agreements that restrict you from receiving help from your community)
  • Empower your community to help you.
  • Ask your community to help you.
  • Your community is you.

For developers:
  • Just do it.
  • Have patience.
  • You are your institutions.


Let your community help you. People want to help. Don't push them away (with few exceptions). I love how some of Philly's innovative schools readily accept community support (I'm thinking Science Leadership Academy and Devnuts). Though, the institutions may need to be doing something to inspire community support in the first place.

A corollary here is that institutions need to avoid legal agreements that restrict them from receiving help from their community. Sometimes you just don't know until it's too late that you're involved in such a restrictive agreement, particularly with the pace of new technologies. But at the point of realization, you should from thence treat the restrictive agreement as if it is bad for your institution, because it is.

And giving your community opportunities to express their affection is a good thing. So ask them for help, if you need it. As with any relationship, of course, don't overstep your bounds. And this only works if you have a relationship with your community in the first place. Which you should. If you're really local (not just biding time until you can expand to increasingly larger markets), you need to focus on the relationship between you and your community. For a local institution, your community is you. If your product is not as strong as your competitors', then your community will wise up. And with potentially larger, national competitors with deeper pockets, it may be difficult if not impossible to keep up in perfect step with product quality. But community love (e.g. affective bonds) will keep your patrons with you. Affection is added value.


If you have a project that you think would benefit a community institution, go for it. Shoot first, ask questions later. Times that I've taken this approach have sometimes worked out, sometimes not. But I have regretted every instance of not acting. Sometimes this may be bad advice (anyone have stories for the comments?), but if you wait for the institution to back you up, you may be waiting for a long time. Even if you act first, you may be waiting for a long time, but at least you'll have something to do while you wait. You'll have drive to keep going because you can see something happening, and you may be able to pick up supporters because they'll see something happening.

Nothing happens unless someone acts anyway. So it might as well be you. Because, when you get down to it, you are your institutions. They are yours to accept or neglect, shape or destroy.

So if you have the resources, and it doesn't hurt anyone, just get started developing. Legal worries? Worry about it later (of course, comply with any cease and desist orders; but if you get none, then keep going).