Alexandria, VA merges online and offline citizen engagement with ACTion

This week, Alexandria, Virginia launched a new twist on challenge based citizen engagement with ACTion Alexandria. ACTion Alexandria is an online citizen engagement initiative, that on the surface looks similar to other online idea platforms such as UserVoice or IdeaScale. However, unlike these off-the-shelf solutions, ACTion Alexandria leveraged its history as an offline organizing group to create an in-house solution that deeply integrates city initiatives with the non-profit community, local universities and individual citizens. CivSource spoke with Tracy Viselli, Community Manager for ACTion Alexandria and Tony Castrilli, Director of Communications for the City of Alexandria about the platform and what it means for citizen engagement in the city.

ACTion Alexandria is designed to maintain a strictly local focus by connecting individual citizens to local nonprofit organizations working on local causes they care about so that they can directly contribute to creating positive outcomes. Citizens can also start their own community-oriented actions. The platform is directly supported by city offices which will also use it to put city problems and ideas out to an already engaged public and gain immediate feedback.

According to Viselli, the ACTion platform will also allow non-profits and city officials to track engagement across all programs in addition to monitoring the feedback on their individual challenges to find out at macro level what broad categories matter most to the citizens of Alexandria. “I like to call ACTion Alexandria, technology-aided barn raising because I think it gets at the essence of what community problem solving is all about–neighbors helping neighbors.”

The inaugural challenge is an example of how integrated these calls to action are. The Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria in collaboration with the City of Alexandria, Virginia Tech and ACTion are asking citizens to rank order 10 quality of life indicators based on what is most important to them. This data will be collected and combined with feedback received from citizens at two offline, in-person town hall meetings during the challenge period. After the town hall meetings, all of the data will be compiled and put up on the ACTion website for citizens, non-profits and city officials to examine and coordinate activities around the newly prioritized list.

As the platform grows, new actions will be featured each week so that interested visitors can keep coming back and supporting local causes that matter most to them.

When asked about the city’s involvement Tony Castrilli, Director of Communications for the City of Alexandria, was enthusiastic in his support for the possibilities of the ACTion platform. The City of Alexandria has given the organization $50,000 to develop the platform and hopes that it will have a significant impact.

Castrilli, who is on the steering committee for ACTion, also pointed out that as a community Alexandria has a history of being wired and very engaged in local activities. As such, the early response to the online platform has been very positive. “The city recognizes that there are challenges and issues that face our residents which may not always be solved by city government so we hope that platforms like this will empower our residents to find solutions,” Castrilli said.

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