Sometimes it seems like the last 10% of a particular project can take 50% of the time, and it has seemed that way around here on a couple of our efforts over the last few months. But now we are 95% of the way through that last 10% on two major pieces, with signficant progress on two other projects, so we are looking to wrap up the year in style!
The long-anticipated "Big Easy Budget Breakdown" website -- providing budget to actual figures for New Orleans city government going back to 2007 -- has at last completed every bit of data entry and verification. We are working to coordinate with the city on a press conference to launch the site, but with or without them, we are going live the first week of December at the latest. The site did get a bit bogged down due to some differing points of view over at City Hall, but we think it was worth the wait to get everyone aligned. With the process now complete, not only can we bring this vital information to the community, but we now also have an approved template for every year going forward.
Also delayed but now nearly complete is our second budget-related website, the "People's Budget Game." This will allow any New Orleans resident to create his/her own version of the city budget. As part of all future budget cycles, we will engage as many residents as possible to do this -- including bringing laptops and trained volunteers to libraries, neighborhood meetings, churches, etc. -- and then provide the aggregated data to the budget staff. We have been intentional from the beginning about making this replicable for other jurisdictions, and about making it as easy to use as possible. Accommodating these important objectives just required more time than we had hoped, but we are doing initial testing of the site right now and at the very latest, will be able to go live with it early next year.
We are also very pleased to report that this project was selected as a finalist for this year's Greater New Orleans Foundation PitchIt! contest for nonprofit innovation, and ultimately won third place in the contest.
Another major piece of work that has gone well is the Participatory Budget (PB) process we are doing with partners in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. The first majorcomponent of this was the Lower Nine Resilience Festival, which took place on August 29, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The event went off extremely well. In addition to raising the first seed money for the PB process, the Resilience Fest also served to promote some unity and healing in this very damaged section of our city. This conversation is ongoing, as is the fundraising for the PB process.
Another project that is in that 95th percentile of completion is our Residents Guide to City Government. The latest and most ambitious of our community information guides, the Guide is now in final proofreading stages before going to press. The publication will provide a huge amount of information to residents about the workings of city government, with a focus on being able to determine exactly who residents need to talk to (and how to contact them) in order to access specific programs, services, permits, etc. With a bit of luck on the timing, this could be the hottest holiday present in the city!
Finally, the New Orleans Media Group (nola.com, The Times-Picayune) did a substantial story on the status of civic engagement in New Orleans, pointing out the inadequacies of city government's performance in this area. CBNO President Keith Twitchell was cited extensively in the article. Several of the subsequent online comments endorsed the content and made the connections between quality civic engagement mechanisms and other critical components of civic life such as voting.
As we look ahead to the holiday season and year end, we are really gratified by the amount of community involvement we have experienced throughout the year, on so many levels and in so many ways. The ultimate goal of civic engagement is to create a truly informed and empowered community, and from our vantage point, progress on this is palpable. It is nice to have specific accomplishments, like the budget websites and the Residents Guide -- after all, these are the tangible milestones that enable us to continue marching forward -- but nothing is more rewarding than hearing ever louder the voice of the people. On that note, thank you for your incredibly valuable support this year; we wish you a joyous holiday season and a fulfilling new year!