Mobilizing Empowerment: Mobilize Summit 2017

Sep 8, 2017   |   Mariko Davidson

As government expands access to mobility, how are we moving forward to empower our people?

That was a main focus at this summer’s Mobilize Summit, in Santiago, Chile, where nearly 200 people from 20 countries spanning 52 cities came together to learn and discuss the theme around just and inclusive cities.

I was fortunate to join a panel on “Designing Better Urban Access through Civic Engagement,” moderated by Mary Skelton Roberts, Barr Foundation. The session included the following speakers:

  • Maria Eliana Arntz, Director, Casa de la Paz
  • Laura Ballesteros, Undersecretary of Planning at the Secretariat of Mobility, Mexico City
  • Faela Sufa, Vice Country Director, ITDP Indonesia
  • Onésimo Flores, CEO of Conecta Cuatro, Founder of Jetty.mx

Together, we explored ways that government communicates policy and direction to the public, as well as overall challenges (and successes!) inherent in civic engagement.

One piece that I focused on within the group — which led to many further conversations after the session — was talking about active listening in government.

Transparency in government isn’t just a window into operations; rather, it’s acknowledging that you’ve received information from a denizen, and letting people know where that information is in the pipeline. I liken it to a daily conversation with someone. If they looked at you blankly and walked away mid-conversation, you’d say, “What just happened?” If they nodded while you were talking, and even played back some of the conversation, that’s active listening. What is the equivalent in government, and how can we encourage that more in daily processes?

Where we are now in the phase of community engagement, many in the community demonstrate fatigue around engagement. People come to events and make their own sacrifice (finding a babysitter, skipping the night shift, etc.) to come and give feedback, but most never know if their feedback is received — or where it’s going. Government needs to work on active listening and demonstrating the “nod” — whether it’s documenting reports, or just letting people know what action is being made.

I’m excited to have joined a strong group in discussing the role technology plays in active government and civic engagement, and look forward to seeing active listening play a bigger role in governing.

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Mariko Davidson
Mariko Davidson

As San Francisco’s Civic Innovation and Partnerships Strategist, Mariko builds civic initiatives across sectors to leverage technology for the public good. She brings a deep expertise in cities, formally trained as an urban planner at MIT, specializing in governance, data policy and transportation. As an Innovation Fellow for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, she launched the Commonwealth’s new Open Data Initiative where she also worked on data management policy, data governance, and privacy issues. There she brokered the first multi-municipal open data agreement between Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. She also served in the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics where she focused on maker technology and girls STEM education programs. In 2015 she ran a close race for Cambridge City Council. Most recently she led the civic-focused Engagement Lab @ Emerson College as their Managing Director where she established partnerships with organizations including the UNDP Egypt, Living Cities, and the World Wildlife Fund. Prior to this, she worked across Asia on city-focused initiatives with the East-West Center and ITDP (Institute for Transportation Development & Policy). She holds a Master in City Planning from MIT. Off hours you can find Mariko riding her bicycle or surfing the nearest coastline. In 2010 she traveled around the world on $25/day with a small backpack and her surfboard. She owes her love of community and loathing of traffic to Honolulu, her home. Come talk to her if you want to chat cities, data policy, equity, transportation, and technology.