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My first city council meeting

5 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Today was the day I realized the value of live, citizen journalism.

This afternoon I attended my first City Council hearing. Frankly, it was my first time inside City Hall. Today’s hearing was related to a topic that is known to be near and dear to my heart: the city support of the so-called “creative economy”.

I found out about this event, as most people did, last minute. And my desire to attend was minimal, chiefly because I have a strong distaste for the types of meetings that end up being mostly masturbatory: if I don’t leave a meeting with some sort of actionable item besides having another meeting, I’m usually pretty unhappy with the use of my time.

However, I was drawn to this event because a number of my peers, notably some that I have a pretty large amount of respect for, had been invited to present on panels to the hearing board. That group included Blake Jennelle, Philly Startup Leaders founder, and Matt Fisher, President of Night Kitchen Interactive and long time member of PANMA. I knew that these particular leaders shared my views of the local scene, shared opinions about the strengths and needs of our community, and were extremely capable of vocalizing these messages succinctly and effectively. If nothing else, I would have an educational experience in how a city council hearing is conducted, and support my friends. The only guaranteed loss was being indoors on such a beautiful spring afternoon.

As I was walking into City Hall, I decided that it would be interesting to live-twitter my experience. Not only for record keeping purposes…but sort of an experiment to share my at-the-moment opinions (as heat-of-the-moment as they were) with my followers.

So it began. I quickly learned that there was a video feed (which I’m working on finding an archive of), and others were watching from afar. And before I knew it…my twittering turned my timeline into a back channel for the Philadelphia City Council Public Hearing on the Creative Economy.

I’d be very surprised if this was actually the first time a government event had a backchannel…but what was interesting to me was that it ended up proving incredibly valuable. For a number of reasons.

  • First, as my original thought was, for record keeping. If you look over my tweets in chronological order, the hot-topics were tracked in twitter forever. Sweet.
  • Second, was me opening my brain. Not that I wouldn’t have done that anyway, but instead of passing notes or whispering in my neighbor’s ear, and being disruptive…I got to put my disruptive behavior to good use.
  • Third, and most interestingly, it engaged a number of people who could not be in the room do to prior commitments, or lack of notice. I’m lucky that I don’t have a boss I have to ask if I can take the afternoon off to go do something. Most people aren’t. Did all 1500+ people that follow me care about the contents of the hearing? Of course not. But a number of them certainly did. And some of them cared enough to chime in on the conversation. And thus, a backchannel was born.

Whats most interesting about the people who cared, is that not all of them were even in, or from, Philadelphia.

One of the really important parts to remember about all of the creative economy and city branding initiatives that we’re involved in is that they are, at the very least, two-fold. There’s the need for better awareness inside our city limits, but just as valuable, are the external perceptions of our city, its economy, its workforce, and it’s general contributions to the rest of the world. So when people started listening, and better yet, chiming in from places like New York City, Kansas, Austin, and LA…the message was being spread MUCH further than the city council ever could have anticipated. And the best part about this message? It’s showing the rest of the world, not only that we’re doing something…but we’re looking to them to reciprocate in many of the potential relationships we’re creating.

Its worth noting that I only have a limited scope to this online backchannel…my own tweets and the tweets of the people I follow. If someone said something and I wasn’t following them, I missed it. If someone responded to one of the people I was following, I likely missed that as well. So the message may very well have gotten even further than I’m aware. And that’s freaking rad.

There are a lot more thoughts I have about the contents of the event. Some of it was intensely, intensely positive. Some of it was intensely, intensely frustrating. I’ll save those thoughts for another post as my mind starts weaving things together. Most notably, though was some really really glowing support for the things I care the most about: Indyhall, of course, but also P’unk Ave and their Junto, Geoff DiMasi in general, and iSepta (a new app thats sprung up out of some really awesome organic collaboration between some IndyHall members). IndyHall, P’unk Ave, Geoff, and I were mentioned by no less 3 separate panelists. If the city didn’t know about us yet…they sure do now.

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.