February 22nd marked the inaugural launch of the Houston Writeathon, an open innovation event for civic-minded writers, marketing experts, designers and PR professionals willing to lend their talents and time to the City of Houston and non-profit partners. Inspired by the civic hackathon model which typically brings together computer programmers, graphic designers and other tech savvy individuals to collaborate on tech projects for the greater good, the writeathon adds another dimension to the model by bringing writers and communications experts into the mix.
When Jeff Reichman of Open Houston and January Advisors heard about the success of a writeathon in Miami he knew it needed to happen in Houston. Ever in the spirit of collaboration he invited JoAnn Takasaki of GlobalWrites, Daniel Cohen of Red Shift Writers and Nicole Moss to co-organize Houston’s very first writeathon for the City of Houston as part of a nationwide civic innovation effort sponsored by Code for America. The idea? Gather city officials, writers, creatives, techies, non-profits and community partners together into one space to brainstorm, strategize and implement plans to make local government more accessible to the public through its website and in other media.
Over seventy people came to the Montrose Freed Library on a gorgeous Saturday to collaborate, innovate, create and write! City of Houston employees and staff from Council Member Ed Gonzalez’s office were on hand to identify projects in need of a first look or fine-tuning from a wordsmith or PR maven. Community partners like First Person, Aleberry Creative, The Black Sheep Agency, Texans for Economic Progress , Social Media for Smart People and countless others each brought their unique insight and invaluable skills to the process. As a result, several project plans were developed and are currently under review by the necessary people at the City of Houston. Once we get the green light from the city we will share more information about these exciting projects.
This event is just the beginning. Civic hackathons and writeathons are an opportunity to engage with your local government on a whole new level and fundamentally transform the way government communicates with its constituents. This model of open collaboration and civic innovation facilitates boundless opportunities to help the city reach more people; develop impactful public education campaigns; increase government efficiency and finally, make a difference in the daily lives of Houstonians.
The Next Step
It’s not just the city that can benefit from these events — our non-profits are the backbone of our community and already do amazing work with limited resources and time. Planning for the next civic writeathon is already underway and this time the creative forces of Houston will gather to support the Houston Center for Literacy. Stay tuned for details!