Set Up Your Own Blog With Our Blog Route Plans!

Blog Route Plans Sign

Over the last year, there's been a significant increase in the use of social media by those of us working in public works. Some of us are using it for work to enhance communications with citizens or other professionals. Others have started using it only to interact with personal friends and relatives. But even though everyone seems to be getting more comfortable tweeting, sharing posts on Facebook, and watching YouTube videos, few have moved on to creating blogs. Yet just about every one of us has significant information and experiences that could be best shared with others through a blogging format. So we wondered what could the Public Works Group do to encourage and support more sharing of public works information online? And that's when we decided to launch the Blog Route Plans!

The Blog Route Plans are monthly subscription plans that can help you easily get a blog, and even a few social media sites, up and running. For a monthly fee, we can set up and host a blog for you, offer tutorials, keep your site upgraded, and provide resources and ideas for you to use to create content on your blog. And because some people feel more comfortable having others check over their posts before publishing, we can help out by providing that service too.

Based on our research, this is somewhat of a different approach to offering social media services. Most people who want a website or blog usually contract with someone or a company to provide the site. And once delivery takes place, the fee is paid, and the customer is handed a newly created site to proudly display online. But because setting up a social media site like a blog is just the beginning, we believe it's more important to provide support to you on a regular basis. After all, it's the content on your site and your engagement online that will provide the most value to your reader. And it's not always easy to come up with ideas or topics for posts or keep up with all the new tools to incorporate into your site.

Sure there are some social media consultants out there who will run your site for you and create and generate content. But the cost can be hefty, they probably don't have the public works background you do, and really social media is more about personal interaction – not just hiring someone to do it for you. So instead we want to offer services that support and help you create the best content possible. We already have the Public Works Group Website where we post information related to our industry. But through our plans, we can better keep you informed about any new social media tools out there and whether or not they can help increase the value of your site. And of course, we will send ideas and suggestions for posts. 

Some people might ask why pay for a monthly subscription when anyone can set up a blog for free on sites like WordPress.com or Blogger? For those who are interested in setting up blogs on their own, this is definitely a solution. However, we do realize that eventually some people, particularly  those setting up blogs for their companies, will need or want more control over their blog than a free hosting plan provides. And our plans are set up for people who don't want to have to worry about researching how to set up blogs, worry about maintaining a site, or worry about what tools they really should be using. The Blog Route Plans also allow the Public Works Group to act as a type of personal blogging assistant providing content ideas, checking posts, or just being there to answer questions about social media or blogging. So if you've been thinking of blogging or just have some questions, check out our plans or e-mail us with any thoughts or questions at pwg@publicworksgroup.com

 

 

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 10

Day 10

Today was a great day – well most days are pretty good, but a lot of really good things happened today! There were some minor tasks I took care of like arranging for our interns to help out the water/sewer department by shooting some elevations for a sump pump line they were repairing and working a little with the interns on the small storm sewer project they are designing. But the main focus of the day were the following items:

Inspection of Storm Management Activities and a Quick Explanation of Special Service Areas

For some time now many urban areas have been requiring new developments to address stormwater management to minimize flooding and improve water quality. So developers installed features such as detention and retention basins, wetlands, or other facilities to meet these goals. Although they have worked well over the years, the challenge that has evolved over time is the maintenance of these areas. Over the years, weeds grow up and cattails take over. Eventually the facility may no longer function as intended.

Hummingbird Moth

We have one large stormwater facilitiy within a subdivision in our city that over the years was increasingly neglected by the property owner. Fortunately our city requires all developers to either create special service areas (SSA) for these facilities or agree that in the future an SSA could be set up. The SSA works by allowing the city to assess real estate taxes on the parcels lying within the SSA for the purposes stated in the document creating that area. In most cases management of stormwater facilities is an approved use of the funds collected through an SSA. If no management is needed because the property owner or homeowner's association is taking care of it, then no taxes are assessed. However if no maintenance takes place, as in this case, the city begins assessing and managing the facility.

So earlier this year we began assessing taxes for this area and secured a contract with a design/build firm to design and implement a management plan for the area. Today our consultant took us out to inspect the work that has been done. I took many photos of the area, and you can see these on the city's Flickr site at this URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofgeneva/sets/72157627294641145/

I did add one photo here that was taken by Karen Kase, one of the employees with the consulting firm. (I asked and received permissoin to use her name and photo in this post.) She is an amazing woman – she completely understands this type of work, works hard to achieve results, and does a great job communicating to clients what has been done and what is planned. Anyway, she took this photo one day while she was working on site. She said it is a hummingbird moth. I just had to include it here in this post because it is one of the most incredible photos I have ever seen. She took it with her iphone!

Public Works Staff Meeting

We also had a public works staff meeting today. This is a meeting we have every month that includes all the superintendents and managers in our department. It's interesting and helpful to get together like this to share what each of us is doing and it helps us better coordinate our efforts. We learned that the Emerald Ash Bore has had a devastating impact on our community with thousands of trees left dead. Our street department has a forestry division, and they have been taking down all the trees in the right of way. So far they have removed 225 trees just since May of this year. The superintendent figured he could have about 2,600 more to go. Another interesting bit of information shared is that he was asked to put a sign up at the pay station for our commuter parking garage that says "US Currency Only" because people are paying with coins from Chuckie Cheese and Disney. I figured our dollar was devalued but didn't think it had gotten that low!

ArcGIS Viewer for Microsoft Silverlight

Today I also signed up for the ArcGIS Beta Community so I could get access to try out this awesome application for making web maps. The GIS person in our neighboring community who is just outstanding at creating GIS applications showed us a demo of it at our last group meeting. This application allows you to create a web map through a very easy method. And the resulting map is presented in a very nice user interface. I would highly encourage anyone interesting in creating web maps to join the Beta Community and try out this application. Anyway, I was able to get it installed by the end of the day and look forward to trying it out next week!

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The Gamification of Public Works

Mastermind - Socialiser Gamer Class Symbol from BrainHexMost people my age have been schooled with the "sit and listen" method. But today's teachers are breaking out of that mold by tailoring lesson plans for different learning styles using gaming ideas and platforms. So to better understand this shift in education, I am taking a summer class offered through Boise State that focuses on this new teaching approach. The course is built on 3D GameLab,  "an online, quest-based platform" that can be used to develop training courses. My purpose in taking the class is to develop education-based skills and to understand how best to leverage a game-based approach to learning. And my goal is to use these skills and this knowledge to develop training resources for professionals in public works and for citizens.

So why are educators embracing gaming as a teaching method, and why do I believe this can be leveraged for professional training? Game developers have figured out some critical elements of human nature. They are leveraging the fact that we can be motivated with the right environment and incentives to complete a set of assigned tasks. And this motivation can be so great that for some it borders on addiction. Imagine how many employers would be interested in learning this secret, particularly because the exchange of money is in the reverse – players are not expecting money to play and instead give up their money to game.

I've embedded a video at the end of this post that explores the effect games have had on our lives. Some of the insights shared in this talk discuss the ability of games to drive or elicit emotion in a player. This is accomplished through the game environment, the framework of the game, the story within the game, and the tasks assigned. Done well, all these elements combine to grab the player, pull him into the game, and drive his emotion. And because the purpose is to keep the player coming back, those emotions are not designed to be negative. Instead they are set up to create the most epic, incredible emotions that can be felt.

To successfully gamify training in our field, we need to capture these components along with elements from our industry and apply them to our courses. The environment and tasks that make up our workplace are probably the easiest to translate into this method. However finding our story and weaving it throughout the training session and into each task is more challenging. The same approach and challenges exist for developing civic courses for citizens. And in each, a successful course will be dependent on the ability to bring the player into the game, encourage them to accept and become a part of the story, and develop the confidence, skills, and engagement necessary to achieve epic wins in the game and in "real life." And have them return for more.

 

 

(The symbol at the beginning of the post is one of many that can be generated at the BrainHex website. Anyone can visit the site and take a quick test to see what gameplay behaviour they exhibit.)

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Geneva’s Great Land Adventure

Geneva Land AdventureSeveral months ago, I read some blog posts about frustration with Gov 2.0 not doing enough and a few other posts with offers from people interested in working for free for experience. The two seemingly unrelated topics got me wondering: How could our city use Gov 2.0 to offer job opportunities to people just looking for experience and also offer opportunities to citizens interested in participating in government? My thoughts drifted to the projects I’m working on at my job. And I wondered if our city could reach out to these people with the use of Gov 2.0 tools to help us complete some of our projects. One particular project rose above the others as a perfect candidate – the creation of a database documenting all properties in which the city holds some interest. It seemed possible because all the research could be done online by anyone with a connection to the Internet.

Fortunately, my supervisor and city administrator were fully supportive of implementing this idea. And even better, an intern working for us who is a public administration graduate student was able to partner with us to set it all up. While we were planning the project, I noticed a post on GovLoop written by Dave Briggs: The need for micro-participation. It seemed to discuss exactly what we were hoping to do. His post and support of the idea of micro-volunteering inspired me to finish setting up the project. After it was complete, we took some time evaluating it. After getting some great input from everyone, the project became an adventure of discovery with a Viking theme complete with a Viking figure donated by our wastewater division staff. Now anyone can join us on a discovery of property. And people can even earn titles and rewards as they successfully complete documentation of areas. You can check out the site here: The Geneva Land Adventure.

While we realize this approach has been used before to crowdsource genealogy databases, we’re not sure if other local governments have offered similar opportunities for micro-participation. We would be interested in hearing from others who might be aware of similar examples of participation or information about property management systems already in place. And we would love to hear comments or suggestions for improving the project and would love it even more if you signed up and participated in our adventure! (And because property management in local government is not a widely discussed or known topic, I offer a little background below.)

 

A INTRODUCTION TO PROPERTY MANAGEMENT FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT

People are usually surprised to discover that local governments have a significant number of interests in real estate or property. These property rights can be held in the form of deeds, dedications, easements, rights of way, or licenses. And, depending on a government agency’s size, the number of documents conveying these rights can range from hundreds to thousands.

What also surprises people is that agencies most likely do not have a property database in place to document and manage the property rights associated with these documents. When I started working at the city of LaSalle in 1993, I figured they didn’t have this in place because they were somewhat of a small community with a population of about 9700. So I got to work building the database and putting a management system in place. By the time I left in 2009, I had discovered about 300+ properties in which the city had some ownership right. What I’ve since realized from talking to others in government is that many cities lack a property database.

Based on my experience in LaSalle, I have developed a process of building the database and putting in place a management system. One of the first steps is to discover all the documents in which an agency has property rights. But this task can take significant time. Since starting a new job with the city of Geneva two years ago, I’ve been working on setting up the system here. Fortunately we already have most of the property held by deeds in a database created by the county tax assessor. But this information needs to be verified and all the other documents covering easements, licenses, dedications, etc. need to be discovered.

Some might wonder if it’s so much work, why bother. Well, in government, ownership and property rights come up frequently throughout the day. Most activities that go on in local government, particularly in public works or property maintenance, involve the need to know what can be done where. If a database does not exist, research must be done each time a question about rights or ownership comes up. With a completed database and GIS, the answers are much more readily available. There are other benefits, but to keep it brief, the bottom line is having the database saves time and money which is always a good thing to achieve in government.

 

 

 

 

 

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CCDD Update – Get the Scoop on CCDD & Let IEPA Know What You Think

If you’re involved in construction in Illinois, you are probably well aware of new CCDD law passed last year and made effective immediately by our state legislators and governor. Many of us have been struggling to understand this new law because it was created with little guidance but severe penalties for noncompliance. Fortunately the Chicago Chapter of APWA is helping to spread the news about CCDD by hosting a traveling seminar throughout the region. So, if you live or work in the Chicago Metro region, here are two possible seminars you can attend – just click on the title to go to the registration page (I know I’ll be at the one on the 27th!). You don’t have to be an APWA member to attend:

Continue reading “CCDD Update – Get the Scoop on CCDD & Let IEPA Know What You Think”

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Delivering Public Works Content Through Video

Over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of public works departments, vendors, and organizations taking advantage of video sharing sites. This has been made possible by newer video cameras that now fit into a pocket and websites like YouTube. These new tools and technologies allow anyone to easily capture videos and upload them to the Internet. Fortunately for those of us working in public works, we not only can take advantage of these sites as viewers, but also as publishers of our own video content.

Today a search on YouTube for “public works” brings up 4,950 results. Of course not all are the type of “public works” we all know and love. But even after factoring out “Gotham Public Works” and art-related videos, we are still left with an awful lot of resources. Anyone can visit the site to watch videos. But if you create your own YouTube account, you can take advantage of many other abilities. People with accounts can add comments to individual videos, keep track of what has been viewed, create playlists and favorites, and connect to other social media accounts. For those intending to upload their own videos, YouTube also offers the ability to create and customize channels.

Some of my favorite public works-related channels are apwatv, Autodesk, CityOfCollegeStation, PublicWorksMagazine, TransportationTV, unitedutilities, and the one I set up at pwgroup. By subscribing to these channels, I can choose to receive notices when new content is added. I can also more quickly find content when I want to share it with others. With diminishing money in the budget for training, YouTube videos offer the ability to increase skills and knowledge at no cost, on demand, and without leaving the office.

Videos posted on YouTube are also easily shared by embedding or placing a viewer on another Web site. Below each video on YouTube is a “Share” button the viewer can click to share the video through e-mail, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. There is also an “Embed” button that when clicked will display a code. This code can be copied and pasted on any Web site to display a video player that will launch the video from that site. This is what I did to display one of my favorite public works-related videos below:

 

Companies and agencies can take advantage of this to regularly post videos with work-related content on their Intranet sites. Or if smart phones are used in the field, inspectors can consult a preset playlist of videos displaying proper construction methods.

For those interested in publishing, it really isn’t as difficult as it might at first appear. YouTube has an extensive help section to get you started. Of course, you will need some type of device to capture the video. While some phones now have this capability, you might want to use something like the Flip camera for this purpose. What I like about the Flip camera is it’s reasonably priced and easy to operate. There are two buttons one to turn it on/off and one to start/stop recording. To upload, I just use its USB connection to plug it into my computer. The software is part of the camera so I can plug it into any computer and the software is available. All of the more recent videos I have uploaded to my channel have been captured using my Flip camera.

While many agencies or companies are creating videos to offer information to the public, videos can also be created for internal training. A meter representative once spent about 10 minutes telling us how to take apart a meter. While I was able to write down what he said and create a guide using photos, it would have been better and easier to just video record his explanation and upload it to the computer. Videos can also be used to record underground utility crossings or other construction-related improvements, or examples of best practices. These videos can even be linked to a city’s GIS for later reference.

There are other video sharing sites besides YouTube such as Vimeo, Viddler, and even Flickr. If you are thinking of making your own videos, one of the best things you can do is watch what others have already done. And if you know of any great public works-related videos, make sure to send us the link!

 

Update: On April 12, 2011, Cisco announced they are discontinuing the Flip camera. Speculation has been that in an effort to reduce company costs, Cisco decided the Flip could no longer compete with smart phones.

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