Facebook. Its use is near ubiquitous among North American students today. This social networking tool has its fair share of both proponents and detractors. More than simply a social media tool, it seems the site has become part of our lives, whether for better or worse. While questions of privacy continue to pop up quite regularly in the news, hundreds of millions of people remain daily users of the site.
Given these kinds of numbers, it appears as if we are likely only at the tip of the iceberg with respect to innovation emerging from this type of digital access to individuals. One example is my friends at Muddy Pumpkin Farms, an upstart melon and veggie farm near Oacoma, South Dakota. They refer to their Facebook use as “Farming 2.0 – farming with complete openness with eaters and in constant conversation with other farmers.” Through projects like an active Twitter feed and online sign-up to their farm CSA, to uploading a daily farm photo with Wendell Berry quotation (example below) on their Facebook site, Muddy Pumpkin Farms is reframing so-called rural isolation with social media links, putting a new and transparent image to their food and creating dialogue and trust with their consumers.
(An example of the Muddy Pumpkin Farm Facebook photo)
“If we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds.” — MAY 30. Your daily Wendell Berry quotation is brought to you by a Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon seedling.
There are other remarkable ways that Facebook is finding its way into sustainable conversation – both in practice and online. Back here at the University of British Columbia, fellow IRES graduate student and friend, Susanna Haas Lyons, is spearheading a new project linking digital communication and sustainability. Her master’s thesis project is based around a new project using Facebook as a medium for public engagement in urban planning.
As part of the City of Vancouver’s ongoing transportation planning process, Susanna is helping to spearhead a project using a specially prepared Facebook app to engage citizens in a dialogue about how to get around the city. Created through a partnership between City Hall and Greenest City Conversations, this unique Facebook ‘event,’ is already underway, with 535 registered participants now taking part in small online discussion groups where users can share their experiences and ideas around transportation, helping to answer the question(s) of what will be the easiest, safest, most sustainable and affordable ways to travel in the city. As discussion continues, facilitators will help the groups narrow down and refine ideas.
By using an online platform where many citizens already spend time, this app (created by Fission Strategy out of Washington, D.C.) is an innovative approach to public policy. It is the creation of a new kind of public space in a digital environment, where residents can learn from and develop rapport with other citizens. Not only that, but the discussion will have both academic and policy-oriented outcomes. Results of the online discussion and other online and offline transportation conversations will not only go towards Susanna’s thesis, but be integrated into a draft City of Vancouver Transportation Plan, which is slated to then go back for more public feedback early next year.
Susanna herself has a wealth of experience in public involvement processes – before coming home to British Columbia, she worked at (and is still involved with) AmericaSpeaks, an organization based out of Washington, D.C. AmericaSpeaks has pioneered a number of public involvement methods at larger scales, involving regular citizens in town halls and other forums to make decisions about their community. With this background, Susanna is now using her skills to investigate a new form of collaborative planning between policymakers and citizens – and I’m excited to see how it goes!
Darlene Seto is pursuing her master’s degree at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. A keen student of environment policy and governance, her current graduate work revolves around diversity and engagement in alternative food systems.