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County providing virtual suggestion box for citizens

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image ERIC JOHNSON

What would improve life in South Hillsborough County?

By MELODY JAMESON

From your perspective, what would improve life in South Hillsborough County?

No, it is not a frivolous question. And yes, it is your legal, moral, ethical suggestions that count.

Your county government is asking. Think of it as your virtual suggestion box.

Borrowing a page from the world of social media, Hillsborough’s section on strategic planning has established an interactive website to collect its constituents’ ideas about what would enhance living here. You can make suggestions – one at a time – to be added to the ongoing discussion or simply comment/vote on one or more notions that others have contributed.

The website address is www.idealhillsborough.ideascale.com. All you will need to join is an email address and a password.

The website went up less than two weeks ago, according to Eric Johnson, former budget director and now in charge of strategic planning. And by early this week, 57 citizens had joined the conversation, he added. They’re recommending a wide range of subjects, from need to focus on support for small business to building a world class public education system to ensuring sufficient potable water supplies in the years ahead.

The objective, Johnson said, is to determine and list what Hillsborough residents are thinking about, concerned about, willing to explore in order to develop a county strategic plan and to prioritize its goals.

Leaning on a communication concept known as “crowdsourcing” and utilizing computer-based technology, the same interactive approach to connecting government and the citizenry it serves has been used with outstanding results in other areas of the country, Johnson noted. In Seattle, for example, a similar website drew some 5,000 residents into ongoing conversations which produced nearly 600 ideas that local government conceivably could plan for and implement. More than 44,000 votes were cast by Seattle citizens in connection with the hundreds of ideas proposed, leading to widely embraced and agreed upon priorities for government to work on, he added.

Hillsborough’s last strategic plan was drafted in 2008 and now is outdated, Johnson asserted. However, he said, anyone interested in reviewing the county’s formerly-established strategies can read them on page 10 of the adopted 2012-2013 budget found on the www.hillsboroughcounty.org website.

Looking ahead to Hillsborough’s 2013 strategic plan, Johnson said he’d like to see 2,000 or more individuals who live, work or play within the county’s borders join the discussion before the open forum rating period closes on Friday, September 14. The input provided on the website will be passed to county commissioners for their consideration during the annual strategic planning retreat scheduled in early December.

The ideas, suggestions, recommendations, notions or concepts proposed by Hillsborough - and South Hillsborough – citizens become more than the basis for commissioners’ discussions as they consider the next strategic plan, Johnson pointed out. The priorities that evolve as residents go to the website to add ideas and vote in favor or disfavoring the growing list also help the seven commissioners achieve consistency as each serves on very different and unrelated boards. The efforts of a commissioner on the Tampa Sports Authority and one on the Port Authority board and another on the Children’s Board can only be enhanced when all three are working with the same set of priorities hammered out from constituent suggestions, the director said.

Citizens signing onto the new website can take part in the brainstorming anonymously, if they prefer, after registering.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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