Last week, Alan Gutierrez gave an excellent presentation at the Burton Catalyst Group titled "How social networking saved New Orleans: Powered by community, New Orleans residents exposed city hall and the power of social software" or "Innovating Your Way Out of Total System Failure" . Get the slide deck (powerpoint, 32MB)) and digg the story here.
It's a compelling tale of emergent behavior by a community to leverage the tools it has at hand to enact powerful change. Too often large tools are built to be the end-all-be-all solution to perceived problems and pain points. However, the actual tried and true method of cobbling together solutions from a variety of tools, each as appropriate, leads to agile toolsets and better communication.
On a very similar note, my talk for FOSS4G 2008 in Cape Town has been accepted. Rebuilding a City through Community Participation, Neogeography and GIS will present the technical details of utilizing open-data, open-source and closed-source GIS tools, loosely coupled systems, workshops and open discussion to build cartographic visualizations. As a developer I enjoy tech-talk, I find the application based presentations much more interesting.
The presentation will use the New Orleans mapping as the case study, and while I can't convey the "in-the-field" experiences Alan, Francine, Karen, and the others living in the city can tell, I hope I can share the experiences to inspire other communities to employ similar tactics to engage their neighbors and government.
The project is still very much a work in progress, but it's exciting for exactly the reasons Alan gave in his talk - people are already doing the effort and passion - just help them pull the pieces together to have a great impact.