Reduce, Reuse, Reboot: Teaming Up to Build A Regional Recycling Database

One of the work projects at SF Environment that I am most excited about is an update of our EcoFinder tool in collaboration with other local waste agencies. This project has come to be known as the Regional Recycling Database and it’s going to be very cool when it’s done. It’s a lot of work, though, especially coordinating with staff from 4 other cities and counties.

I was interviewed about this project by Anna Bloom, one of the first round of Fellows at the newly minted Code For America. This article was actually posted on Civic Commons in December right before I left for Ecuador, so here it is, better late than never.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your whistle:

Lawrence Grodeska, Internet Communications Coordinator at San Francisco Department of the Environment, is steering a diverse group of local agencies to create something greater than the sum of their parts: a centralized database for residents to find businesses that offer recycling, reuse and hazardous waste disposal services in the Bay Area. Enter your location and your waste item — a soda can, batteries or unused medication — and the proposed application will deliver your options for local hazardous waste disposal businesses and other resources — a depot for creative reuse for artists, perhaps, or a residential pickup program.

Special thanks to Anna for all of her time and effort learning about this project, and for her patience while waiting for me to answer her questions!

Can BetterMeans Mean Better Government?

[This post originally appeared on the OpenSF blog.]

Working in the public sector can be challenging, especially during those times when the strict hierarchy of government dictates priorities, timelines and tasks. Unfortunately, without rejiggering the machinations of government, this top down approach will not change anytime soon. Of course, that hasn’t stopped all of us in the Government 2.0 movement from hoping and dreaming that we can begin to change the lumbering institutions at the local level all the way up to the federal. As this blog can attest, that change has begun, but incrementally. So maybe we do need to think beyond web technologies and open data to question the social structures which make change in government so difficult.

Look no further than BetterMeans, a radical open enterprise governance model masquerading as a slick new project management tool.

Now that’s change we can believe in.

The software itself is a neat mix of project management and social capital platform that opens up the doors to the decision-making process for a given project or set of projects. Users contribute ideas to the projects which hold their interest in an open and transparent way. Users themselves are ranked by others that have worked with them on previous projects so that everyone is kept accountable. This collaborative approach then helps the group rank options for how to proceed based on the experience and insight of the entire group instead of relying solely on direction from management. Definitely check out the video above, you’ll see how well thought out this platform really is.

So, getting back to government. What is our tolerance for really incorporating the ideas of every member of a team? What would happen if our departments were more democratic in sourcing ideas and setting priorities? Or what if our elected officials were required to balance their agendas alongside those of rank and file public employees, or the general public at large? It might be pie in the sky, but I’m guessing that we’d garner more than a few great ideas, while engaging and inspiring a whole swath of disinterested civil servants. Just a thought.

Final Thoughts on the Whole Shebang

Today, I am back in Bay and in my work clothes — some different pants, shirt tucked in, and on this occasion, a blazer to set the tone. This means, of course, I am no longer in Austin, TX, and the annual event known as South By Southwest has wrapped.

Though woefully non-descript, I use the noun “event” because I’m not quite sure what word best encapsulates SXSW. “Conference” could work, considering all of the amazing sessions by thought leaders and industry bigs, but SXSW is more than just a conference. I’ve tried “festival” on for size, but that seems somewhat too flippant, and gives no credence to the serious work and ideas being shared. In the end I think the word I settled on was “shebang”. As in, “Yep, I’m here for the whole shebang.” Okay, maybe no more descript than “event,” and certainly flippant in its own way, but at least now you understand the dilemma. Words are imperfect, after all.

The whole shebang was quite a run. 10 days, pretty evenly split amongst geeks and rockers. In looking back, I must admit that I found the Interactive portion to be more engaging than Music. Don’t get me wrong, I fully enjoyed the opportunity to take in that much music, but day after night of consuming — be it others’ music or food, alcohol, caffeine, etc. — was not nearly as stimulating as the ideas that flowed prior. In fact, SXSWm began to feel like more of a job than an enjoyment. MUST. GO. SEE. BANDS. In the end, while I saw some amazing performances with some incredible peeps, I really just ended up missing my guitar.

Interactive, on the other hand, was truly wonderful. Not that every session was great, or that those 5 days weren’t overwhelming and tiresome in and of themselves. But on the whole, the tenor of Interactive felt much more broad and transformative. And my suspicions about a stronger community at Interactive turned out to be true. During Music, I never felt that I could turn to the stranger at my side and make an obscure comment or topical joke that would resonate. I met some great folks during the music portion, but what can I say? The geeks get community right.

I’ve heard the rumblings that this was the year that Interactive “jumped the shark,” but I found the quality of the sessions on the whole to be very high, and I came away with a lot to think about and much to inform my work. In the end, I’m a jaded musician, but not a jaded technologist. At least not yet. Perhaps when the bloom is of the digital rose I will feel the same way about Interactive that I did about Music. Until that time, thank you SXSW. I think you will be seeing me again.

Across the Spectrum of RAWK – from Geek to Glam

It is now Wednesday — the beginning of SXSW Day 7 — and I have been here in Austin for almost a week. Things are starting to change around these parts, and I found myself yesterday feeling a slight sense of loss. Maybe it was a long string of sessions and socializing and too little sleep. To be sure, last night I took a much needed night off to rest up and recuperate before Music kicks in. But most to blame for my blues, I think, was seeing all my Interactive friends, new and old, leave the building, as it were, only to be replaced by a different batch of old friends, and plenty of new ones, to boot. It wasn’t just the people, it was everything they took with them — the geek passion, the futurist slant on present day tech, the strong sense of community, the slovenly chic, the MacBooks, the iPhones, the….I’ll stop there.

Maybe I am jumping to some conclusions, but I can’t see the Music crowd being as cohesive or convivial. I have a sense that there might be a lot of grandstanding and standoffishness to put up with in the next few days — I know I’ve seen enough of that throughout my days in rock ‘n’ roll — but maybe that’s just my projection. So far, though, it is clear that the Music crowd have their own trappings – scruffily slick, cocked hats, deep, dark glasses, headphones, guitars, black leather, the list goes on.

Somehow or another, I walk the line between these two worlds, between geek and glam. I embrace both, but oddly don’t feel a full member of either. I suppose I’ve never been a “joiner,” persay, which might explain my sense of partial-belonging. As SXSW morphs from the stage of ideas to musical ideas on stage, I will be very curious to see how the tenor of community here changes. However it goes down, when you’ve got two of the most awesome, creative communities in the world to celebrate with, why not take a bit of both?

More Notes from SXSWi – Medium, Message & Wood Ducks

It’s Monday mid-afternoon and I am sitting on a couch at a charging station with geeks of all stripes swirling around me. Those of us on the couches are all, minus one or two, typing away on our shiny silver MacBooks or white iBooks, but if I could see a pastiche of all those screens I’m guessing it would not look so uniform. Sure there would be Twitter and Facebook profiles, but also business plans and invoices, lines of code, maybe even My point is that even though on the outside this army of geeks may look somewhat similar — we do have a stereo type after all: lots of privilege, mostly white, many pairs of eye glasses, a preponderance of gadgets — under the surface this army is concerned with an incredible array of ideas in the digital milieu. And lest you think that milieu is itself limited, just think about how the Internet is so quickly changing everything from science to sociality.

I’ve been experiencing an incredible cross section of this diverse milieu, tailored to my own interests but providing much broader exposure. The sessions I’ve been hitting have ranged from web content strategy to content management systems, from crowdsourcing to the publicity and privacy issues of being a part of the crowd. Of particular general interest was Dan Roam, famous for his Healthcare Napkins slide show. The main thrust of his talk “Blah, Blah, Blah….Why Words Don’t Matter” was to help us understand as communicators that we can’t really share an idea unless we have the ability to both talk about it and show it. Another incredible session was Danah Boyd’s keynote on Privacy and Publicity. This issue is so timely and her research about how we use social media so far ahead of the curve than most discussions of these issues that I plan on posting my notes when I have a chance to clean them up. For the time being and the truly interested, here is the full text of her talk.

At this point I’m going to do something that might smack a bit of self-promotion, but in reality is much more practical…I’ve been tweeting pretty regularly at and I’d encourage you to take a gander. Not only will you see some tiny morsels I found tasty enough to share, you will also get an idea (I think) of the ebb and flow of ideas and action at SXSW. Sometimes things come clear and fast, other times slow and hazy but in one way or another, everything has just flowed.

And so, on Day 5, nearing the end of Interactive and gearing up for the transition to Music, South by Southwest has not disappointed and Austin has most definitely delighted. Great food, better friends, both new and old, and pristine weather full of sun and warmth during the day and just enough of a chill at night. Most of all, I’ve been throughly enjoying my twice daily bike rides along the river between my hostel and the convention center – once in the morning to the conference and then back later in the day to drop off my bag and regroup before heading back out into the fray.

During one of those rides I happened upon a group Wood Ducks in a small stream behind the convention center that feeds in to the river. Now every time I ride across the bridge that crosses that stream, I’ve stopped and lingered. I’ve seen up to 6 males and 3 or 4 females, and yesterday I even saw a male mount a female. It is spring time, after all. These petite, color-by-numbers creatures have brought some extra joy to my days, and some much needed persepctive on all the heady, techy ideas being batted around. For in this arena of ideas, it is far too easy to miss the forest for the trees. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium may well be the message, but that is precisely why we need to be conscious of the message we want to spread as we build the medium. If we don’t take the time to do so, we run the risk of having the medium determine the message. For me, those ducks are a beautiful, tangible, and very necessary reminder of one message I am trying to bring to the medium — environmental responsibility and collective stewardship of our home, planet Earth. I challenge others to verbalize their own messages as we navigate the information stream that is SXSWi.

I Love Me Some Maps

I love me some maps. I really do. I love looking at them, everything from transit maps to road maps to topo maps. And I love making them. Every once in a while I get the chance to fool around in a GIS program like the venerable ArcMap and I always have fun. I won’t say that it is 100% fun — GIS can get pretty involved and ArcMap, in particular, is one of these power-user programs like Photoshop that can drown you in all kinds of high-end functionality — but bottom line, figuring out how to best present information geo-spatially is a pretty cool design challenge.

Soooo….a few weeks back when Arthur Robin Boone, the Bay Area Godfather of recycling, asked for some help compiling a map of local full service organics (FSO) collection programs, I readily volunteered my limited GIS services. Below is the map I created in ArcMap which will be shown at the 15th Annual Recycling Update, a great program put on by the Northern California Recycling Association.

[slideshare id=3368259&doc=bayareaorganicsprograms-100308141825-phpapp01]

Online Outreach: Getting Started on the Cheap & Easy

Last week I made the trek to Sacramento to present at the CIWMB/DTSC Household Hazardous Waste/Used Oil conference. After giving a presentation with two of my co-workers a few months ago at a regional HHW information exchange about the outreach work we do at SF Environment, the bigwigs at CIWMB asked us to do it again at the statewide conference. It was a great opportunity, and our panel (“Making HazWaste Hip”) was very well received. Here’s my presentation…

[slideshare id=2440201&doc=ciwmb-dtscconference11-09-onlineoutreach-lawrencegrodeska-091106114047-phpapp01]

Changing Of The Mac Guard

I did it. I finally upgraded to the Intel chipset. In plain English, that means I just bought a MacBook Pro.  The package arrived this morning, and I fired her up tonight:

She’s a thing of beauty, and I’m composing this post with her right now. I had been holding out, trying to squeeze the most life I could out of my PowerBook. She’s still working well enough, but two things in concert forced my hand: 1) the prices of MacBooks dropped considerably with the latest models, and 2) Apple announced their upgrade to OSX, Snow Leopard, would not be available for PowerPC machines like my PowerBook. And so, the decision was made.

I have to say, I’m already pleased as punch. I’ve still got a lot of work to do to clean up my old files and applications before I migrate — I mean, I don’t have to, but I want to — so I’m not in the clear yet. I can tell I am going to love this machine, though, and for good reason. I downgraded from a 15″ screen to 13″, which means lighter and more portable for travel. This laptop is a refurb which means reusing a damaged electronic device that was returned and fixed up by Apple, with full warranty and some nice cost savings. Snow Leopard already seems to be a vast performance improvement over Leopard. And, of course, there are all the little things that Apple does so well, all the improvements like the magnetic power cable plug or the fancy battery life indicator or the totally slick multi-touch trackpad. What’s not to love?

My old machine served me well, and I will miss her. She was, after all, my first laptop. However, since she is in good shape, and people seem to still be buying that model of Powerbook on eBay, I think she will go to a good home instead of the e-waste facility, which makes me happy. Almost as happy as being the proud owner of a new MacBook Pro.

Social Media Maelstrom!

Hello, dear readers.  You may notice a new feature on the right hand side of this here blog.  I’m not sure whether to call them badges, buttons or something else entirely, but they herald the prominence of social media.  Since a big part of my job at SF Environment is understanding what online channels to use when and how, I’ve been starting to dig a little deeper.  Yes, this means I have a Twitter account.  If you’d like to follow my tweets, or any of of my social network content, click on those fancy icons.  And be careful out there — this whole social media thing may turn out to be nothing more than a big black hole…