2015: The DIY Lowell Idea Process

This is the first of a regular series of posts about DIY Lowell groups, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it. We hope it’s a way for current and future groups to learn from one another and for everyone to learn from other groups. In addition, we hope that other institutions and people will contribute, and this will become a treasure-trove of tools and tips to getting things done in Lowell. But before all that, we want to talk about how we started.

Sovanna Pouv, CMAA Executive Director, filming our interview!

Sovanna Pouv, CMAA Executive Director, filming our interview!

The story so far: In May and June of 2015, we built the online forum where we collect ideas for small-scale events and projects in Lowell. There were only a few guidelines: The idea had to be an event or project within City limits, it had to be open to the public, it couldn’t break laws, and it had to be expected to be less than $1,000.

We then promoted it through Facebook, visiting neighborhood events, speaking at neighborhood groups, and even speaking on CMAA’s Khmer-language show. We also placed dropboxes at CMAA and the Lowell Senior Center, where people could write ideas on paper to be collected and added to the online forum later. We collected over 50 ideas from over 40 people as young as eight, seniors, and everyone in between: from a prayer boat ceremony to parking garage beautification to dining events. In some cases, nonprofits are actively pursuing these strategies but need assistance. In other cases, individuals have encountered obstacles they were unable to overcome.

Images illustrating ideas would were shared on Facebook and Twitter

Images illustrating ideas would were shared on Facebook and Twitter

Our most successful publicity was simply sharing each idea we received with a simple graphic on Facebook. People would like and share the ideas, chat about them comments, and sometimes submit more ideas inspired by it. Ideas collected at events would then bridge into the digital world, connecting online and off, and drawing more people into the discussion.

After the submission period ended, we held an online vote that was open to anyone who was willing to help out on one of the ideas, and 74 responded. Our idea was that if only people willing to help out on ideas could vote, those ideas would therefore automatically have the volunteers they needed. The vote was close—in fact, many ideas did not make the cut by only a few votes.

We raised money with a work-a-thon, volunteering 1 hour with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust for every $100 donated.

We raised money with a work-a-thon, volunteering 1 hour with Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust for every $100 donated.

About 50 people out of the 74 who voted signed up for the summit, and we picked one idea for every 15 people, meaning the top three ideas were selected. Everyone attending the summit could pick one of those ideas or a fourth “wildcard” group, which eventually selected two additional ideas to pursue. Our plan was that we wanted 8-12 people to discuss each idea, knowing that with any more, there would be “too many cooks”, and with any fewer, there may not be enough people to carry the idea to fruition if a few dropped out.

Representatives from the City, Lowell National Historical Park, Coalition for a Better Acre, Humane Society, UTEC, Community Teamwork Inc, and many other nonprofits joined with ordinary citizens in the summit and put together action plans for each selected idea. DIY Lowell recruited four volunteer facilitators to help each group do such things and choose an official contact/coordinator, set a meeting date, and determine key actions that would need to be undertaken for the project, including stakeholders to contact. Nearly everyone attending was excited and ready to take the next steps! However, that will have to wait for the next post.

Planting Fruit Trees group

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Groups discuss their projects

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Downtown History Trail group

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Bus Stop Libraries group

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The groups reported back to one another at the end of the summit!

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