Podcasts worth looking at:

One of my new year’s resolutions (besides updating my blog weekly) has been to learn more ‘stuff.’ My wife would probably laugh at that statement since 90% of our conversations revolve around some new, really cool, thing I want to tell her about.

In the interest of sharing, I figured I’d make a list (looking at you, Buzzfeed) of the podcasts I’ve been listening to for the past month and my thoughts. Podcasts are presented from least likely to skip an episode to most likely.

  1. Planet Money – an excellent ‘economics’ podcast, interesting topics and great voices/sound quality. I always find myself engrossed in Planet Money.
  2. The Pollsters – a recent addition, I still get urges to look at polling thanks to my time as  Political Science/Pre-law major at YSU. This is really PC and they talk about methodology which is fantastic.
  3. Tested (Adam Savage) – excellent conversation about a wide variety of things, great background listening while toiling at my desk at home.
  4. Freakonomics – these used to be better, and to be honest I sometimes consider skipping them now, the insight of Freakonomics brought to other interesting topics. Its hit or miss whether its interesting or whether the insight is “worth it.”
  5. Serial – the internet sensation makes the list. Season One was excellent, season two is good so far, and with a relaxed release schedule it’ll be even harder to justify a skip.
  6. Hidden Brain – another podcast talking about behavioral and psychological trends I never knew about. The key here is that I find the host’s dictation and voice to be non-grating unlike the next several podcasts.
  7. Stuff You Should Know – interesting podcast about things I generally want to know more about, if I don’t I skip it. The hosts voices sometimes wear on me though.
  8. Where There’s Smoke – a self-development podcast, I usually skip around their archives until I see something I want to know more about. Mostly hit or miss, but still worth a look.
  9. Completely (Optional) Knowledge – run by Green Peace, surprisingly, its “the show that answers the questions you never knew you had.” Last episode I listened to was about the longest someone lived underwater by way of anecdote about underwater tea-parties into a story about living in a ‘long tube’ under the ocean. Interesting and well produced.
  10. What’s the Point – 538’s ‘latest’ podcast, this is like listening in to a discussion about how data is influencing just about everything. Host is great, I believe he’s worked on a few other economics related podcasts, but I skip around depending on the topic.
  11. This American Life – I, like many people, went through a love affair with TAL. However, after sticking with it for several years I just find myself less infatuated with the show now. I skip anything that doesn’t strike me as immediately interesting.
  12. Song Exploder – have not spent a lot of time with this one yet. Concept is interesting, have an artist discuss the creation of one of their songs–the meaning, etc. This week I saw that they’ve got MGMT with Time to Pretend. So that should be worth a look.
  13. Half Hour Intern – I want to like this podcast, but the episodes are hit and miss. The latest episode with the woman who does tattoos of nipples for breast cancer survivors was really interesting though.
  14. Useful Science – in a nutshell, they discuss scientific papers and their quality/implications. Often times I can take it or leave it depending on the field of knowledge being discussed.

Podcasts I might revisit soon:

  1. Intelligence Squared Debates – like many of the above, you sometimes have to skip around–but often these are very interesting. One very memorable debate had the topic, “The world would be better off without religion.” This was before all the current ISIS and domestic terrorism and I think if that debate were held again today it might sound very different.
  2. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me – I started listening to this at the behest of my sister. I like it, but often come away feeling like I could’ve been doing something else.

Why don’t these towns have a website? Accept credit cards? Or use Twitter?

One question I keep coming back to in my personal and professional experiences is how has small town X not started using Y or Z technology?

Obviously this is an opinion piece, but let me write it down just in case–these are my opinions and do not represent those of my current and previous employers.

This question has come from a laundry list of experiences I’ve had working, driving through, or living in rural/small towns. Most frustrating was my experience with a small city that would only accept payment for traffic tickets with certified checks, ignoring the progress in payment systems that so many places seem to have made. Many cities now accept personal checks, credit cards, or even PayPal. We live in an era where E-GovLink  allows municipalities to accept BitCoin. I think this highlights the gap in technology adoption and the digital divide between rural and urban places.

A Digital Divide

Access to computers and technology is still an issue in many places. Kentucky continues to operate its Broadband KY Initiative with the hope of wiring up more homes to the internet. Google Fiber is making progress to offer free internet access to people  and non-profits and community organizations. I would have guessed that by 2014 most places would at least have a web presence. Instead, I often search for cities and counties on Google and find that they have zero presence.

Cinci Public Services doing it right.
Cincinnati Public Services getting it right.

One example of the successful adoption of social media and web presence is the Brimfield, Ohio Police Department.  One of the most used parts of the City of St. Bernard’s website was the tax department webpage (disclosure, I worked for the city from 2009-2011). The Tax Department offers digital copies of their tax documents and information for residents ultimately lessening the calls the city get about taxes. The City of Cincinnati has made my life a bit easier by offering information through their Public Services Twitter account, connecting with residents to let them know about snow removal efforts, remind residents about winter safety, and posting about snow emergencies. Cincinnati has a whole slew of twitter accounts and Facebook pages, all helping residents connect with and get information from the city.

My result for the MyNKY Young-Voice game. I can only imagine how much traction with would get on Facebook if it shared the result like a "What Harry Potter Character are you?" Survey
My result for the MyNKY Your-Voice game. I can only imagine how much traction with would get on Facebook if it shared the result like a “What Harry Potter Character are you?” survey. Click the picture to take the survey too.

Social media and web presence are often discussed as mandatory in comprehensive planning efforts. One particularly cool recent example is MyNKY, Vision 2015’s new public participation campaign. Using an interactive game (and what seems a lot like dot voting) participants contribute a quantitative opinion about spending priorities and follow-up with qualitative descriptions in a targeted survey. Not only is it easy, but the quant-qual pairing makes it easy to for MyNKY to demand preferences and then drill down into what those preferences mean to each participant. Not only is it efficient, it minimizes the time commitment to participate.

A bit more complicated than an easy button:

With so many examples of best practices, why don’t more cities use the web and social media for public engagement and information distribution? In my experience it comes down to a lack of available talent and budget priorities. My evidence about the talent needs of cities is anecdotal at best, but most places I’ve worked with that lack these elements also have an institutional attitude with little or no interest in websites, social media, or technology; essentially there needs to be organizational will to make it happen.

Even with the will to make it happen, figuring out how to finance it is not easy. Budgets continue to grow tight and there is no easy way to make room for an IT budget or department (especially in the smallest of cities). Some cities are already facing impending cuts to services or employees and cannot possibly cram in an IT budget.

One of the benefits of my current job with the NKADD is that I get to share my experience with technology, web development, and social media with the jurisdictions in our service area.

That doesn’t mean sharing my experience will always result in successful websites and a social media presence. Social media can require near constant monitoring and some citizens come to expect almost instantaneous response. Setting clear definition about the kinds of communication possible and when that communication can happen is difficult. Websites also need work to maintain them and take time to develop appropriate content.

Even in spite of the financial and labor requirements of having a digital presence, I think it is still worthwhile for cities to pursue. The possible benefit to efficiency, public interaction, and engaging younger generations is too critical to continue to ignore it altogether.