How an E. Coli Outbreak Changed My View of Civic Engagement

I’ll spare you most of the details, but let’s just say that when you bleed internally for over a week, have debilitating stomach cramps, think you’re gonna die, and run up $29,000 in medical bills, you start to wonder how this could have been prevented.

At one point, I was told they thought I wanted a contract with them — no, I just didn’t want more people to get sick or die from preventable foodborne illness.

Lesson One

If a government feels a twinge of guilt, they will rally their troops to cut you off from engaging them. No amount of traditional, friendly, low-key engagement will work on them. They will have a knee-jerk reaction for self-preservation. Their fear turns your engagement into a battle.

Lesson Two

Use a petition strategically: organizations that don’t have traditional engagement windows, aren’t elected to represent you (and you aren’t a member of the organization), have an unusual governance structure, or are a company are good targets for a petition.

Lesson Three

Your capacity to tell your story —and why it matters to others— is more important than your story.

Lesson Four

Media and petition signers can become a community of support and legitimacy, forcing conversations that otherwise won’t happen.

Damn straight, I wasn’t going away. I would work this bureaucratic process until King County got a more transparent, accessible restaurant scoring system.

Lesson Five

Until the project has been funded, the legislation passed, policy changed, and necessary actions taken, you need to “stay in the game.” Or, all that work goes to waste.

Lesson Six

The petition is the platform your civic engagement launches from; you need to plan to put in more work, long after the petition declares “victory.”



Decade+ in #opengov, civic tech, & open data innovation. Surfer. Accidental #FoodSafety advocate/data standard expert. Author. #MeToo

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