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Walsh administration solicits ideas for civic academies

Rominda De Barros | 6/19/2014, 6 a.m.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh initiated an online survey last week in efforts to create Boston’s first civic academies, a program geared towards encouraging community engagement in the Boston area. Walsh’s administration hopes these civic academies will cultivate civic leaders within Boston communities and make local government accessible. The program will consist of workshops framed around the interests of residents and is set to being in July.

“The idea for [civic academies] came about as Mayor Walsh was campaigning,” said Jerome Smith, director of the Office of Neighborhood Services. “Many Boston residents were unsure as to how they could engage city government and get more involved in their neighborhoods.”

Although the idea of civic academies is nothing new and has been proven effective in other cities such as San Antonio, Texas and Philadelphia, Walsh administration officials anticipate that Boston will be able to benefit from the program as well.

The goals for the program include providing an outlet for all residents to collaborate with local government, developing a better understanding of how to serve Boston residents, and creating learning opportunities that support civic engagement and community service, according to a press release.

Workshop sessions may include topics such as how to start a community garden, bike to and from work, settle in as a new resident as well as topics proposed by community members and residents.

“We expect the community to inform us about the topics they would like to learn about,” said Smith. “We are also reaching out to existing neighborhood activists who can assist us in the development of the program.”

Questions geared toward existing neighborhood activists include how they became involved in their communities, their experiences in organizing activities within their neighborhoods, and which topics would they be interested in learning about. With information from the survey, the Walsh Administration will be able to develop workshops for residents interested in learning how to organize events and other community oriented projects.

The survey will also detail how residents would prefer to be instructed on the topics of their choice, whether by personal one-on-one instruction, video instruction or a combination of both. With input from the surveys, the administration will be able to create a curriculum based on the results.

Although the program is currently in its very early stages it has already received around 100 responses from residents around Boston. The program has also set up its first civic academies workshop focusing on the topic of social media and marketing on July 12 at District Hall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first workshop will be a test run where attendees will be able to contribute feedback on the workshop’s effectiveness.

“As we go forward with the civic academies the program will continue to evolve,” said Smith. “With this first workshop we’re hoping residents will be able to give us input which will shape how we run the program in the future.”