by Steve Sewall (7/18/19, revised 7/15/23)
Here’s a brief overview of Chicago FIXIT, a civic-purposed, citizen-participatory instance of commercial, voter-driven Reality TV like American Idol.
FIXIT give Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds an informed voice in addressing and solving Chicago’s violence — not just reducing it — as a city of 2.6 million residents/citizens connected and interacting citywide on local network TV.
It entertains. It’s dramatic. It’s a game. And Chicagoans love games. It keeps TV viewers on the edge of their seats playing a smart, digital-age version of the great game of voter-driven democracy.
FIXIT is voter-driven, with outcomes determined by cell phone votes, as on reality TV shows like American Idol.
FIXIT is a blend of representative and participatory democracy. Its solutions to violence are strictly advisory (not mandatory) to City Hall for possible implementation by elected leaders.
FIXIT solutions to violence are chosen by viewer vote after weeks of compelling yet carefully vetted on-air deliberations involving citizens and City Hall at every turn.
This strikingly transparent process is a new way of doing government in Chicago. It integrates Chicago’s existing, election-centered system of representative democracy a media-based, citizen-participatory component.
In so doing, gives City Hall what it desperately needs in order to solve Chicago’s violence: a way to profit from the informed, ongoing and constructive input of Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds.
In so doing, FIXIT gives Chicagoans an informed voice in the governmental public safety decisions that are increasingly a matter of life and death in Chicago today.
The above graphic illustrates a 6-phase, 30 week season of Chicago FIXIT.
Phase I. Auditions. FIXIT auditions not individual singers, as American Idol does, but small, four-member teams of talented, telegenic Chicago problem solvers of all ages and backgrounds. Coming from all neighborhoods of the city, the four members are responsible for four key roles:
- Team leader and presentation organizer
- Team spokesman
- Team researcher
- Team media expert
Six auditions, conducted in a welcoming, all-inclusive spirit by a team of four competent judges, are held citywide over a four-week period.
Local and national TV newscasts eagerly cover these auditions. While entirely NEW to Chicago, they are wholly FAMILIAR to Idol fans.
Phases III — VI. These four phases, summarized in the above graphic, call for clarification.
Chicago FIXIT is structured to move Chicago from drama and polarization to collaboration and resolution.
From hostile confrontation to close listening to hard, collective thinking and, finally, to collaborative solutions that earn the respect of citizens and City Hall alike.
Chicago FIXIT TV blends an open-minded receptiveness to all approaches to violence with a marked firmness with respect to the evaluation criteria that FIXIT judges bring to bear in evaluations of team performances. Three features are key these criteria:
- The clarity, inclusiveness, cost-effectiveness and feasibility of a team’s solution to violence
- A team’s ability to understand and respond intelligently to other, competing solutions
- A team’s ability to cooperate as well as compete with other teams in developing — sometimes on the spot and in real time — best solutions to Chicago’s violence.
FIXIT RULES make informed problem-solvers of everyone. They keep the program impartial, non-partisan, non-ideological, issue-centered and impressively transparent.
FIXIT rules reward teams that demonstrate the ability to compete and cooperate with other teams.
FIXIT rules embody the premise that the best, most enduring solutions to violence take shape from the ability of Chicagoans to listen to and learn from each other.
The ability to listen and learn is key to the respect and trust without which Digital Age Chicago, we feel certain, will never solve, let alone reduce, the citywide violence that has plagued the city since the rise of the information/Digital Age in the 1960’s and heavily armed, drug dealing, youth victimizing street gangs.
These two seismic developments, media and criminal, are part and parcel of each other.
FIXIT rules are designed to earn the same high levels of RESPECT and TRUST from Chicagoans and City Hall that rule-governed telecasts of Chicago’s beloved sports teams earn from competing athletes, team owners, sports media and fans of Chicago’s beloved pro sports teams alike.
In fact, FIXIT rules are modeled on those of sports telecasts: on the three-tier rule structure — on-field rules and referees, instant replay and remote umpires, and expert play-by-play commentary — that sports telecasts have long used and perfected to maintain the respect and trust of the viewing public.
Chicago’s media cover and critique FIXIT’s competitive/collaborative drive to solve the city’s violence as enthusiastically and profitably as they cover and critique the championship drives of Chicago’s beloved sports teams.
Ultimately, FIXIT is a training ground for Chicago’s future and current leaders alike. It’s where city leaders young and old learn to act in the best interests of the people and City of Chicago. Not their own personal or political interests.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST. It’s everything! Chicago’s despairing attitude to violence will not morph from today’s fear, apathy, cynicism and mistrust to a new spirit of confidence and civic energy until Chicagoans can access trustworthy violence-solving information and solution forums. FIXIT programming is therefore
- Ongoing, issue-centered and outcome-focused, so Chicago can accomplish great things, such as making itself safer than New York and Los Angeles.
- Smart and inclusive to enable Chicagoans to listen to and learn from each other. In a political era of mind-numbing, election-time TV attack ads, civic media values and gives voice to the native intelligence of all Chicagoans.
- Dialogic and public-spirited in order to make all Chicagoans (including City Hall) responsive and accountable to each other in shaping Chicago’s best future
- Dynamic, exciting and inspiring in ways that enable an industrial-age I Will City to proudly reinvent itself as a digital-age We Will City.
The Roots of Chicago FIXIT
In 2006, we heard from a colleague that the power of voter-driven reality TV shows like American Idol — with over 750 million viewer votes cast in its tenth season alone — could possibly be tweaked for expressly civic purposes.
This led to the creation of America’s Choice, an issue-centered, citizen-participatory decision-making platform designed to enable Americans and their political leaders to process the issues of the day rationally and productively.
Chicago FIXIT is a local version of America’s Choice. But it also draws inspiration from the seminal concept of good citizenship that inspired Chicago’s visionary city planner, Daniel Burnham, to create the Plan of Chicago.
A side benefit of Chicago FIXIT is that before long, cities nationwide will be replicating the high-functioning digital-age civic infrastructure that FIXIT pioneers in Chicago. Once successfully operating in Chicago, it puts an end to city’s long standing (and not wholly deserved) reputation as the poster child of urban violence in America.
FIXIT is fully scalable. It can operate at local, state and national levels. Once successful in Chicago, it can serve as democracy’s best possible response to the trend in recent years towards political polarization and government dysfunction in America.
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- The full case for Chicago FIXIT made in this four-part Medium post which labels Chicago FIXIT as ChicagoWRKS.
- Our ChicagoWRKS Information Page goes still deeper into the WRKSconcept.
- Let’s talk! Email Steve at email@example.com.
Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator and Director of Chicago Civic Media.