(Community Design) How can 214 Help my Community? — Special Needs Children
A couple of decades ago, after extended experience as a grass roots advocate, I found myself becoming less interested in the project itself, and more interested in the stories behind the project, so to speak.
In other words: consider a farmers market, or a skateboard park, or a community garden.
Those are the projects, but who was behind them? How did the project come to be?
Most people assume that the city manages all of that sort of thing, but in truth, the city alone isn’t capable of the nuance required for endeavors such as these.
In fact, the most successful projects are actually those which are championed by ordinary members of the community.
More often than not, it’s the moms, or the dads, or the stepparents.
As you walk the story of successful advocacy backwards, from successful opening to the first time the project it was envisioned, it ends up becoming clear that somebody in the community had made their home a hub for people whose needs were not being met.
During those informal gatherings, something happens. They decide that they want to do something about their needs or pain points within the group, and although they might not realize it initially, they end up spending years (often) of their lives in the pursuit of an amenity from which they will gain no direct financial benefit.
Which is a pretty interesting concept, all by itself.
I spent several months contacting these people; these moms, dads, stepmoms, stepdads, grandparents, aunts, uncles — the neighborhood hub, the community kitchen, so to speak.
I found it beneficial to request that I read their binder.
They all had a binder — every group. It’s a three ring folder for sharing their various notes, letters, meeting minutes, clippings from news articles, grant applications, and so on.
Of course they were more than thrilled for someone to request a review of their notes, because it was the only archive which provided evidence of all the hard work that went into the amenity itself.
These were mailed to me, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that they basically follow the same flow.
There’s what appears to be an implied chronology — a maturity model is what we would call it in the technology business, which begins at outrage, proceeds through the coalescence of a vision, evolves into a nascent advocacy, which transitions into fundraising, construction, deployment, and finally: stewardship.
In 2001, I had launched a nonprofit which provided assistance to political advocates who were seeking resources for skateboarders, and we eventually codified this into a printed book, distributed by the skateboard industry itself (the IASC, International Association of Skateboard Companies), and paid for by The Tony Hawk Foundation.
The book went through two printings, and the third edition is now available for free on the web. The book itself dramatically simplified and helped abbreviate the process others went through in the acquisition of a skatepark.
While that’s not actually what this blog is all about, the context will be helpful shortly.
Let’s go back to the people who championed on behalf of these amenities. Because they are people; they have their own families and they have their own concerns.
One of the things that immediately becomes apparent when examining the heads or leaders of advocacy efforts is that there seems to be a strong positive correlation between people who successfully advocate for these community amenities, and those who have children or loved ones who have special needs.
This is remarkable, actually.
They are already busy swimming upstream in support of their child (or children), and they often end up picking up a few extra projects along the way.
They are the advocacy super achievers.
For example, let’s assume a married couple in Florida with three children: two of them neurotypical, the third with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.
It’s extremely difficult to navigate the bizarre and sometimes cruel labyrinth of public services for children who have these spectrum disorders.
And I know these challenges from personal experience; we have five kids, and among them are various sensory integration disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, and so on.
Nonetheless, the parents persist, and a byproduct of their stubborn, persistent stoicism is that they have built an extremely strong community of supporters not just for their child, but for other children as well.
As I have shared in other blogs, I’ve spent the past couple of decades ruminating on how I would have improved upon my own early attempts in advocacy, and a lot of these reviews and self assessments have framed why I have structured my company, 214 Alpha, the way I have.
So if that’s the why, if you will, what do we actually do?
We provide a digital space for a closed, private community, via a mobile app, which enables people to trade with one another, among other functions.
But rather than just listing these functions, I’d prefer to elaborate using a “real world example” of exactly what that space can look like when engineered around a specific community.
For this example, we can go back to our family from Florida.
Let’s imagine our hypothetical couple: Harris and Savannah Falls, in Jacksonville, Florida. Three children, aged eleven, nine, and six.
Their 11-year-old is a girl with sensory integration disorders and an ambiguous diagnosis regarding placement on the so-called autistic spectrum.
Because of the multiple criteria involved with this vague diagnosis, there is endless frustration, because this enables their local schools to evade the provision of appropriate resources, to the detriment of their daughter’s development.
The fact is, she’s almost entirely nonverbal, but they know that she is smart, and capable (at times) of sophisticated cognition. The challenge is more about basic communication capabilities.
This couple is creative and knowledgeable, and they have discovered a device which might help her more successfully navigate the world around her: the DynaVox.
For those who are unaware of what this device is and what it means in terms of communication, it is next-level.
It’s an extremely cool, special purpose computer which enables non-vocal individuals, like their daughter, to communicate simple needs and wants that we all take for granted, such as what they would like to eat for breakfast, or whether they need to use the restroom, or what activity they would like to engage in next — and all by using pictures that are translated into verbal responses.
It gives voice to the voiceless, and for Harris and Savannah Falls, this is most necessary for their eldest daughter’s well being.
Problem is: the thing costs $10,000, and is not covered with their insurance.
So yet another obstacle that is vague, inconsistent, and a clear attempt to avoid paying for resources this child needs — by yet another large, complex body that doesn’t see the child behind the dollar signs.
They are aware that there are other parents like them that might have one for sale, but they are not entirely sure how to get in touch with them, and there are various other challenges with purchasing things from strangers online: trust, risk of fraud, a lack of trustworthy reputation, how disputes are resolved, and so on.
Some of these capabilities are available within eBay, but not very well explained, and anyway, eBay is pretty expensive, considering some of the problems they’ve had with prior purchases. They would rather find something more private and exclusive to people like themselves.
How does the 214 Alpha software help?
Our platform would enable people like this example family to create a closed trade network, exclusive to people who have family with special needs.
The platform itself features several integrated functions we’ve learned are necessary for a successfully self-sufficient community.
For example, digital identity verification is built into the platform, so they can trust that the person they are interacting with is who they claim to be.
People can post and make it known that they have products and services available, so in fact this would resemble a marketplace, but it would be exclusive to the people of the community, and not the general public.
We make communication available through a chat-like function, similar to Messenger, Telegram, Signal, etc., with high security protocols.
We utilize blockchain to facilitate agreements between two or more parties, making the system highly resistant to fraud or abuse.
For those not in the tech industry, a blockchain is a kind of open, distributed ledger, where everybody who has a copy is auditing it constantly, and its chief feature is to promote high trust transactions between strangers.
However, the ledger itself is only available to those who are within the community, which would be exclusive to people whose loved ones have those special needs, or provide support services to that community (such as ABA therapists, respite caregivers, etc. — all would require approval from the community administrators before being able to access the platform).
Various commerce and trade options are available, inclusive to barter, buy, sell, auction, and sophisticated purchase arrangements are also built-in, including payment plans, subscriptions, and so on.
Our platform supports crypto payments, but also barter systems.
A quick note on the concept of bartering, which should be acknowledged more frequently, is that it is a legitimate form of payment, because let’s face it: it’s frequently the case that we just don’t have the money, but we might have something that somebody else wants.
In support of that, the app also has a built-in banking function, which of course includes a digital wallet, capable of storing crypto but also digital deeds and titles.
Banking as a function on our app also includes micro credit loans, crowd source funding, and so on, so the members of the community can do fundraising among themselves and within their community in support of a particular goal.
Reputation is built into the platform. I have spent decades in the information security business, working for some of the most famous security companies in the world. If you have done any kind of transaction in the modern world, those transactions were protected by infrastructure that I either managed or help design.
I am cognizant of how a reputation engine can be gamed or played by people engaging in fraud, and ours is instrumented to mitigate those efforts at the base level, which contributes significantly to high trust between strangers.
Think back to how great Yelp! was when it first started, before business owners and advertising companies realized there was a market for unmerited five star reviews.
You can’t game our reputation system — it’s not designed to sell fraud.
Our system includes a conflict resolution process that we call arbitration, because face it: disputes will happen. There’s just no way of getting around it, and it is in everybody’s best interest to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement before the dispute takes place, and solve those disputes as fast as possible, because that is truly what is in everyone’s best interest.
Finally, the platform has built-in governance, which is an interesting word. We talk about why for a moment.
As with any other platform, we charge a marginal transaction fee to use these services, but a substantial portion of each transaction fee actually goes back to the closed community itself, which serves as a source of revenue for the community, essentially crowd funding their own services to meet the needs of their own people.
Our ROI calculator shows that a community can achieve profitability in just a few months, with just a few thousand members having two to three transactions a month.
This means that technically a community of parents whose children have special needs could start building a fund they could utilize for the provision of occupational therapists, perhaps inventory of services or goods that are of special utility to the community, negotiation of favorable insurance rates, and so on.
Our own customer services group provides assistance in the diversification of these funds, because it’s actually in our financial best interest for the community’s financial portfolio to be highly diversified, with low fiscal variability.
Within the context of a privately or publicly held (or even a charitable organization), governance takes the form of standard operating procedures and roles and responsibilities.
These are built into the platform, and there are options for customizing them to meet the needs of the community.
One of the most basic functions of governance is holding the stewards of this community to account, through the reputation engine.
If somebody commits to serve as a responsible steward on behalf of the community, they better deliver, or they will be voted out and replaced with somebody who boasts more favorable performance statistics.
All of these functions are delivered through a mobile application, via a consistent user interface, so the community itself does not have to manage IT infrastructure, and can focus entirely upon building and diversifying their own exclusive community. In short, seven functions, fully integrated with each other, on one mobile app.
One of the goals of our company is to help communities like the one we just described (and others like them around the world) keep their affairs and their money local, so they can create their world, consistent with their needs.
If you’d like to talk a little bit about how this might meet the specific needs of your community, contact us at www.214alpha.com