October 1, 2014 vsbly

Observations on the LA2050 Grants Challenge and Community Engagement in Los Angeles

NOTE: vsbly.org provided digital strategy consulting services to one competitor, Move LA, who was awarded the Jury Prize in the CONNECT category. We have relationships with a few other applicants but did not participate in their campaigns.

Congratulations to the ten winners of the LA2050 2014 Grants Challenge! I will definitely watch the winning projects unfold in the upcoming months.

And I also hope to see the other applicants continue to seek funding and realize their projects. Some of my friends and colleagues who participated are already moving ahead with their ideas regardless of whether they’re currently funded, and I admire their dedication and vision.

I have a few observations after geeking out over the whole process:

There were 267 project proposal submissions across all five goal categories.

Is that a lot of ideas? No, that’s not a lot of ideas. It’s TOO MANY IDEAS. Seriously, though, that’s a high-class problem for Los Angeles to have – too many good ideas.

IMAGE: LA2050 review AWESOME vsbly.org

And just like with California ballot propositions I may not have read each submission thoroughly before voting. But voting did require a painful choice in some cases. I was torn between mixed loyalties and, honestly, sometimes the relative awesomeness of two awesome ideas is hard to quantify. (I have heard unconfirmed reports of people creating multiple accounts so they could vote more than once, presumably to assuage such internal contradictions, but good luck getting anyone to admit to that.)

There were only five goals.

So we’ve been invited to participate in envisioning LA as a place to LIVE, CONNECT, CREATE, LEARN, and PLAY.

Where is WORK?

We all like to LIVE, CONNECT, CREATE, LEARN and PLAY. But most of us spend our time at WORK.


We’re talking about jobs: Are they available? What kind? Can you live on your wages or salary? Will you retire before you die? What rights do you have in the workplace? Those are questions I have about LA in the year 2050, and those are questions that many in LA are actively working on.

Granted, some of this year’s entries deal directly with jobs. The Downtown Women’s Center won the jury award in the CREATE category for a project to integrate homeless women in the workforce. That’s a beautiful mission and I don’t mean to diminish it, nor other submissions that deal with employment, such as PortTech LAWould Works and, probably, others. (I’m sure I missed some. There were 267 submissions!)

But I would like to see organized labor participating in the conversation. LAANE, a frequent worker advocate, held a vibrant LA2050-branded Twitter Party to talk about income and employment back in 2013. But the original eight “indicators,” which included “Income and Employment,” got subsumed within the five “goals,” and work, somehow, lost focus.

Not everyone played fair

The 2014 Grants Challenge was clearly open to nonprofit and for-profit organizations. But at least one submission came from a for-profit company masquerading as a nonprofit. They checked the “nonprofit” box on their LA2050 submission, and they claim to be a nonprofit on their Facebook page. But after doing a little digging I verified that they are registered with the state of California as a for-profit corporation. Could appearing to be a nonprofit have helped their chances to garner support in the crowdsourced voting? Perhaps. In any case, they didn’t win and there’s no point in calling them out by name.

Some of the winners of the online voting were predictable before the voting started

In the one category that I tracked closely because of my client’s participation, I used a Facebook page post performance analysis tool to watch trending and overperforming posts from the Facebook pages of every organization in the category.IMAGE_social-media-los-angeles


The top three vote-getters settled into place more or less within the first day of voting. And they also had the highest-performing Facebook posts the day before voting began.

Email lists were essential

Certain email campaigns sent by the client and their allies produced marked jumps in their ranking in the online voting. After noticing a similar jump in the ranking of a friend’s organization, I confirmed after the voting period that they had recruited an allied group to send an email to their list.


So if you want to increase your social media reach, your digital strategy should probably place a high priority on building your email list.

What did you notice, or what did I miss?

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