Assistant to the Director of Public Works
City of Farmers Branch, Texas
Imagine this-your boss calls you into his office and wants you to find out what other cities are doing about refuse collection, or contracting out snow removal, or fleet maintenance programs, or loss time analysis, or automated work order systems, or some other policy, procedure or practice. You start thinking that you'll need to play the "twenty questions" game to be sure you've covered the entire topic. You also think about the enormous amount of time you'll spend on the phone or at the fax. Oh, not only do you need to contact adjacent cities, but you'll also need to contact cities around the state and nation to get a broad range of perspectives. Your boss also wants you to place the information on computer so that it can be incorporated into a report and e-mailed to the City Manager and/or the City Council.
Many of us may have little, if any, time to do any of the above due to our organizations' approach to being "lean and mean." What do you do? Do you a) pull out your Public Works directory and start calling around, b) start calling the other cities adjacent to you, c) have a secretary call for you and hope that he/she will ask the same questions you would, or d) surf the web hoping to get some article with similar survey information or that "smoking gun" that will answer all the questions?
Since you are reading this article it means that you either a) are a member of APWA and received your monthly APWA Reporter, b) know someone who is a member of APWA and you are browsing their copy of the APWA Reporter while waiting to talk to him/her, or c) picked up the APWA Reporter because of an article's caption that caught your attention.
Well...let me take a moment to tell you about an exciting and powerful service that APWA has to offer-infoNOW communities. APWA explains that "NOW is an acronym for Networking On the Web (e-mail connection with your peers) or News On the Web (since APWA is supplying you with news)." And the "news" includes an expanded list of topics-or Communities-encompassing: 1) Education and Training, 2) Emergency Preparedness, 3) Design Engineering and Construction, 4) Environment, 5) Government Affairs, 6) Infrastructure Protection and Right-of-Way Management, 7) Management, Administration and Finance, 8) MicroPAVER, 9) Operations, 10) Rural and Small Communities Issues, and 11) Transportation.
It's easier to let your fingers do the walking on your keyboard, not on your telephone as you compose your e-mail that will do the talking for you to a myriad of APWA members on one of APWA's infoNOW Communities. It is truly awesome when you can disseminate a question to hundreds of members within seconds with a push of the Send Message Now key, and then watch as responses and contact information come directly back to you. Imagine the amount of time it would take to contact 600, 60, 16, or 6 people by phone or fax? Many of us spend a great deal of time at our computer composing, responding to, and sending e-mails, and preparing spreadsheets or memos. Let the power of your computer and e-mails, and especially APWA's website and infoNOW Communities, do the work for you.
The late John MacMullen, APWA's Professional Development Program Manager, introduced me to the infoNOW Communities in December 2000 while I was surveying cities on their practices and policies on creek erosion. I posted a questionnaire on creek erosion on the infoNOW Communities and received 40 varied responses directly to me. Again, a Big Texas Thank You! to all who responded. I was excited when I received both national and local responses to my questionnaire. I was also able to copy and paste the responses into one document, and e-mail the document to other members of my team. The report was eventually finalized and titled "The Farmers Branch Creek Erosion and Sedimentation Issues and Policy Alternatives Report," which is available on the City of Farmers Branch website at www.ci.farmers-branch.tx.us. Subscribe today to the infoNOW Communities and you will begin to realize that it is a very important resource tool today, and in the future, to exchange information and ideas.
Borrowing from David Letterman and his traditional "Top 10," I've developed my own "Top 10 Reasons to Subscribe to APWA's infoNOW Communities":
10) No hassle; eliminate time spent returning phone calls or time spent at the fax machine;
9) Eliminate boring and frustrating time spent surfing the web to find that "one" article with the same information;
8) Compose your own questions and concerns and post them electronically;
7) It's quick; disseminate a question or concern to hundreds of members in seconds (how's that for coverage?);
6) It's easy; responses sent directly to you electronically;
5) It's simple because you have the ability to cut, paste and save responses into a report;
4) It's efficient; increased networking opportunity through local and national responses;
3) It's timely; exchange ideas quickly on a variety of topics;
2) It's convenient and powerful because it's at your fingertips, at one website-www.apwa.net; and
1) It's free; no additional cost to subscribe to infoNOW Communities.
Stephen Quirk can be reached at (972) 919-2596 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.