01 May 2005

01.05.05. Riders' Angles - Citizens assessing government

Editor's note: Let's see. Transit in Chicago? Website in Vilnius? What kind of world are we living in? Seems to me that change is in story from directions that perhaps not everyone is anticipating.

Riders' Angles

Citizens assessing government: Evaluating Chicago Transit Authority performance and standards. A proposal to the The Campaign for Better Transit from the Minciu Sodas laboratory.


How can we make sense of government performance?

Let us think sensitively! We propose to look at public transit performance from the rider's point of view.

Performance measurement is a rather new concept in government. In Chicago, there is a need for the Chicago Transit Authority to pay attention to our most basic expectations. However, when transit is thought of as a system for transporting us, then we get looked upon as freight.

Instead, transit is for our transitions. We say goodbye to one time and place, and we say hello to another. We set our frame of mind. Is our journey convenient and productive? cheerful or stressful? relaxing or exhausting? invigorating or plodding? uplifting or depressing? integrating or isolating? Is it eventful, in good ways or bad?

Public transit lets us share our costs, but we may also share our sensitivity and responsivity. Let us open all manner of feedback loops. How can we structure the system, the measurements and responses, to bring out the best in riders, drivers, managers and planners?


If we, the riders, are central, then let us also be the center of response. Every aspect of the system should amplify our concerns, and encourage our solutions. What may look like a seat is actually our throne. We should never suffer without a reason, but should freely engage each other to accommodate each other. On any transit issue, we should be able to approach our driver with respect as our champion.

We, the riders, should drive our public transit system:

  • Let's not assume that all riders are the same. We have different purposes for riding the bus (or not riding): going to work, school, hospital, park, mall, church, date, game, friends and relatives. What improves service?
  • Let's assume that the ride is part of life. We're spending enormous amounts of time, often an hour or two per day, on our wait and ride: reading, resting, chatting, eating, working, phoning, praying. How might we rethink our social space, and physical space, for best use of our time and relationships?
  • Let's design measures around what riders are trying to accomplish. How can we know: If we are going to work, that we won't arrive late once too often? If we need extra help getting on or off, that we will be assisted? If we go out at night, that we will have a way to get back home?
  • Let's involve riders in the solution. Riders affect every aspect of the ride. Active riders can set the norms and expectations. What are sensible roles that bring out the best in riders, drivers, managers and planners?


We propose to involve riders in the solution, by involving them in the investigation of the Chicago Transit Authority's performance and standards.

  1. Organize input from riders. We will organize around CBT a lively and effective online community of active riders in Chicago and beyond. Our riders will convey online, especially as bloggers, moments that illustrate what riding adds or subtracts from their quality of life, such as Shannon Clark's "bus-ride moment" Bridges and Steelworkers. We'll strive for the spirit of New York's Straphangers' Rider Diaries, but in a wider variety of venues and formats, with the CBT website as a central hub. Our riders will contribute words, images and also data, as they find convenient, from themselves and others, into a shared online database. They will be active in local action and global dialogue for measuring and enhancing transit performance.
  2. Create a database for analyzing the CTA budget. We will enter CTA budget data into a database. We will design, modify or purchase tools for programatically stripping the data out of the PDF format, and where necessary, we will enter the data by hand. We will create an interface for the CBT to analyze the budget and correlate it with other data resources such as census data. We will collect some data from other cities around the world that we might make some comparisons. We will make available online some part of this data and functionality.
  3. Bring together creative experts on making sense of government performance. We will organize a working group Thinking Sensitively of Minciu Sodas lab members, enthusiasts and scholars from Chicago and around the world, who have ideas on making sense of government performance. We will present issues, examples and data from Chicago and the CBT in a way that is of global interest, and will garner ideas, experience and enthusiasm from other cities. We will survey the theory and practice that is defining and redefining the state-of-the-art in measuring government performance. We will use local and global input to develop a theory for the CBT linking quality of life, citizen action and government performance.


Investigating and organizing go hand and hand. Open investigation integrates us around the truth. Social organization connects us with reality.

In order to question openly, we need to rise beyond our local and personal concerns. The Minciu Sodas laboratory excels at relating any concern, issue or project with "caring about thinking" so that it is of global and general interest. Encouragement from people around the world helps us invest ourselves in new approaches in Chicago. Our work-in-progress attracts resources and partners, and inspires action and reaction.

Working openly we involve wonderful talents and leverage deep creativity. We work with our investigators by meeting them half-way, finding how their personal quests might also serve the CTB. They agree to give their creative work to the public domain, or under licenses that contribute to the public wealth. We select, design and conduct investigations opportunistically, according to available investigators, resources, synergies. We also look for other sources of funding. By drawing on multiple angles, we are able to best marshal our resources to achieve our particular aims, as described above: Organize input from riders, Create a database for analyzing the CTA budget, and Bring together creative experts on making sense of government performance.

Working opportunistically, we develop an energy that we can channel and adapt to CBT's priorities. We plan to conduct five investigations for synergy from a variety of angles. Here is a sample of what might arouse global interest and attract help for citizen assessment of government, as well as the evaluation of the Chicago Transit Authority performance and standards. Each of these investigations contributes to our understanding of part or all of the feedback loop needed for monitoring and enhancing government performance.

  • What makes blogging take off? Blogs (web logs) are easy-to-author online diaries. What gives rise to a society of bloggers? Why are Brazil, Poland and Iran blogging superpowers? A Polish journalist wrote about a blogger romance in Silicon Valley, and now 100,000 young Polish women post their Internet diaries! How might we leverage, in the spirit of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the daily rapport between riders and drivers? We mix online and curbside organizing with a dash of digital cameras to jumpstart a world of blogging riders.
  • How might gadgets enhance transit? Cell phones, Palm Pilots, digital cameras, webcams, handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) devices, smart cards and bar codes are all over the place. They let us record and communicate where we are, what we see, hear and think. The coming year will find new devices, some dedicated to moblogging (mobile blogging). Such devices can interconnect worlds of data with the physical world that we move through. So how might they enhance transit? The data needs to circulate. Humans need to help generate it, and they need feedback loops that encourage and reward their participation. We look to design self-regulating systems that drive the transit system to be self-accountable.
  • How can we use math to make a point? Mathematical thinking is key to understanding and evaluating performance. Unfortunately, mathematics is taught in such a barbaric way that we generally are uncomfortable sizing up real-life numbers, or distinguishing between various kinds of trends. The CTA system, and the CTA budget, generate enormous amounts of down-to-earth data. If I need to go three blocks, is it better for me to wait for the bus, or to walk? A thoughtful website might be a showcase for all manner of real-life math problems, and at the same time attract attention to CTA performance, and how it might be improved. Starting with the basics, we can show that, just as we weight many factors in buying a car, so we do in managing public transit. We can design performance measures that reflect personal preferences, or design holistic performance measures that consider how each kind of transit affects the entire transit system.
  • What kind of web functionality stimulates block club action? Chicago is known for its block clubs. Typically they rely on just a few leaders. We might design our web interface to serve not only individuals, but leaders of small groups. We can encourage them to gather ideas, experiences and data from their group. What might they bring back to their group? What issues might activate a network of such groups? We can look for ways of presenting online the work of such groups to monitor and improve public transit.
  • How can the behavior of a few individuals reform the behavior of an entire system? We can draw inspiration from extreme challenges. Suhit Anantula is attempting to make Hyderabad, India an ambulance-friendly city. How can a handful of people change the norms of a metropolis? We look for constructive mentalities that can spread virally. We zone in on the leaders and the laws that set the tone. We connect our issue with the points that might stir the public for new behavior. Just as we learn from extremes around the world, so we can look for the extremes in Chicago that are too easy to overlook! How is the CTA preparing for the future, for example, to leverage emerging fuel technology? or to embrace a high-tech lifestyle? or to support a positive outlook for our neighborhoods?
  • In what ways is art effective in sending a public message? Democracy responds to the people. Change comes from a minority. How can we provoke each other to think differently? What images and stories help us focus on the issues? Which ones are able to move broadly through the media? We encourage our community of riders to create works in the public domain that might evolve and travel freely through the Internet until they strike a nerve with the Chicago media, the people of Chicago, and the CTA.
  • What feedback systems bring out the best in riders, drivers and managers? Our Investigators explore overlapping parts of the loops of accountability. We encourage synergy amongst our various projects, and look for what they say about the system as a whole. What does it take for the transit system to be accountable? What motivates the players of each role? How can the system serve a variety of riders? How can it keep growing and improving as an integral part of our quality of life? We look for ways to understand the system as serving the rider's point of view.


Andrius Kulikauskas, Ph.D. founded the Minciu Sodas laboratory in 1998. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1986, B.S.Math, B.A.Physics, and was awarded a Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1993 from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). His quest is "to know everything and apply that usefully". He has lived in the Chicago neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Marquette Park, Garfield Ridge and Englewood, and ridden many miles on the 55th street, 69th street, Western, Jeffery, Orange, Red and Blue Lines.

The mission of Minciu Sodas is to serve and organize independent thinkers around the world. By focusing on our shared value of "caring about thinking", we are able to attract and hold people of a wide variety of outlooks and circumstances. Our endeavors include interconnecting software tools for organizing thoughts, monitoring the wisdom of investments, organizing an economy for working openly, structuring workspaces for fostering endeavors, invigorating the commons for endeavors, making work fun, organizing Islamic independent thinkers, practicing love as policy, dismantling the racial caste system in America, providing education that fosters independent thinking, uplifting life in the Lithuanian countryside, bringing peaceful self-determination to the Middle East, and making sense of government performance.

Minciu Sodas excels at team-building by investigating. We have trained and organized teams of programmers for Agile Media/BAJobs.com, and drafted software standards for TheBrain Technologies and MindJet. We draw from a pool of 50 active and 500 passive participants. (Note that we expect to attract many new members with expertise in government performance, as well as active riders in Chicago). Here are some of our Investigators and Instigators:

  • Joseph Goguen is Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD, and Director of the USCD Meaning and Computation Lab. He is a distinguished thinker in requirements engineering, and a founder of algebraic semantics and algebraic semiotics. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. At our laboratory, he asks, What are values? How do you discern them in objects and persons?
  • Daniel Weinstein is Assistant Professor of English at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. He teaches writing, technical writing, information architecture and web publishing. He is investigating Visual language and teaching, including the use of weblogging.
  • Raimundas Vaitkevicius is Senior Programmer at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania where he teaches object technology and statistics for psychology. He organizes teachers in the Lithuanian Computer Society. He is investigating the use of tools for organizing thoughts.
  • Shannon Clark of Chicago is CEO of JigZaw. His company is an innovator in developing AI software for Information Extraction and Integration. He excels at problem analysis. Shannon is the Events Chair for the Ryze Business Network in Chicago.
  • Suhit Anantula is an Analyst who is personally working to make Hyderabad, India an ambulance-friendly city. As a social entrepreneur, he is taking up the challenge to reduce pollution from Indian stoves, a leading cause of death there.
  • Algis Cibulskis of Lithuania leads the Statistics Department for the IT Center of the Ministry of Education. His team is responsible for organizing the collection, reformatting and analysis of data from thousands of schools.
  • William Wagner, a Chicago native, is the publisher of Ljubljana Life in Slovenia. He is writing a book on how our environment affects our thinking, and vice versa.
  • Joe Damal is a Chicago community organizer, a living legend for several challenging sectors of Chicago youth. In 1999, he lead one of the first Minciu Sodas investigations, Ever change your mind? for the Youth Outreach Program of the Chicago Public Schools.
  • Ian Bruk is a Consultant. He has spent the last three years analyzing the performance of 200 companies, and is leading and funding our work to develop Material Change (Living Research Reports), software to monitor the wisdom of investments.
  • Peter Kaminski is CTO of Socialtext, a leader in social software. He is an Internet pioneer, award-winning designer of the 1993 NetCruiser browser, founder of Yipes Communications, NanoSpace and PDIAL, and instigator of the Social Software Alliance.

Thank you to our many contributors to this proposal: Suhit Anantula on ambulance friendly cities, Natalie d'Arbeloff on artistic focus, Stanko Blatnik on web systems, Ian Bruk on village transit, Richard Cayzer on the future, Steve Cayzer on social factors, Prem Chandavarkar on great love, Shannon Clark on the CTA, David Ellison-Bey on inspiring others, Shane Hopkins on Chicago and NY transit, David Kaminski on gadgets and video, Debra Louison Lavoy on dialogue with drivers, Miranda Mowbray on transit around the world, umesh rashmi rohatgi on the role of government, Lucas Gonzalez Santa Cruz on evoking ideas.


Our purpose is to build local and global momentum in support of The Campaign for Better Transit. We want to engage all who might wish to make sense of government performance, especially monitoring and enhancing transit in Chicago. Our long term impact depends on us tapping into what our participants truly care about. We therefore plan to deploy our resources flexibly, so that we might meet our investigators half-way, and encourage them to adapt, for our sake, investigations that they are conducting for their own reasons.

We best leverage our integrity with a fractal distribution of our resources and responsibility. We have a lead organizer, Andrius Kulikauskas, who makes sure that we have a team, and that we meet our basic aims. He will select and lead a team of 5 investigators whose efforts will help him meet these aims, but moreover, will open up thoughtful questions, attract helpful participants, and generate synergy, momentum and community. They will all be assisted by 25 instigators who will be rewarded for a variety of small jobs and thoughtful help. We also expect to attract about 125 participants who care enough to get involved in some small way.

Our budget therefore, for one year, is:

$5,000 for our lead organizer, Director Andrius Kulikauskas. Roughly $1,000 of this will be for travel to and from Chicago. (He will work in Chicago for one or two months).
$5,000 for our 5 investigators. They will receive stipends $4,000 = 5 x $800. We reserve $1,000 (20%) for administrative costs and discretionary resources.
$5,000 for our 25 instigators. They will receive rewards $4,000 = 25 x $160. We reserve $1,000 (20%) for administrative costs and discretionary resources.

TOTAL: $15,000

We look forward to working closely with the staff and enthusiasts of The Campaign for Better Transit. We shall make every opportunity that they might participate actively through our laboratory as investigators and instigators in these and other endeavors.

We should be quite flexible and creative with rewards for our instigators. They may be cash, but depending on how we structure our work, may be gadgets, or even coupons towards gadgets. The coming year will see handheld devices that we can't yet even imagine, and we may also get support from manufacturers in Silicon Valley or Japan. Therefore, we advise to hold back on any such purchases until we know more about our investigations and partners.

We will make sure that our team has a strong presence in Chicago, but also encourage anybody around the world who has a great project, or brings a lot of energy. We will use this money, as much as possible, to leverage the personal work that we want to do anyways, rather than just pay to get a job done. We will look for other sources of funds. We're looking for a lot of synergy amongst us, between CBT and our lab, and support for ongoing work at our lab.

Thank you for your consideration of our proposal!


Andrius Kulikauskas
Minciu Sodas
Grudu g 6, Vilnius, LT2020, Lithuania


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric, Thank you for sharing our proposal! We're happy to adapt it as needed around the world. Andrius Kulikauskas, Minciu Sodas, http://www.ms.lt

11 June, 2005 00:46  

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