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Listening Post giving outlet for community voices to be heard

Signs printed with the prompt “I wish Macon would ...” are tacked on bus benches and taped to doors and windows across town.

Below the main words, there’s a request to call or text the listed phone number. But what happens if you phone in?

Burgess Brown, the project leader for the Listening Post, calls it “donating your voice.”

Funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Listening Post is a communitywide project that encourages people to phone in and type or record their answer to what they wish Macon would do. Answers are then posted on an online feed that looks like a Twitter feed minus any frills.

Then, responders may either stop the messages by texting ‘QUIT’ at any time or opt in to receive weekly prompts.

Personal information is eventually requested, such as a person’s first name and last initial that acts as a screen name, but responders may choose to remain anonymous.

“There have been a lot of great responses already,” Brown said.

Responses have ranged from concerns about poverty and the environment to requests to bring new businesses to the area.

Here’s a sample:

“I wish Macon would ... Bring good grocery stores to areas like Bloomfield. The access to fresh produce is limited,” an anonymous contributor said.

“I wish Macon would ... Build a natatorium,” Bobby C. said, speaking of an indoor swimming pool.

“I wish Macon would ... Heal its racial divide,” Mark V. said.

“I wish Macon would ... Become the greatest city in the world,” a person in Macon said.

“I wish Macon would ... Remember to smile,” an audio response in Macon said.

A hashtag with a location, such as #bealls or #Tindall, allows others to know which part of Macon the response relates to.

“Trends are already starting to form,” Brown said of the responses.

Brown developed the grass-roots movement with Andrew Haeg, a former entrepreneur-in-residence at the Center for Collaborative Journalism. They used mobile phone technology powered by Groundsource, a similar initiative that uses cell phones for community engagement.

Brown said using text messaging and phone calls results in the “most inclusive and best forms of engagement” because almost everyone has a phone with those basic capabilities.

“It allows us to get into the corners of Macon -- people below the poverty line, the elderly, those usually not involved in public discourse,” Brown said.

“(The project) is dependent on the community’s desire to have their voices heard.”

A successful model by the same name exists in New Orleans, and comparable models are in the works in Birmingham, Alabama, and Cape Town, South Africa.

Brown said he and Haeg hope The Listening Post becomes completely self-sustainable. “As corny as it sounds, it’s truly for the people,” Brown said.

If you would like to contribute to The Listening Post, call or text the word “Macon” to 478-202-2500.

If you would like to view the posts of others, visit the feed at www.listeningpost.us.

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