Heading into the second decade of the 21st century, we constantly hear about how social media, geolocation, mobile apps and similar technological innovations are changing the way we interact with each other. But how are they changing the way we interact with our governments (particularly local governments)? Are they offering new opportunities for civic engagement? Are they changing the way residents view their role in local government, creating new opportunities for citizen involvement? Or are they cementing old ideas of citizens as customers by facilitating the delivery of government services?

These questions are of particular interest to those of us at the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership as we seek to help solve public problems by promoting citizen's participation in governance. We have created this blog to provide up-to-date information relating to what is being called "Government 2.0." We hope what you find here will help local governments and their residents make the most of the technology available for genuine citizen engagement.

New to Gov 2.0? Check out our foundational documents »

A Yelp for Public Engagement?

Over at Tech President, Matt Leighninger discusses why just having public engagement options available isn’t enough – we also need a way for people to give feedback about how these processes are working.  What if your residents could “Yelp” your latest engagement process?  How would it rate?

Unfortunately, we have trouble separating productive from ineffective opportunities for civic engagement, in part because of the way we try to measure it. We focus almost entirely on assessing the impacts of discrete projects and tools, when we should also be giving citizens the chance to evaluate their civic environments. People now have the power to rate all kinds of products and services: if they had similar opportunities to rate their opportunities to participate in public life, democracy would improve.

You can read more here.

Future of Government and Tech?

Deloitte’s Director of Public Research, Bill Eggers is attributed with coining the term government 2.0 back in 2007.  Now he’s offering another term to the lexicon through his new Gov2020 research project:

The project consists of 39 “drivers” among six broader categories, three of which are technology-focused, and 194 corresponding government trends. For example, on the website, visitors can explore how cloud computing, a digital technology, will drive things like ” evidence-based care,” “improved risk detection” and “government as a food truck.

“Each driver and trend, they have a relationship with each other,” Eggers said. “If you’re just interested in robotics, you can see all the different ways robotics is likely to impact government over the next five years.”

The article quoted above (from FedScoop) goes on to say that Eggars looks to a future where government is also more of a facilitator for outside solutions: “He described something nimble dependent on public participation and less a problem solver than a ‘solution enabler'”

You can read more here.

Pittsburg: Online Budget Visualization

Increasingly cities are realizing that real transparency must go beyond simply opening the city’s books.  In order for residents to really engage with budget issues, they must have access to information in a form that is understandable and navigable. OpenGov, which we have highlighted on this blog before, has been at the forefront of providing online tools to help make municipal budget data a lot more accessible – and even a bit more fun. With the help of OpenGov, the City of Pittsburgh has recently launched Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh to help residents see exactly how much their city spends on different departments and projects:

Users can filter budget information according to the expense type and corresponding department. For instance, someone curious about the amount of money employees of Pittsburgh’s public works department earn could, with a few clicks, see that more than $25 million was allotted for public works employees’ salaries in fiscal year 2013. The Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh website was built by the California-based software company OpenGov for $20,000, and will cost $15,000 out of the city’s roughly $500 million budget to keep running every year.

“This is just the latest way Pittsburgh is letting the sun shine in. Residents deserve to know how every penny of their tax money is being spent, and this new data tool will allow that in an easy-to-use manner,” said Mayor Bill Peduto in a release.

You can read more from NextCity here and explore the new platform here.

H/T: Elliott Parisi, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate, 2015

Levels of Engagement

Some good reminders (and a beautifully laid out blog-post) from Anthea Watson Strong about the possibilities – but also the limitations – of engaging with residents online:

. . .if you really look at the metrics, like the number of users, number of return visitors, or time spent using the tool, and compare them to the metrics of products designed to help people do things like shop or hail a cab, it’s clear we haven’t even begun to tap the internet’s potential to change the way we make decisions and allocate resources within our communities.

Over time, I have come to believe that our inability to attract mass usage for our products is, in part, due to a willful ignorance of how users are motivated to civic action. To build the technologies that will transform government and governance, we need to do a better job of designing and building tools for real world users.

The two biggest things to keep in mind, she argues, is everything vying for user’s attention and the reality that the internet – while a powerful tool – is not magic.  She also digs into some practical suggestions.  You can read more here.

Incentivizing Engagement?

One of the frequent lessons of online engagement is that, unlike the Field of Dreams, if you build it, they might not come.  So how to increase traffic to engagement websites and platforms?  One solution is to partner with existing platforms or local organizations that already have a strong web-presence.  The Village of Orland Park, near Chicago, IL, is seeking another method of driving traffic to their new InOur.Community platform: community rewards for participation.

More time-intensive activities, such as attending events including the Chilly Willie Chili Challenge, taking an Orland Park trivia quiz or filling out an application to volunteer for the village, offer additional points.

Participants can bid with the points they earn on prizes including gift cards at local businesses, free Sportsplex classes and lunch with Orland Park’s mayor.

You can read more here.