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 Digital Trifecta

On Governing.com, Stu Nicholson highlights three cutting-edge apps that have shown promise for effectively engaging citizens in municipal-level planning and policy:

  • MetroQuest is a tool for gathering public input and feedback on major budget decisions and projects.
  • MindMixer allows citizens to brainstorm about the direction of their communities and specific undertakings, using their smartphones.
  • PlaceSpeak provides a secure way for citizens to discuss and vote on issues, and to hold civic conversations online.

How do you harvest what the broader public really thinks?

“Let’s hold a public meeting!” is the traditional approach, and a well facilitated gathering is effective … up to a point. Low turnouts or meetings hijacked by organized naysayers can skew the range and depth of public feedback.

The good news: The use of online engagement tools is increasing among those trying to involve more people in shaping public policy, service delivery and infrastructure projects. While it can be tempting to rely too heavily on them — “There’s still no substitute for good, face-to-face meetings to really read and understand the mood and opinions of the public,” says Jamie Greene of the consulting firm Planning NEXT — these apps have an important place in the toolbox.

You can read more here.

Contributor: Ben Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15

Facebook for Community Policing?

The police force in the town of Rochester, New Hampshire is on Facebook.  And they’re finding it a great benefit to engaging residents both generally and in fighting crime:

The Rochester police Facebook page has been in place for more than three years, but in recent months the department has put a larger emphasis on using the page to communicate with the public. According to Allen, what started as a one-way communication system, with police being the ones giving information to the public through Facebook, has become more of a two-way communication system, in which members of the public engage with police officers and even give tips that lead to arrests.

It is not uncommon to see a surveillance photo posted on the police Facebook page, with a request for help from the public to help identify a theft or a drug possession suspect. Many times, such a post leads to a private message from a citizen with information leading to the suspect’s identity.

You can read more here.

Cities Turning Toward Technology

City governments deal with the public more on a day-to-day basis that state and federal governments. Cities have to be prepared to deal with challenges quickly and be more in-tuned with the needs of cities residents. Governing.com highlights again how this is leading cities to turn to technology to more effectively hear from people and to fix problems within their communities:

Citizen engagement may not sound like a tech trend, but the survey revealed that cities are embracing social media tools and online survey programs to interact with citizens in new and innovative ways. This is especially true among smaller jurisdictions. Avondale, Ariz., population 78,822, is engaging citizens with a mobile app and an online forum that solicits ideas that other residents can vote up or down.

You can read more here.

Contributor: Elliott Parisi, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15


21st Century Civic Education

Editor’s correction: this post originally described City Digits as and MIT project.  It has been brough to our attention that the project is actually spearheaded by CUNY. Laurie H. Rubel is the principal investigator collaborating with MIT’s Civic Design lab. The linked CampusTechnology article was updated after it was brought to our attention.

City University New York (CUNY), in collaboration with MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab, has undertaken a project with New York City Public Schools to help students improve math skills and civic literacy at the same time:

“Every day we read that big data is going to change the world,” said (Sarah) Williams in a prepared statement. “But if we can’t read or understand that data, it’s going to be hard to make effective decisions. I feel it’s important to promote data literacy among youth and the general population so they can analyze information with a critical eye, understand what statistics mean and learn more about the community in which they live.”

The first piece to be unrolled looks at lottery ticket sales throughout the city, but it isn’t hard to imagine many other projects students could engage with.  You cane read more here or explore the City Digits site here.

More about Brigade

Back in June we highlighted Sean Parker’s new civic engagement tech start-up. Half a year down the road, the specifics of what Brigade will do are still being hammered out but the litany of partners and supporters is only growing:

The company touted partnerships with an eclectic set of eight issue advocacy group including environmental group Rainforest Action Network, the conservative Americans for Tax Reform and the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug war group funded liberal billionaire George Soros. San Francisco-based Brigade, a 40-person-plus company that expects to launch next year, disclosed its existence in April when it announced a $9.3 million investment from Parker, who is chairman.

You can read more here.