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 »

New York’s BigApps Competition

Last week New York City launched its annual civic app contest, inviting ideas for improving government in New York through technology:

This year’s competition asks entrants to improve the Big Apple by addressing four challenges identified in de Blasio’s One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City.

Affordable Housing: expand access to affordable housing for all New Yorkers; Zero Waste: equip New Yorkers with new tools to reduce waste at home and work, to help reach the city’s goal of zero waste sent to landfills by 2030. Connected Cities: use tech to improve the way we measure, map and manage the city; and Civic Engagement: develop a 21st Century model for civic engagement.

Each entrant should address one challenge; a winner will be selected from each of the four subjects, according to Ian Fried of NYCEDC.

You can read more about the contest here. Applicants may be individuals, companies, and nonprofit organizations:

Entrants must submit their products by mid-October; the competition is open to individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations. After all submissions are in, a panel will narrow down the field to 20 finalists, who will be given the opportunity to refine their products for judging at an award ceremony in December.

Digital for Engagement

On the website for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center initiative, Data -Smart City SolutionsHollie Russon Gilman looks at how digital tools and data can be combined with “off-line” efforts to create more meaningful engagement:

In order to understand the current experiments that work, it is critical to have a more expansive understanding of 21st-century governance.  This paper outlines a multi-sector approach to governance, includes promising examples, and offers recommendations for practitioners and researchers alike.  Critically, I offer examples that couple civil society with government institutions.  This helps ensure citizen engagement is translated directly into improved policy outcomes.

She sees digital technology as one piece of a much larger puzzle:

Each model uses technology in its own unique way.  Critically, technology is highly context-specific.  Technology, or the greek techne(craft) and logos (words), is not limited to digital tools but can also include a tent, postcards, or a reconverted mail truck.[3]  The tools and approaches must put the citizens first. These examples focus on collaborative governance models that can foster deeper engagement among neighbors, communities, and elected officials.

You can read more here.

Data: Mapping Flushing

Everyone in California is talking water right now. One of the challenges to conversations about water conservation, water treatment, and potential water recycling is simply a lack of technical knowledge.  But a new app – swirl.ly – is shedding a little light on what happens when you flush (at least in the San Francisco area).  It’s an example of a creative use of data and crowdsourcing to make accessible information about what is in many ways a highly technical topic:

Upon inspection you can spot areas like The Wiggle: a one-mile, zig-zagging bicycle route that minimizes hilly inclines for bicycle riders that generally follows the historical route of the paved-over Sans Souci Valley creek bed. This natural creek has been replaced by pipes following underneath roadways on a grid system. Between the steep incline, the sharp corners, the vast amount of impermeable concrete there is a lot of rainfall and sewage to move in a significantly more constricted way, which tends to cause flooding and overflow after heavy rains.

Enter Swirl.ly: an app to map the flushes.

So when you flush the toilet, where it goes depends on your watershed. Swirl.ly uses your location to maps it to the treatment facility, and gives you some more information about your flushes journey.

You can read more here.

Brigade in Practice

It has been a year since Sean Parker announced his intentions to invest in using social media to support public engagement with Brigade.  Now we have a chance to see what that looks like in practice; the company has just launched its first official app:

The simple, well-designed software for iOS, Android and Web uses the familiar social networking metaphor (you have a personal profile, you follow others) and then adds a twist: along with updates, you’re prompted answer questions about specific issues (“agree” or “disagree”) and then can try to sway others to change their positions on issues. Over time, you develop a range of positions that can be used to calculate an alignment score to show how congruent your views are with other people, political candidates and advocacy groups. Your participation in discussions will lead to an “impact score” that shows how influential you in convincing others to change their positions.

Brigade is going to use those profiles and the associated data to form a new civic network that’s separate from the one that Facebook or LinkedIn builds — except that instead of connections to friends, family and coworkers, they’re going to be mapping your intentions, beliefs, and influence.

You can read more here.

App for Increased Voter Turnout

Like many cities across America, San Antonio has seen a consistent decrease in voter engagement in municipal elections.  But ThinkVoting, an Austin-based tech company thinks it may have a solution:

But Jeff Cardenas and F. Joseph Santori, co-founders of ThinkVoting, are confident they can start to turn that around with the right technology.

They have launched a version of their Voting App that is geared for the San Antonio electorate and are trying to build up interest during the current mayoral race. . .

“We think there is too high a cost right now for people to participate in the election process,” Cardenas said. “We believe if we can engage people through this app it will increase voter turnout and result in a higher-level of civic engagement.”

You can read more here.