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 »

Lessons from . . . Yukon?

The capital of Yukon Territory, Canada, has launched a comprehensive on-line and off-line engagement process around infrastructure development (specifically highway improvements).  While, at 28,000 people, Whitehorse is hardly a thriving metropolis, a recent article on CityLab recommends that bigger cities should take notes – especially when it comes to informing the public of the details of a proposal ahead of trying to engage them around the issue:

Can this robust, digital-first, public-education plan get a small city in Northwest Canada enthusiastic about a highway project? Well, it went live only about 48 hours ago. Still, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential of this type of technology to foster inclusive civic discussion.

Public policies involving transportation, “while essential to everyone’s quality of life,” are inherently “a low priority when people choose to get involved,” says Tom Sanchez, a professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech. An easy-to-use, highly interactive software, like Yukon’s, just might have the capability of getting the general public more engaged. By simply bringing along an iPhone, an interactive map or 3D video can suddenly add color to historically mundane public discussions about infrastructure. Hugh Stimson of PlaceSpeak, who helped design the Yukon software, is hopeful it will make the discussion, “less special-interesty.”

You can read more here.



Positive Public Comment?

While technology has created myriad new ways for citizens to contact their local governments,  some local staff are understandably hesitant to fully embrace these new “opportunities.”  What if this is just handing over one more tool to the professional gripers and gadflies who seem so often to be the only residents to show up at council meetings?  Goodsnitch, a service review app embracing both the public and private sector, is trying to change that tendency. As Founder Rob Pace puts it, “Goodsnitch takes the opposite approach by highlighting personal achievement and encouraging more instances of positive behavior.”

A recent article in Gov Tech goes on to describe the success Goodsnitch has had in city/resident communications:

Albany, Ore., a city of 52,000, began using Goodsnitch six months ago and has received more than 3,000 pieces of feedback, mostly positive, with more than 800 employees being recognized as “heroes.”

Goodsnitch affords communities and governments an opportunity to turn the squeaky-wheel paradigm around 180 degrees. Rather than focus most of their energy on a loud minority of complaining people, governments will be able to allocate their resources according to a more accurate depiction of what a community is thinking and feeling, which turns out to be more positive than negative most of the time.

You can read more here.

H/T: Sarah Mirembe, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, Master’s Candidate ’16.

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