Engagement, Transparency, & Waze

In an article published several months ago in TechPresidend, Personal Democracy Forum Director Micah Sifry explores how the popular Waze app is partnering with local governments to provide real-time traffic flow information.  The new program is called “Connected Citizens” and styles itself as the next generation of engagement.  But Sifry asks if this type of technical communication can really be considered engagement or whether it may in fact work against transparency and civic accountability:

From the point of view of city government, (the head of Waze Rio deJaneiro operations Center Pedro Junqueira) said, “Waze is a new kind of sensor. The best kind of information is that which comes from citizens.” But, he added, “Many Wazers don’t know they are talking to us,” meaning city hall. Indeed, Rio’s Operations Center, a $14 million digital nerve center built for the city by IBM in 2010, ties together real-time information about the city’s infrastructure and services along with current news about crime, traffic, crowds and public disturbances, drawn in part from hundreds of cameras placed around the city. But it is a place where city managers watch the public, not one where they join the public in running the city.

Nevertheless, he insisted, the partnership between his city, Rio, and Waze, represented a new form of governance: “Polisdigitocracy.” With technology, he said, “people want to be part of decisions.” Not explained, at least in those remarks, was how passively feeding real-time traffic data to a central city monitoring system was being a “part” of a “decision.”

The article goes on to discuss the promises and limits of technology and to ask what it really is we mean when we talk about engaged citizens. You can read more here.

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