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 »

“Thick” Tech Engagement

Tech President is looking at how digital engagement can lead to “thick” civic engagement:

Not only that, we think that activism and community action enabled by tech can involve much more than the “thin” kinds of engagement–signing up on lists, clicking on petitions, and sharing social media–that are so prevalent today in the advocacy sector. Under certain conditions, tech can enable much deeper kinds of connections between people, communities and those with power, and make everyday life better for people in the process.

In this context, I’m very pleased to announce a new series of feature articles that we will be publishing over the next several months, thanks to the support of the Rita Allen Foundation. Our focus is on digitally-enabled civic engagement, and in particular, how and under what conditions “thick” digital civic engagement occurs.

You can read more here.

Texting to Create Conversation?

Over the past few years a number of platforms have been launched that use sms text messaging to connect residents to governments, but these have largely been one-way communications tools (residents reporting problems, or governments pushing out information). Heartgov is a new platform now being tested in Brooklyn that hopes to offer a chance for more of a dialogue:

In March, Novek began testing HeartGov in parts of Brooklyn, primarily Crown Heights and Ditmas Park.

“I picked areas of Brooklyn where there are lower levels of community engagement but higher levels of community pressure,” Novek told techPresident.

Some of the officials and organizations participating in the experiment are Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Community Board 14, Midwood Development Corporation, Flatbush Development Corporation, Flatbush Junction Business Improvement District, and Heights and Hills.

Novek says that he was purposefully vague about how the tool should be used, wanting to know what people would naturally choose to use a text messaging platform like this for, given the opportunity. He says that there have been a number of questions about public schools and charter schools that he was not expecting.

You can read more here.

Making Civic Innovation Effective

Last month Tech President interviewed Anthea Watson Strong about what is necessary to make online tools for civic engagement more effective:

In a talk entitled “The Calculus of Civic Innovation,” Anthea Watson Strong discussed how tools for civic engagement might be made more effective (you can read her talk with slides on her site.) The former community organizer and current member of Google’s Civic Innovation Team laid out an argument grounded in how people actually relate (or don’t) to civic tech tools, and appealed to an equation used to assess the conditions required to motivate someone to vote (PB + D > C.) The point: people are more likely to act if they think their actions will matter. And those making tools need a better understanding of the people who use them.

You can read more of Tech President’s summary here.

Engagement Platform for Placer County

Placer County recently announced that they will be working with the Accela Civic Platform to increase transparency and efficiency and also to create better opportunities for two-way communication with residents:

Placer County is known for its diverse geography that covers 1,400 square miles and includes picturesque farmland and Gold-Rush era towns that dot the foothills. The county stretches from the suburbs of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and the Nevada Border. The agency was seeking a solution to help engage with its diverse population, streamline process and workflow internally and improve intra and cross-department communication by offering a better, more simplified view into activities.

“We were looking for updated technology to help us provide more efficient services to our citizens while making our employees more productive in the office and in the field,” said Kelly Berger, project manager for Placer County. “The upgrade to the Accela Civic Platform gives us functionality to support mobile apps for our employees and gives our citizens access to our services online. Now they can search for information, apply for permits or track statuses whenever it’s convenient for them.”

You can read more about the platform here.


Introducing Brigade for the People

Matt Crozier of Bang the Table looks at Sean Parker’s new Brigade and what it means for online engagement:

Brigade has some very serious backers and an impressive line up of talent as one would expect. They have potential to really make a difference, not just in the US where their immediate focus seems to lie but globally, in nations perhaps less open to the US democratic ideal but where the ability to have your say means a great deal.

Not only is it a welcome development to find the big boys of Silicon Valley coming through the gate, but it opens up all sorts of possibilities.

You can read more about those possibilities here.