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 »

How Civic Tech is Changing Cities

This week, tech innovators specializing in the civic arena met in Philadelphia for Rise, a two-day conference on Civic Innovation. The conference was hosted by Technical.ly, and NextCity sat down with Technical.ly founder Brian James Kirk to discuss their “four big questions about civic tech.”

Technology is changing the way government works, and the pace of change is likely only to speed up — in 2004, there were 34 companies working in the realm of civic technology; in 2013, there were 121, according to a study published last year by the Knight Foundation.

Kirk offered his answers to questions like why he thinks technology has the potential to improve our cities and what are his top go-to examples of positive impacts technology is having on urban civic life.  You can read the full interview here.

Renewing Cities through Crowd Sourcing?

On Huffington Post, the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey recently shared how their community has successfully funded much-needed restoration, not through raising taxes, but by seeking out crowdsourcing:

In Jersey City, we tried to capitalize on the increasing number of millennials becoming residents by using crowdsourcing to fund for a public project and it actually worked. Working with a local community organization, Sustainable Jersey City, and the Jersey City Art School, BikeJC used the crowdsourcing site ioby.org to raise tens of thousands of dollars in just six weeks for the installation of hundreds of bike racks throughout the city. The crowdsourcing surpassed the initial goal and illustrated the demand for creating better neighborhoods for biking. Residents were able to drop a pin on a Google map precisely where they wanted a rack and then donate with the result being exactly what they envisioned.

You can read more here.

Is Technology a Friend to Citizen Engagement?

In the realm of Gov 2.0 and Open Data, technology can seem like the answer to all of democracy’s problems.  But a recent piece on the Engaging Cities blog reminds us that online and mobile tools are exactly that – tools.  The article provocatively quotes Catherine Howe from Public-i, reminding readers that “technology without democratic evolution is like ‘lipstick on a pig'”:

Back in 1795, the very first model of the telegraph, the Napoleonic semaphore, raised hopes for – and fears of –  greater citizen engagement in government. Similarly the invention of the TV sparked debates on whether technology would strengthen or weaken democracy, increasing citizen awareness or creating more opportunities for market and government manipulation of public opinion.

Throughout history, technological developments have marked societal changes, but has technological innovation translated into better democracy?

You can read more about this question here.

Contributor: Sarah Mirembe, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’16. 

Mobile Pay for Metro in DC

Washington, DC will be experimenting with some commuters being allowed to pay for fares through their smartphones. This is supposed to make getting around DC less cumbersome for residents and tourists alike:

On the heels of Apple’s unveiling of the new iPhone 6 and iWatch, Washington D.C.’s transit system Metro announced a new pilot program in line with the next wave of technology.

Metro’s new program will let riders pay transit fares with a smartphone, contactless credit and debit cards and other types of near field communication (NFC) devices like the iWatch. Starting in January, 10 Metrorail stations, six bus routes and two parking facilities will be outfitted with the new technology, but Metro officials plan to begin installing the new fare readers in October, according to the Washington City Paper.

You can read more here.

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

Engaging Immigrants with Mobile Technology

One of the hardest groups for local governments to engage with is recent immigrants.  Contrary to concerns about the digital divide, a recent piece on the Atlantic’s City Lab blog suggests that smartphones may be an ideal tool for reaching these new residents.  One of the first things that immigrants do when they arrive in America is to buy a cell phone to keep in contact with people from home and help make new connections in a new country. And while many immigrants face a language barrier in a new country, mobile apps offer accessible and inexpensive tools to overcome that stumbling block. Together these can be a doorway for new immigrants to enter the world of civic engagement:

“It’s this amazing tool of transnationalism,” says Meghan Benton, author of a new report by the Migration Policy Institute that highlights how smartphone technology can help immigrants settle in more quickly in their new environments.

Right now, many large cities maintain what Benton calls “one-stop shops” for recently arrived immigrants. These centers can provide language training, information about jobs, civic amenities, and services. But through her research, Benton says she was surprised to discover there’s no real technological equivalent.

“There was no one-stop app,” she says.

You can read more here.

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