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 »

A Transparency Makeover

Case Study: Salt Lake City

In 2008 Salt Lake City’s planning commission went through an audit. The agency was found to be a “micromanaged den of dysfunction plagued by cynicism, chronic turnover and politicians masquerading as planners.” But within four years the city has turned around its reputation.  Salt Lake City allows more transparency through what it calls Open City Hall. This allows residents of Salt Lake City to become more involved in the city’s issues:

In January 2009, inspired by that mission statement, Salt Lake City officials announced the city’s Greater Transparency for Collaborative Government initiative. Later that year, in November, the mayor and city council adopted a set of open government policies. In April 2010, the Open Government steering committee announced that it was dividing its efforts among the following three working groups:

(1) The public engagement working group’s goal was to draft a protocol for involving the public in city decision-making based on public engagement best practices;

(2) The employee engagement working group’s goal was to communicate the values of an open government to staff; and

(3) The SLCgov.com working group’s goal was to make the city’s website more useful to the public.

You can read more here.

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

Smartphones as Transportation Innovation

As in many cities, people in New York are using smartphones to coordinate their travel throughout the city. Businesses like Uber and Lyft are becoming better known and used within New York and all across America. NYC has allowed the private sector to flourish in this environment, understanding in this case that more government involvement may crowd out businesses that are helping the transportation efficiency of the city.

Apps can completely change how a person moves throughout the city. Beyond requesting a taxi, apps allow the possibility of helping visitors and residents of large cities plan an entire day through the use of their smart phone. Cell phones make it possible to integrate both public and private transportation options for a seamless transportation experience. Traveling in a city without a car is made easier:

Almost all movement in a major city now begins with a phone. Mobile apps and interfaces help people do everything from sort through route options to locate an approaching bus or hail a taxi or for-hire vehicle. While cities and transportation regulators have released data and encouraged innovation through contests and hackathons, no U.S. city has aggressively pursued development of an integrated app that enables users to plan, book, and pay for trips across multiple travel modes. Instead, it’s the likes of Uber and Google Maps and CityMapper and RideScout that have demonstrated what is possible, and controlled the movement market to date.

Even in New York, the city with the largest transit ridership and taxi fleet in the country, local officials have allowed the private sector to lead the mobility app charge. The Taxi & Limousine Commission considered app development, says spokesman Allan Fromberg, but ultimately decided to let the market “step-up and determine which services people want to see and use.” The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has postponed plans for an integrated app for similar reasons. App development “isn’t our focus,” says spokesman Adam Lisberg. “We do encourage the use of our data, and from there, let a thousand flowers bloom, so to speak.”

You can read more here.

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

When Citizens Bypass Government

Citizens across the country trust their federal, state and local government less. With this lack of trust, citizens are creating apps and using social media to help each other. Some cities are hesitant while others are embracing this phenomenon because technology is here to stay:

Local governments are facing new realities. Citizens’ trust in government has declined, and financial constraints do not allow local governments to deliver all of the services their communities would like. In response, citizens are changing as well. Increasingly, local residents and organizations are seizing opportunities to engage with their communities in their own ways by creating platforms that bypass government. . .

In Alexandria, Va., a citizens’ group launched ACTion Alexandria, an online platform for residents to engage in challenges, debate solutions, share stories and develop relationships, all on their own and without the help or permission of the city government. Even though ACTion Alexandria is a platform created and owned by citizens, the city government supports it and even partners with it.

You can read more here.

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

Peterson on Digital Engagement

Last Friday, Davenport Institute executive director Pete Peterson and Alissa Black (formerly of Code for America and the California Civic Innovation Project, and now with Omidyar Network) spoke on digital engagement for CommunityMatters‘ conference call series.

For those who missed the call, it’s not too late to listen in.  You can download or stream the call through Sound Cloud here.

Join Us: CommunityMatters Call

Next Friday, Davenport Institute executive director Pete Peterson and Alissa Black (formerly of Code for America and the California Civic Innovation Project, and now investment principal with Omidyar Network) will be discussing digital civic engagement as part of CommunityMatters‘ conference call series.

Join us by phone on Friday, September 5 from 11-12 pm PST for this free conversation on Deepening Digital Public Engagement.

You can read more about the session here and can register online here.