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 »

Strategies and Challenges for Local Digital Engagement

Last Month on PublicCeo, Marine Siohan described lessons she learned as part of a PlaceMatters team evaluating Salt Lake City’s digital engagement efforts:

At the forefront of this trend is the City of Salt Lake City, which already implemented a wide range of digital engagement tools, including websites, Open City Hall, blogs, SpeakOutSLC, social media, and Textizen. Like many cities using these types of tools, Salt Lake has faced some challenges. Because so many people can participate online, the amount of input can quickly become overwhelming and difficult to analyze. Further, the City wasn’t sure how to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools it was using, especially compared to other outreach methods.

You can read about their findings and suggestions here.

Civic Engagement from Napster Co-Founder

Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster is set to launch a new tech-innovation – not to spread music, but to spread political engagement: 

The company, called Brigade, is designed to combat a lack of political engagement and interest in all levels of government across America — although the firm’s road map is unclear at this time. Silicon Valley magnates Sean Parker, Ron Conway and Marc Benioff are among the big-name investors in the company, according to two sources familiar with the effort.

The venture brings industry veterans to the forefront of disrupting what many see as a broken political system. Parker has been involved with high-profile firms like Facebook and Napster; Benioff is the CEO of SalesForce.com; and Conway is an angel investor who has backed Google, FourSquare and PayPal.

You can read more here.

(hat tip to Peter Dorsch for bringing our attention to the story)

Virtually Next Door

The days of families sitting on the front porch, interacting with neighbors and fosterint a vibrant sense of community are oft lamented as bygones never to return. But Sarah Leary’s vision for her company Nextdoor is to reinvigorate neighborhood life and a sense of community using private social media platforms:

The site co-founded by Leary is a simple enough idea. We’ve become acclimated to using Facebook to connect with friends and family. LinkedIn for work. Twitter for our interests. Yet in 2014 there is no go-to online social network for the people we live among . ..

For all the talk about technology driving us ever further into our personal bubbles… Nextdoor’s gamble is that the Internet can, in fact, be the missing bridge between us and the people with whom we share a spot on the map.

Read more about Leary’s innovative use of social media at Next City here.

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15

High-tech Cleanup

Different cities and states need different systems and technologies to prepare for different types of disasters and contingencies – last week Galveston deployed a high-tech buoy system to clean up an oil spill:

Faced with removing 168,000 gallons of oil in Galveston Bay this week, technology is playing a key role in helping government officials in Texas clean the important waterway while helping protect wildlife and sensitive coastal lands in the region…

Maintained for GLO by Texas A&M University, TABS was developed more than a decade ago and is used to create trajectory models that predict the movement of oil spills across the Gulf of Mexico.

Under normal conditions, TABS buoys provide measurements every three hours and hourly during spill events; it is the only system in the United States to collect this information. Over the years, the buoys have helped track more than 50 spills…

On Monday, March 24, A&M deployed one of the new, quick response buoys for the first time in an actual spill –12 miles off the western edge of Galveston Island, in the oil’s direct path.

 Read more about the Texas Automated Buoy System (TABS) at Governing here.

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15

A 311 Discussion

Providing a non-emergency services option for citizens and data-collection opportunities for city officials that aide analysis and prioritization, 311 services have been a boon for over 300 cities and counties since arriving on scene in the 1980s. In Governing, Tod Newcombe’s discussion of 311 services in municipalities across the country provides an optimistic but balanced outlook on the benefits and costs of 311 services:

Many experts see 311 as a transformative technology for cities, capable of helping mayors and city managers make smart decisions while ensuring that every tax dollar is wisely spent. In some ways the most optimistic views of 311 sound similar to what was once thought would happen when electronic government grabbed everyone’s attention more than 10 years ago, only to fizzle out when it became clear that government couldn’t shift services online quickly, easily or cheaply.

Fortunately, 311 lacks the hype that doomed e-government, and it has had years of testing and practical use to back up some of the claims now being made. But 311 faces hurdles that could stymie its growth and maturity. High costs make it a target for budget cutters, while issues with staff training and retention make it hard for managers to use the systems to their fullest capability. Then there’s the technology itself, which keeps changing. “How do you stay on the cutting edge?” asks [Cory Fleming, ICMA 311 program director]. “It’s relatively hard for a municipality, especially a smaller one, to adapt quickly.”

Read Newcombe’s article in the March edition of Governing, and join the 311 discussion here.

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’14.