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 »

21st Century Civic Education

Editor’s correction: this post originally described City Digits as and MIT project.  It has been brough to our attention that the project is actually spearheaded by CUNY. Laurie H. Rubel is the principal investigator collaborating with MIT’s Civic Design lab. The linked CampusTechnology article was updated after it was brought to our attention.

City University New York (CUNY), in collaboration with MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab, has undertaken a project with New York City Public Schools to help students improve math skills and civic literacy at the same time:

“Every day we read that big data is going to change the world,” said (Sarah) Williams in a prepared statement. “But if we can’t read or understand that data, it’s going to be hard to make effective decisions. I feel it’s important to promote data literacy among youth and the general population so they can analyze information with a critical eye, understand what statistics mean and learn more about the community in which they live.”

The first piece to be unrolled looks at lottery ticket sales throughout the city, but it isn’t hard to imagine many other projects students could engage with.  You cane read more here or explore the City Digits site here.

More about Brigade

Back in June we highlighted Sean Parker’s new civic engagement tech start-up. Half a year down the road, the specifics of what Brigade will do are still being hammered out but the litany of partners and supporters is only growing:

The company touted partnerships with an eclectic set of eight issue advocacy group including environmental group Rainforest Action Network, the conservative Americans for Tax Reform and the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug war group funded liberal billionaire George Soros. San Francisco-based Brigade, a 40-person-plus company that expects to launch next year, disclosed its existence in April when it announced a $9.3 million investment from Parker, who is chairman.

You can read more here.


Three Steps to Tech Innovation

Back in September at the California Leadership Forum, innovators from some of California’s most forward-thinking cites shared strategies for creating more transparent and efficient local governments.  On NationSwell, Courtney Subramanian highlighted three of  recommendations from Lee Deesing of Riverside, CA and Jeremy Goldburg of San Jose, CA :

  1. Foster a cultural change in the workplace
  2. Engage citizens to help spur ideas
  3. Keep a focus on cybersecurity

You can read more about these steps here.

Engaging (Only) Residents Online

As cities the world of online engagement really moves into the 2.0 phase- with residents engaging government and one another as well as simply seeking information online, some local governments worry about how to make sure that the voices they’re hearing are really the voices of their residents and not people who don’t even live in the community. Salt Lake City, whose Open City Hall has been mentioned before on this blog, has tried to limit the reach of outside influence on to city matters. They have required people to register to be involved and make them share their address, which is “geocoded” to protect the individual registering. This gives a more credible voice the people of Salt Lake City as they seek to offer input to their city:

Outsider influence can occur when a government puts its public forums online. Once a forum is online anyone outside as well as inside the community can try to influence the conversation. Local governments want to focus on feedback from their constituents, not outside interests. . .

. . . While the comments from people living outside of Salt Lake City could be informative, the city’s residents, staff, and officials were able to use their online platform’s analysis and reporting tools to easily filter the feedback and focus on comments from constituents living in Salt Lake City. They were even able to drill down and analyze feedback by council district, within the downtown area as well as by gender, age group, and key words.

You can read the full article here.

A Cure for Corruption?

Civic disengagement is pivotal to creating conditions which foster corruption. In a big city like Los Angles, excuses can be cited- life is fast paced; every passing minute has to be accounted with productivity and success. Whatever the excuse, civic disengagement is comes with a cost and creates a vacuum where our leaders operate unchecked. In such circumstances, public service is incapacitated with the prevalence of corrupt practices.  About a year ago, Julian Tyler wrote a provocative piece on how “Civic innovation” offers a cure to corruption.  Its a familiar (though strongly stated) theme for readers of this blog:

Civic innovation — transparency and accountability — is the cure to corruption. Civic Innovation allows “the public” to identify corrupt people and corrupt practices using technology, data, metrics and open government initiatives. Civic innovation shines bright light into the darkness where corruption hides.

The question remains of course, what exactly does this look like?  It isn’t enough just to put information out there – information must be made accessible and interpretable – and civic innovation must itself be adopted with discernment and accompanied by metrics.  It isn’t quite enough to say “technology and innovation will fix things,” we also must ask which technologies are best suited to which purposes.

Thanks to contributor Sarah Mirimbe, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’16, for contributing to this post.