Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Government 2.0 And The Anti-Borg

by Carrie Shaw May 5th, 2010

The Facebook generation has a new “call to arms.” Yes, I am choosing to use a military metaphor in peacenik Seattle to emphasize my main point – that Web technology is an effective weapon in the battle against unresponsive government institutions, and public apathy and cynicism.

Parameters Infeasible

Recently on a segment of the long-running KUOW-FM “Weekday” show hosted by Steve Scher, Countywide Community Forums director, Matt Rosenberg joined other leaders within the civic engagement movement to discuss technology trends that are changing our day-to-day interaction with government. (Audio links and full transcript here).

Two things stuck out to me. One, that we’re about to experience a revolution in how we obtain and access information related to government service, and second; the idea of “service” as a value, will be the driving force behind whether the technology is used to heal our civic infrastructure or feed the vested interests that prefer the status quo.

Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America said it best, on the “Weekday” segment. “Cities are facing the kinds of problems that young talented Web designers and developers, who would maybe otherwise go to an Internet start-up, really know how to solve.”

“Cities are facing the kinds of problems that young talented Web designers and developers, who would maybe otherwise go to an Internet start-up, really know how to solve.”

Pahlka highlights the issues of collective intelligence, citizen engagement, and getting more people involved in civic opportunities. She refers to it as a “call to service” for those individuals who can spend a year building Web apps to help rebuild our civic infrastructure.

Now there’s a loaded phrase – collective intelligence. I’ll admit my first reaction was some creepy idea of Government Web 2.0 rendering citizens into soulless cybernetic Borgs replete with advanced data-mining of our all our movements, preferences, utterances and associations. But my reverie was cut short as I realized how valuable is this idea of collective intelligence. Most of all it’s about personalization, using technology – in this case public information – to enrich the quality of your life. It’s the the enabling of the anti-Borg via the Web, mobile devices and government data.

Imagine this. You’re made aware through an RSS feed that a burglary has occurred in your neighborhood. You’re able to notify the police that a blue van left moments ago and was heading south at excessive speed. Or, you’re planning a family celebration and your parks department has listed the best sites for family barbecues and online quick reservations. Inspecting them in person you see which look best and then using a mobile phone software application, on site, you check which are still actually available for your event. You secure your reservation there and then. Or, the highway off-ramp to your business is going to be closed for three weeks for construction – you know when, why, and how long this happens before it happens.

Making the information that government creates accessible and useful for our day-to-day lives is how you rebuild our civic infrastructure. The crux of all this is that the application and packaging of this information won’t come from government, it will come from the private sector. Just as all great inventions and breakthroughs have emerged from the free market, the great American tale from Henry Ford to Bill Gates is rewritten for each generation and the entrepreneur or nonprofit leader will point the way to better social and civic engagement.

Letting our elected officials know that this is what “we the people” want is an important starting point. That’s why I encourage you to participate in the current round of forums for King County. The topic is Public Trust: Customer Service and Public Engagement. It’s a starting point for government to reevaluate how best to interact with you and provide the information and services that you need. Don’t miss this opportunity from May 1 through June 13 to bring the civic engagement revolution to your neighborhood. New participants should register here.

Other organizations/sites featured on KUOW “Weekday” episode of 4/30/10
Code For America
Knowledge As Power
Public Data Ferret

Article in Crosscut
Openness Can Make Citizens Collaborators With Officials.”

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