Is E-Government More Effective Or Just More Hype?

November 14, 2011

If you were able to have a direct impact on how your city or county allotted its budget, would you be more likely to show up for municipal elections?

If you could take a geotagged photo of that pothole on your way to work and send it to the appropriate city department, would you be more confident that it would actually be fixed?

If you have more faith in city or county government, would you be more likely to support new programs tackling problems like traffic congestion, job creation and access to quality education?

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The New America Foundation and Zocalo Public Square, in partnership with the Bill Lane Center for the American West held a panel discussion at Stanford University to ask, “Can Technology Save California Government?” The panel brought April Manatt, principal of April Manatt Consulting and the author of the report, “Hear Us Now? A California Survey of Digital Technology’s Role in Civic Engagement and Local Government and experts from Intellitics, California Common Sense, the City of Carlsbad and the National Conference on Citizenship to discuss how California’s 5,000-plus local governments are using Gov 2.0 technology to encourage civic engagement. (For more on the meat of the report, check out our previous post.)

Local Government And Technology Tiers

Local governments usually fall into one of three “technology tiers,” said Manatt. The first includes information usually provided offline at city halls, such as council agendas, agency departments and phone numbers, photos and links to other entities. Every California county, and all but 12 cities, have websites that meet this basic level. The second tier adds more information and city documents and also sometimes invites citizens to provide feedback on the site. The final tier incorporates the idea of Gov 2.0 and crowdsourcing to change the paradigm and allows citizens to steer and define the process of governance.

“California has so many diverse governments, and they’re exploring technology in lots of different ways,” Manatt said. “Even the far-flung regions of the state where the population is low are at least dipping their toes in the water.”

Greg Hermann, the Senior Management Analyst for the City of Carlsbad, said he envisions an “on-demand” government. “This is the most exciting space to be in right now,” he said. “As we look at the size and scope of government and look at rethinking the way they work, technology can be a powerful, transformative tool.”

Real-Time, Transparent Government

Even more than on-demand government, Dakin Sloss, the Executive Director of California Common Sense and a Stanford senior, said that 10 years from now we’ll have real-time government, with cities and counties tracking spending online and making it available to citizens. “We’re all paying more and getting less,” he said. “Using social media as a civic engagement platform, where people can get together and share stories,” also enables them to take action and makes everyone a stakeholder.

Gov 2.0 represents a huge opportunity — if we can come together as a community, said David B. Smith, Executive Director of the National Conference on Citizenship. “People have said there’s no value in being involved in state or local government, but technology provides a great opportunity for changing the power structure.”

Government 2.0 – Changing How We Think About (And Participate In) Government

All of this technology talk can seem distant from our everyday concerns — but the point is to make better use of technology, so government is responding to our priorities and spending scarce resources effectively. So we can fill those potholes, find better jobs, see our children off to great local schools and affordable colleges and universities.

Experts have called California “ungovernable,” but the promise of Gov 2.0 is that it gives the average citizen the tools to interact, influence and even change the way politics is done. Whether it’s using video conferencing to connect city staff and residents who need help or crowdsourcing the city budget, technology is changing the way we think about — and participate in — government. 

 

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