Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Make Virtual Republicans

Gavin Newsom with Lisa Dickey. Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government. New York: The Penguin Books, 2013.

The authors observe the public actively engages in social networking interactions. The government fails to do this. The government mostly posts information and seldom allows the public to interact with public officials via social networking. Public cynicism emerges as people see political candidates with great web sites and such sites disappear upon election to office.

There are web sites independent from government where people respond to polls and exchange ideas on public issues. Gavin Newson notes he, as San Francisco Mayor, had Internet city budget forums. He believes this helped create a People’s Budget that was less reliant on special interests.

San Francisco interviewed homeless people to find what their needs are. Information needs were then arranged so providers could access and learn what these needs are.

To achieve citizen cyber-involvement, government needs to be transparent (except with personal privacy and safety issues), the data must be easily usable, the public must be able to participate in means familiar to them, public responses need to be able to bypass government inaction and create results, and an entrepreneurial innovative mindset is required

Estonians can pay parking meters, their taxes, parking fines, etc. via their cell phones. There is free Wi-fi in Estonia. By contrast, the US is far behind in offering public services via wireless communications. One cannot text 911 emergency service in the U.S., which can be critical if one cannot speak or must remain silent during a crisis such as a break-in.

The Federal government budget is not very transparent. Line items list millions of dollars which do not indicate precisely how the money is spent is spent. More transparency is required, the authors argue, so that people trust and understand what government is doing. Government data on the Internet must be findable, contain trustworthy data, and that data must be standardized.

Placing data into the cloud will reduce the expenses of Information Technology (IT) maintenance expenses. Further, as San Francisco learned the hard way, too much reliance on IT may allow a few individuals to be the only ones to know how systems operate which allows them to make themselves indispensable and thus hard to control. One person once shut down the entire San Francisco web site because only he knew the passwords and he refused for several days to open the sites.

Government can provide much useful data in unique ways. For instance, Philadelphia lets people find its murals. San Francisco provides information on a wide assortment of topics.

Military veterans can access their health care data. The Veterans Administration decided the data belongs to the patient and not to the health care providers.

Citizenville, similar to the Internet game Farmville, gets people involved in government decisions.

The Internet can be useful in providing feedback on government services.

Voting can be conducted on the Internet Petitions for candidates and ballot questions to get on the ballot can also be signed online. Steps to prevent fraud are required.

There are sites where people may discuss issues. Requiring posters to use their real names reduces flaming.

Using the Internet is a return to the idea that we are a commonwealth of people who interact on decision making. It could be a close return to the town meeting concept of governance.


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