Government 2.0: With the ascension of Social Media and Obama's blessing, it's gaining momentum
With the advent of social media, most notably Twitter, the lines between government and ordinary citizens are blurring. People are sharing information, expressing their views, and interacting with each other—all in real-time. The most remarkable aspect of this style of communication is the level of transparency and honesty; people are not afraid to express themselves.
In just a few years, social media, with its catalytic powers, has democratized our society immensely, and it is still in its infancy.
I am excited for what the future will hold.
Sadly, government has not embraced this emerging technology on a widespread basis, resulting in a deepening disconnect between the entity and its constituents, and frustrating interested parties whom have become accustomed to information on demand in their lives.
An exception is the City of LaSalle, Illinois, where Pam Broviak, P.E., City Engineer/Director of Public Works, is the brains behind the municipal social media operation, along with a pioneer within the Government 2.0 movement, which is an evolving model to improve transparency, communication, and efficient and practical delivery methods between government and citizens.
Recently, Ms. Broviak and I discussed open government, social media, and community integration in LaSalle, where a bounty of municipal information is available to citizens directly from its website.
Thanks to Ms. Broviak, LaSalle is a model city in this regard, and City Managers globally should review the “LaSalle Model” and consider applying similar programs in their municipalities.
TNWP: What was/were the catalyst(s) that had prompted you to investigate and enact innovative Gov 2.0 measures in your community?
PB: We began exploring the use of social media after I saw a presentation at Autodesk University on the use of Second Life for planning and architectural design. When I presented the possibilities of what could be done online using some of these tools, the current mayor showed full support and acceptance of the implementation.
TNWP: What have you implemented?
PB: We began actually by setting up a small city-related site in Second Life that offered information about our city using the multimedia tools within that software. I began a blog that discussed public works-related matters in our community. Last year, we created a Twitter account just for the purpose of sending out informational feeds related to a construction project in a certain neighborhood. Then, more recently, we created a Twitter account to explore its use as a short, quick feed of the council meetings and other issues that arose in town. We published our annual presentation on Slideshare.net and shared photos of our recent flooding disaster using a Flickr account for the city. There is also a Facebook page where we began to explore interacting with “fans” of our city.
TNWP: Have the initiatives been successful?
PB: I believe these efforts have been successful because they have helped us achieve a few of our primary goals. The most important goal we had was to help promote our city and let other people know about the development and tourism opportunities here. Another goal has been to increase the amount of online information, allowing for easier access by citizens and decreasing staff time required to handle information requests. We also wanted to increase the communication channels between staff and citizens.
Relying just on mail and phone calls was becoming difficult because most of this had to be done during the regular working hours. Online interactions can occur at any time of the day and can be handled when time permits. I totally agree with you that everything should be online; we have an obligation to citizens to implement online publication of the public records we maintain and generate.
TNWP: How have the municipality’s representatives & community members reacted?
PB: The mayor has been very excited about the possibilities and fully supportive from the beginning. The members of the council who chose to learn about our efforts have also been supportive. Citizens and local media have seemed pleased to be able to have easier access to staff and additional information without having to actually make a phone call or set up a meeting. But, because we are a small community and not yet high tech, most people in the area are not yet familiar with social media or its possibilities. I have noticed within the last few months, more people getting involved, but I think it will still be a few years before we would have been able to use these tools to their full potential.
TNWP: What has not worked?
PB: As I mentioned, it will take some time before we are able to use these tools to their full potential. Even so, I cannot say any of these efforts did not work. Each of them increased awareness of our community and allowed for increased interaction between staff and citizens. Particularly for the time and money involved, which was minimal, the results have far outweighed the investment.
However, I do not have a lot of faith that our city will continue to succeed in this area. The current administration had plans to continue implementing new uses of these tools, but with many of us leaving – myself, the current mayor, and many council members – I do not expect our city to continue along this path. Instead, one remaining alderman and myself have talked about trying to continue our efforts through the use of a community-based site.
So using this experience, I have to wonder if a citizen-based effort has a better chance for longevity.
TNWP: Does Gov 2.0 have a bright future? Any ideas?
PB: I most definitely think there is incredible potential in the Gov 2.0 movement. There is an excitement among government professionals to get going and start using these tools. And, because of the nature of the tools, people from all geographical areas, all types of professions, and from both the private and all levels of the public sectors are finally able to meet, share ideas, and collaborate. If this is used to its full potential we have the chance to make great strides in developing policy and delivering services.
I think from a citizen standpoint, for the first time, citizens have the ability to use these tools to let their voice be heard and to collaborate and increase their participation in government. One of the great challenges will be how best to publish, manage, and analyze the incredible amounts of information that can be generated.
TNWP: Thank you for sharing your expertise, and good luck in your future endeavours.
Innovation! Embracing (mostly free) technology! Community engagement!
Under the tutelage of Ms. Broviak, LaSalle has been providing its citizens with the gift of open government and transparency. In turn, citizens are now empowered to become more involved, increasing the likelihood that they will help shape the planning process in the future. Additionally, developers, with limited resources in this down economy, can more easily survey the municipal landscape, seek approval on projects, and make their professional consultants lives easier.
As Ms. Broviak notes, the recently elected political administration may not support the current movement, even though the initiatives have been quite successful. In all municipalities, the political machine, at times, hinders the best laid plans and objectives, and this is a reality. Hopefully, the incoming administration will embrace Ms. Broviak’s social media initiatives, and the program will flourish and refine over time.
I urge municipalities to consider the LaSalle Model and incorporate, at least initially, a few elements into their websites. Indeed, change is scary, but apprehension should not be an impediment to “opening” government via the Internet, allowing land use professionals and citizens to obtain information on demand.
The technology is readily available, and there are plenty of savvy individuals that are willing to assist.
There is a growing movement of people who are sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, discussing innovation, and evangelizing open municipalities. Here’s just a few: be2camp, DIYcity, & Government 2.0 Club.
Tags: Government2.0 , Obama , Newmedia , Socialmedia , Tech
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