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All I Want for Christmas is a Beta City

Dear Santa,

I’ve been pretty good this year. I completed a year of public service through AmeriCorps, I started Graduate School at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, and I moved out of my parents house. So, this year I am not asking for much, just that the City of Syracuse become a beta city. “Beta City” was the term used by Dustin Haisler when he spoke to my New Media Management Class. He was referring to a city that is constantly being innovative using Gov 2.0 applications.

So, here are my list of tools I think Syracuse should use. This list is certainly limited, there are so many tools that local governments can use to engage citizens.

(1) QR Codes

I recently saw QR codes being used at Best Buy and almost went nuts. I am obsessed with QR Codes. I’ve had a QR reader on my phone for months and barely ever get to use the app. If you are unfamiliar with QR Codes, they are special bar codes that can be read by smartphones. How it works is that when I scan the bar code with my phone, I am taken to a website on my phone. For instance, when I was at Best Buy I wanted more information on a watch that also keep track of your heart rate, I scanned the bar code with my phone and was taken to the Best Buy website. The QR Code helped me make an informed decision as a consumer. Unfortunately for Best Buy, I did not buy the watch (fear not Best Buy, I did purchase another Christmas gift).

When I learned about QR Codes in my New Media Management Class, I immediately became somewhat infatuated with them for government applications. For a city with a rich history like Syracuse, the applications are endless. You can even make these using Google URL Shortener: here is an example, Santa (hint, hint):

(2) Active on Popular Social Networks

The City of Syracuse has no social media links to Facebook, Twitter, FlickR or YouTube on the city website. These applications are easy to set up, and a lot of fun to use. The tools open up new channels of communication that previously were not available between the citizen and government. Using the tools the right way can be an incredible way to encourage citizen engagement in the city, and make people feel proud to be from Syracuse. I’ll ask for FourSquare next year, I don’t want to get too greedy.

(3) Blogs

I would love to see a blog that keeps us up-to-date on legislation and current events in the city. The city currently links to other sources for interesting news articles and stories about the city. I would love if Syracuse developed their own voice and developed content for citizens to read. How about a weekly post from the Mayor’s Office? Santa, if you could, please turn this entire page into a blog – equipped with YouTube videos, FlickR, a Twitter feed and maybe even a Facebook widget.

There are a lot of great ways local governments can be innovated with social media and gov 2.0 applications, yet there are a lot of challenges to using social media. One of the first challenges is that these applications cannot simply replace traditional forms of communication. The second challenge is encouraging participation. I believe that participation requires knowing your constituency and knowing what tools to select. I think a good first step for Syracuse is to enter the Gov 2.0 world and be innovative. Start by using tools that are popular, build up an online audience and then move to more advanced Gov 2.0 crowdsourcing applications. The change certainly will not happen overnight, but I would love for Syracuse to become a beta city, be innovative and engage with citizens through new and exciting initiatives.


I am currently a student at The Maxwell School at Syracuse University working towards my Masters in Public Administration. I use this blog to write about my experiences at Maxwell, especially related to social media use in the public sector. You can follow me on Twitter: @pjfiorenza and please feel free to leave some comments! http://pjfiorenza.wordpress.com/

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I agree. And I think the key is these aren’t gifts that I want from Santa just cause they are cool. But gifts that actually make things better. Reach and engage more citizens. Driving down costs, increasing efficiencies.

Pat Fiorenza

Spot on – I think it’s easy to get lost in all the great gov 2.0/social media applications available, but you also need to make sure you are developing something useful and meaningful to your constituency. I’d also suspect that a potential challenge is developing buy-in from management – convincing them that the benefits are more than just cool toys. Thankfully we got a great resource like GovLoop!