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Citizen Engagement Case Study: A GitHub-first Campaign

This blog post is an excerpt from our latest guide, which explores the role of citizen engagement in transforming government. Click here to download the report.

We’re all familiar with the traditional ways politicians announce and publicize their campaigns for office: stump speeches, TV ads and op-eds in newspapers. Some of the more innovative ones may even use Instagram or other social media platforms.

But what happens when a 28-year-old self-declared hacker running for Congress announces his political platform on GitHub?

That’s exactly what David Cole did this year. He’s a software developer who spent two years working at the White House as a deputy director for new media. He’s now a candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd District – and he recently released his entire political platform on GitHub.

So what does that mean for citizen engagement and the future of campaigns?

Perhaps Cole said it best himself.

“What we wanted to do was release our positions on all the key issues out there,” he explained in a recent interview with GovLoop. “As we started to do that, and started to do the research to put together these platforms, I was thinking there was no reason not to just make this an open-source product.”

“I think too much in politics depends on trying to pretend that conviction comes from having all the answers,” he added. “Well, nobody has all the answers, and I think voters understand that. And one thing that I’ve learned as a software developer is that the best ideas come from collaboration. So, we released our statement, we also put it on GitHub and we invited anybody to make edits to those, and we’ll have a debate and a discussion about the merits of the edits. But it’s really available for anybody to take a shot at improving it for us.”

As we noted earlier, citizens have long had myriad outlets for engaging with public officials in the form of town hall meetings, e-mail and social media. But GitHub provides unique opportunities for transparency, feedback and a bottom-up approach to innovation on a platform designed specifically for this type of exchange.

In addition to making changes to Cole’s platform, users can discuss them, much like you comment on a Facebook status update. Cole can sift through suggestions, discussions and edits from citizens, incorporating any change he and his staff think are good. Essentially, he is crowdsourcing – relying on the power of the crowd to help grow his platform and ideas.

Cole’s use of GitHub marks another new era of citizen engagement, and he hopes that all political processes — from campaigns to proposed bills — will be done in the same way in the near future.

Who’s Using GitHub – and How to Get Started

Government agencies at the national, state and local levels are using GitHub to collaborate and engage their constituents. To see what agencies are doing with it, click here.

Then follow these steps from GitHub.com to make sure you can register yourself and your agency.

  1. If you don’t already have one, sign up for a GitHub account. GitHub accounts should be personal to you. Human-sounding names like @benbalter are preferred over organization-specific names like @benbalter_abc_agency.
  2. Ensure that your government e-mail address is associated with your account. If you’ve already got a GitHub account, you can simply add your government e-mail address to it.
  3. Confirm your government e-mail address.
  4. Go to government-community.githubapp.com in your web browser.
  5. You should be automatically added and redirected to the GitHub government community. You now have access to and can participate in the discussions at github.com/government.

Want more citizen engagement tips and case studies? Click here to download the report.

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