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10 reasons why online social media are critical to democratic governance (pt.1)

The Web has transformed and continues to transform how government serves and relates to its citizenry. With the spread of broadband internet access now in 66% of American homes according to the Pew Research Center, some futurists have predicted that without access to the web, citizens may eventually lose touch entirely with the ability to interact with their government. (Which seems crazy with 1/3 of the population w/o broadband –but that’s not what this post is about). Businesses are already realizing this when it comes to bidding on government contracts.

Below are the first five of 10 reasons and explanations I have compiled why the Web and particularly Web 2.0, also known as social media are critical to sustain and advance democratic governance processes in the United States. I’ll publish the final five reasons tomorrow on 1 October.

1. A Sea Change is Underway – a transformation of peoples’ preferences and expectations for communicating and for accessing and sharing information.

Government has been slow to catch up (and sometimes absent altogether) to meet or respond to this reality. A bureaucratic institution by design, that moves incrementally, government’s three key challenges must be resolved: Structure, Standards ad Platform –how will it operate? Does everyone’s work the same way? And can diverse entry points bring together all content (i.e., forms of interaction and data) through one Web platform?

2. The expanding chasm between citizens and government cannot be narrowed through conventional or traditional forms of engagement.

For decades, citizens and their governments have been growing apart represented by the declining numbers attending public meetings and in voting (eligible > registered > likely > actual) . There are number of social reasons can be offered to help explain the causes. One undermining factor finds a growing disinterest and distrust in government has contributed to the decline in support and participation in government and governing processes. Government must do a better job to reach out and engage citizens and provide better information and communication platforms via the web.

3. Public policy issues, and the process to decide them are growing in complexity.

The environment, transportation, health care, infrastructure, taxes and confusing legislation –government regulatory programs and services that require a better understanding of their premises. It’s one thing to understand them and another to intelligently discuss their pros and cons with other citizens or policy makers. Understanding the issues and participating in discussions can be greatly facilitated through electronic forms of communication and devices.

4. Citizens are too distracted, and competition for their attention and time impede their interest, opportunity, or ability to participate in their government.

Too many distractions compete for our time, attention and resources. Attending the monthly town hall meeting; traveling to the physical location of an agency to retrieve or deliver documents or receive their services; or making phone calls and navigating through a series of touch commands and waits are now considered inconvenient and intrusive demands on our time.

5. Special interest dominance and influence permeates public policy making; and will only accelerate and amplify with the Internet and Web 2.0.

While citizens find other interests in which to spend their time partly due to growing frustration in and distrust of government, including an inability to engage government leaders and agencies online, special interest groups and lobbyists are finding the door open and a receptive audience among public policy makers, especially with the ability to use electronic means to engage them one-on-one. Blackberry IMs and Tweeting between legislators and special interest lobbyists during meetings or while in session are akin to having both parties sitting side by side in the Chambers whispering in each other’s ear. It’s wrong and it certainly is not a privilege extended to constituents.

Stay tuned. Part II (Reasons 6-10) to be posted tomorrow.

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