Becoming Citizen 2.0: Step One, Consumer.

What does it mean to be a consumer and why should anyone bother?

These are the first two questions that we, as Gov 2.0 advocates, should ask ourselves when exhorting our compatriots to take a more active role in their own governance. The first question is easily answered: to be a consumer is the least time-consuming way to become involved in government. It means that you read the information that government bodies publish with the goal of understanding three things:

  1. What projects the government is executing or contemplating;
  2. What goals those activities are seeking to achieve; and
  3. How government agencies will implement their programs.

Or, more briefly: what is the government doing, why is it doing that, and how is it being done.

Why should people bother? Because the effort they expend in being a consumer will be more than rewarded in kind. They will understand what’s being done in their name, how their government operates, and may even come to know some of the people who are working to turn legislation into effective programs and high-level directives into meaningful operations.

How does one get started consuming?

This is the fun part. There are a number of digital channels through which anyone can find something that interests them. The best place to start may be GovSM, a wiki that lists all the social media sites run by government bodies. Here is their listing of federal agencies’ Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and other digital properties.

Another good tool is GovPulse, a site that seeks to

“open the doors of government to the people they work for. By making such documents as the Federal Register searchable, more accessible and easier to digest, GovPulse seeks to encourage every citizen to become more involved in the workings of their government and make their voice heard on the things that matter to them, from the smallest to the largest issues.”

And what are some of the issues that enterprising citizens can learn about through the federal register, as presented by GovPulse? Everything from Adhesives to Winter Pears, from Cinematography to Overdue aircraft notification and reporting, and from the Internet to Income Taxes to Zinc. There is also a helpful scrolling feature at the top so site visitors can see what’s new on any given day.

The federal government runs its own platform on which citizens can read and comment on proposed regulations: Regulations.gov. Like GovPulse, visitors can browse by topics (from Abandoned Mine Reclamation Programs to Yachts and beyond), or by popularity. Visitors can also see the public comments submitted by various nongovernmental organizations in support of (or in opposition to) a proposed rule.

But if you want a more general view of how government works and what government workers are thinking about, try reading a government blog, like

  • GovGab – written by “federal employees who work in the Office of Citizen Services and [Innovative Technologies] at the U.S. General Services Administration.” (per their about page). The authors try to bring to the fore interesting information from and about the federal government.
  • Greenversations – written by EPA employees and occasional guests, focusing on energy efficiency and conservation.
  • DipNote – the official blog of the US Department of State. It “offers the opportunity for participants to discuss important foreign policy issues with senior Department officials.”
  • Eye Level – is the blog of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Whether your interests lie in portraits of eyes from the Fin de siècle, or the next MMORPG, you can read about it on Eye Level.

Finally, if you want to see how people are using government-provided services in novel ways, try downloading an app for your iPhone or Android that uses government data. MyCityWay is a good example of the genre, though any app that plots official events or information on a map is likely based on government data. Washington, DC, and New York both have robust offerings.

Next, I’ll detail what it means to be a creator and how people can engage meaningfully online.

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Sam Allgood

Another reason to consume the information is to find out how much its going to cost us (me). I just took a look at the U.S. national debt clock, growing at $11,000 per second, and calculated that my portion is $45,000. That’s a very conservative estimate based on a population of 300 million people, but the fact that probably half of those, and their children, will never pay a dime to reduce that debt, raises my portion to over $100,000 … and growing by the second. There is no end!

And that’s just the debt. That’s not counting what it costs to implement the countless programs the federal government comes up with to get votes. Nor the state and local programs.

I’m afraid we are going to wake up too late!

Steve Radick

I like the idea of Citizen 2.0, but unfortunately, these nice little tools and websites aren’t going to get us there. After years of poor customer service on the front lines, of hearing about how some government agency lost reams of their personal data, of wading through red tape for months, of seeing what “classified” data gets redacted from government documents only to discover they’re just covering their butts – the list goes on and on. Right or wrong, deserved or not, here’s a huge stigma associated with the government and the way the government works. Roll out something like Recovery.gov and the average person (read: not us) will assume that it’s not really accurate and it’s part of some propaganda campaign. Get a government agency on Twitter and listen to the public cry that it’s a waste of taxpayer money or that it’s just about Big Brother spying on Americans’ social networking activity.

What you’re suggesting is similar to what I heard in Civics class twenty years ago when we watched “A Bill on Capitol Hill.” You can participate in government too! There are public meetings you can go to! You can write to your Congressional representative! That didn’t work with those tools and it’s not going to work with these ones either. If we truly want to get to Citizen 2.0, we have to to take these great tools that you mentioned above and get them out of this bubble of Gov 2.0 and Civics classes, and get them integrated into the day-to-day world of the average citizen. I love open government but I could care less about Winter Pears. My buddy majoring in Agriculture, on the other hand, should probably be aware that he can go find this data on a government site, but I can virtually guarantee you that his teachers aren’t even aware of these resources.

Citizen 2.0 will get here once we start reaching out to Citizen 1.0 and showing him or her how Government can help solve their unique problem and/or how they can save time/do their job better/live longer by being an active consumer of data that’s relevant to them, not simply by telling them that there’s a ton of data out there and to go find it. That’s precisely the problem – there’s WAY too much data spread across way too many agencies with way too many tools and sites.