Challenging Local Leaders To Engage and Empower Citizens

Technology is rapidly changing how people communicate with each other. Private sector businesses are utilizing technology as a tool to interact with and empower citizens through their products and services. Many local governments are behind the times as far as utilizing the power of the Internet and social media to engage citizens.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Code for America have launched the Citizenville Challenge — a call for local government leaders to commit to working toward a government for the 21st century.

“There is huge potential to use technology to transform the way government and citizens interact, communicate and solve problems,” Newsom said in a press release. “During my seven years as mayor of San Francisco, I learned firsthand how important it is to have local government committed to driving this change. We are challenging local leaders across the country to push the boundaries of innovation to advance government to work for the citizenry of the 21st century.”

The cities of Austin, Texas; Fresno, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia and San Francisco have accepted the challenge, and they are urging other cities to do the same.

There are many steps local government leaders can take to utilize technology for the benefit of their citizens:

Adopt a standardized data format– Increase interoperability by releasing data in a standard format, like LIVES for restaurant inspection data or GTFS for transit data.

Implement a Gov 2.0 policy – Lay the framework for successful innovation by instituting an open data initiative or social media policy.

Launch a citizen engagement app – Empower your citizens to take an active role in improving their own community with apps like Adopta, Street Bump, the CPR app, and the San Francisco Rec and Park app.

Host a community event – Bring citizens and city staff together to solve civic problems with an event like a CityCamp, CivicMeet, or app contest.

Make innovation part of how your city does business – by creating an innovation office or working group, or establishing new gov 2.0 roles in city hall like a Chief Innovation Officer.

Create civic APIs – Help citizens and developers fully access the value of your open data by creating an Application Programming Interface, like the Open311 API that has been adopted by cities across the country.

“The Citizenville Challenge highlights the incredible work cities and citizens are doing to make government work for the 21st Century,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “I encourage other mayors to take the challenge … to institutionalize entrepreneurial civic innovation by advancing more open, participatory and transparent government in their cities and collaborate with the broad network of cities working in this space.”

Code for America will work with the city leaders who sign on to determine next steps and provide support for implementing the innovation initiatives that the city chooses to pursue.

We need more local governments to take the Citizenville Challenge to bring their operations into the 21st century.

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