Citizen Connectivity – Local Governments provide insight into need for Web 2.0

I just read NSCL’s Gene Rose’s post in the State Thicket, “Are Budget Challenges Affecting Public’s Satisfaction with State Governments?”

Gene comments on the recent report from the Pew Research for the People & the Press and its finding that there is a sharp decline from 2008 numbers in the public’s opinion of their state government.

NCSL took Pew’s findings and compared them to their own surveys and focuses on the possible cause being the widening budget gaps that have strapped state government agencies, programs and services. However, the Pew report did note a positive shift in the public’s perception of the federal government. I suggest that is the result of having a new administration promoting its campaign of “hope.”

What I focused on as the most interesting part of the Gene’s post was the very last sentence: “Local governments continue to have the best ratings of the three groups (federal state local), with 60 percent being favorable and 32 percent unfavorable, both numbers down slightly from last year.”

Why do you think local government would have the most favorable rating among these three levels of government? My idea is that it’s all about connectivity –the connection between government and its citizens, and the benefits that arise from that.

Benefits such as a citizens having a sense of community as a unit; being informed about government affairs (whether that information is provided by the government or from the news media, or from your offline social network); being able to obtain information if wanted, and knowing where to go or who to contact to get it; and, knowing that if you want to engage in public affairs, you know how to go about it and that the “cost of involvement” is low, e.g., time and money (phone call, email, drive to a public meeting).

I would also propose that this connectivity is not necessarily affected by population size. Whether you live in Peewee Valley, Kentucky or Dallas, Texas, one still has a communal sense with their local government (city, county, township, parish, metro and so on). Step up a level in government and that sense of connectivity decreases.

So what does this mean for the use of, or need for, collaborative technologies like Web 2.0 in governing? Since connectivity and building networks is at the root of these solutions, then it means something pretty important, especially now. As we face a number of local, state and national public policy challenges such as healthcare reform, the environment, wars and the economic collapse, we need to advocate strongly for better ways to bring together the public and the public sector to communicate and share information.

For governments to manage effectively and efficiently (through public input and feedback), for citizens to achieve a level of attachment to their government (through easier access to people and information), and for our democracy to succeed, there needs to be a stronger sense of connectivity of citizens to all levels of their government.

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Much like the push to hyperlocal news. I think hyperlocal online government will be very useful. For example, very few people attend townhalls and local government discussions compared to the number that actual care about items like the new road being built, the light rail debate, and they actually know the local government/politicians. The trick is local government is often limited by resources so we need to find cheap and effective ways for these organizations to collaborate.

Darron Passlow

My name is Darron Passlow and I work in the Local Government area in NSW, Australia. I have not seen any figures for Australia but I am sure they would replicate your experience in the US. Local Government here probably also has the highest approval rating (putting aside the surge in Fed Gov approval because of current “handouts” as part of a global solution to the GEC). Why is this so?
Local Government (here in Australia) is where “the rubber hits the road”. LG is involved in solving problems and creating an acceptable lifestyle for community members. Community members have direct access to Councillors and executives at Council. People do attend “town hall” meetings of interest and in Australia legislation is being enacted to make local government more accountable. We are currently being asked to develop a Community Engagement Strategy where all projects will have a community engagement component (by law). This sounds like a “big stick” approach, but often the BIG STICK is needed to get elected representatives (Councillors) and executive to act. Unfortunate but a fact of life.
I am primarily interested in Gov 2.0 (and am a member of several Australian based Gov 2.0 sites) as a mechanism to asist in delivering the very important “Community Engagement” approach to be adopted in Australian Local Government area. I am following the debate with interest.

Daniel Bevarly

Darron – Your statement that local government is where “the rubber hits the road” is echoed in the US as well. It is that level where personal connections and engagement can occur and be sustained. Accountability on both sides is easily measured. The question for Gov 2.0 is can we replicate that sense of connectivity at higher levels of government through an online environment; virtually? How do we advance an impersonal technology to be more personal? That is an important element we are missing.