GovBytes: New Citizen Engagement Platform: An Experiment in Representation and Technology

One of the four pillars of democracy is representation. This pillar is deeply rooted in civic engagement and participation, of which officials in Stafford County, VA, fear is lacking. Many residents of Stafford County commute to Washington, D.C., and as such don’t have time for town hall meetings to have their voices heard. To remedy this, a new online platform called “Community Voice” has been created to encourage ‘citizen sourcing’, or crowdsourcing for government. Cathy Hozian, the webmaster in Goodyear, Arizona, where the application will also be launched, had this to say:

“This platform will enable us to reach more citizens and to have them build on each other’s ideas. This does not necessarily mean that everything they request/suggest will be acted upon, but it does give them a centralized place to voice their ideas and opinions.”

New Platform Makes ‘Citizen Sourcing’ Fun and Games

The platform will allow users to gain badges and points the more they participate on the platform. Creators of the website and county officials hope that this will encourage conversation as users strive to receive more points.

Will a tool like this catch on beyond the town hall regulars? Are new websites necessary to increase engagement, or can it be done by utilizing Facebook and Twitter?

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Steve Cottle

I love the idea of this and it definitely has potential. However, I would be concerned that town hall regulars simply move online, or that a new, small group of virtual town hall regulars pops up (though this would technically still increase participation). While I’m for anything that makes it easier for folks with disabilities, long work hours, difficult schedules, etc. to participate, I’d be interested to see how game elements would appeal to them. Leads to some important questions: What about someone who feels passionately about a specific issue and logs on for the first time to participate, makes a great point, but is opposed by the superuser “regulars,” who have amassed a huge amount of points and unlocked every conceivable badge? Does this impact how the debate is perceived? Does this deter anyone from participating? Are you simply causing fewer people to participate more extensively, or broadening your overall participation? Which is the goal?

Corey McCarren

Wow great questions Steve, I never even considered the implications of points and badges, and I’m assuming the county officials didn’t either. We all know people turn into tough guys on the Internet. If it remains as civil as this community, however, it won’t be a problem.