Intro and Request for Help – How Can I Serve My Constituents with Government 2.0?

Thank you for this community. I hope to be more active and also to learn from the many remarkable people here. My name is David Canepa, and I am a newly elected City Councilman in Daly City , a large suburb to the south of San Francisco. My background is in constituent service for local and state government, serving the SF Bay Area.
I strongly believe in people-focused government and direct democracy, and am working with Adriel Hampton and my supporters and volunteers to redesign www.davidcanepa.com my Web site with full 2.0 functionality. I’m also interested in enabling more 2.0 functions through the City’s official arms.
We will be discussing the possibility of setting up a local Ning network for my constituents, getting more involved with Twitter, and perhaps even doing some open-source lawmaking. However, before we move forward, I’d love to get your thoughts.
Many of my constituents are older, speak a first-language other than English,. Another factor I’m looking at is keeping things civil and positive and not enabling the kind of flame wars we often see in Bay Area politics.
I’m asking across the spectrum, what would be the top three to five things your local government could do to serve you better in Web 2.0, and not just in social media?
Thanks for your help!

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Profile Photo Dave Uejio

Hi David, and welcome to Govloop!

I am pleasantly astonished to see such a modern approach to direct democracy from an elected official (please note my intended tone is not one of skepticism, but more that of a man who has just seen a purple cow: Remarkable!)

As to your question, I think you can use social media as a way to promote transparency into the various processes you will be seeking to master. Transparency about your decisions and the current landscape will allow you to be open about the governance process. Of course transparency is a double edged sword, as it will make both your triumphs and failures very public. That said, I suspect people desire more communication with public officials. Your constituents will be used to asking a few standby questions: Where are my tax dollars going? Why isn’t this pothole fixed? What do they DO down there anyway?! Web 2.0 will allow you to deliver your messages, and it will also allow you to LISTEN to your constituents as you seek to anticipate their needs, fears and priorities. If you are inclined to capture and leverage feedback, perhaps you can also promote a constituent “help desk”. I don’t know if you’ve ever used Amazon.com’s help desk, but Amazon does it the right way, keeping me apprised of the status of my order, sharing feedback and providing a qualified customer service representative on the other end of the phone, along with accessible chat. Feedback can be useful for promoting accountability, and lets everyone know exactly where their pothole request stands.

I view all government, but especially local government as a customer service job, first and foremost. As a City Councilman, you will no doubt be asked to leverage influence to improve service delivery on a decreasing budget. To this end you can utilize Web 2.0 to modernize your communications with the bureaucracy you will be attempting to steer. Elected officials do not always engage civil servants to develop novel strategies and process improvements, but you would be wise to do so.

You’ll doubtlessly need to calibrate your tools to “fit” them to the workforce and constituency you have (I’m sure Adriel has you doing just that.) Once again I applaud your engagement with this community; my friends in Daly City seem to be in good hands.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Great post! If you have Adriel on board, you are doing well. All the best!

I think your main duty to the citizen is to let them into your thought process and provide transparency to activities. I would:
1) Start an active blog describing your activities with your true voice (no PR BS).
2) Take questions from your citizens and answer them in Vlogs (YouTube videos). You don’t have to answer all questions but a couple a week would be great.
3) Encourage your fellow council to become more open and transparent. Share your experience.
4) Start small and experiment. Learn quickly from any mistakes. Leverage all successes. Don’t spend 6 months developing a plan. Take baby steps and react to your citizens.

Profile Photo bob ashley

Agreed with GovLoop about laying bear one’s “thought process”. Transparency is often misconstrued as mere visibility. And visibility can be a liability if doctored by spin. That approach spawns mistrust and a perception of the inauthentic or disingenuous. Exposing the thought process means revealing the highs and lows, the dead ends, the experiments, the missteps, the eureka! moments, the overall process of things.

Transparency means “seeing through”, not just “seeing.” Only those with civil intentions, authentic integrity survive transparency. Transparency invites scrutiny, even of error, because those officials with integrity, elected or appointed, admit human imperfection into their formulas and visions.

I also stand behind GovLoops 4-point set of recommendations. This guy is good!

Profile Photo Ingrid Koehler

Hi – my council is one of the best in the UK. Lowest local tax and some of the best rated services. Over Christmas, I had to renew my parking permit. Could I do this online? No. Why not? My permit has now been lost in the mail – I’m going to have to go down to Town Hall today and sort it out in person. Why?

I believe in all the great advantages of Web2.0 for use in supporting local democracy, but I think it’s important to get some of those basic transactions right first.

For me, this isn’t so frustrating. I know all my local councillors (we have 3 per ward here) and I happen to be meeting with another of my councillors on Friday to talk about web2.0 stuff in relation to my job – so I can always mention these issues (or as it happens – some of them can read about it on Twitter). But imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have this kind of access or over a decade’s experience in working with local government.

Profile Photo Meghan Harvey

I think GovLoop’s advice would be exactly what I would say as well, but to take it a step further, I would add get out there and show people that you’re available via blog, youtube, twitter or whatever mediums you end up taking advantage of. Being local (Livermore) to you, I know our papers and channels like KTVU (who is already on Twitter & gets the importance of it) would love to do a story on Councilman who is really engaging his constituents in a new way such as what your looking at. It’s a big deal and the first step in truly engaging people in this way, is by letting them know your there! As I mentioned to Adriel, I truly believe that if you build it (meaning a web 2.0 network in any capacity) they (the people) will come.

Profile Photo Zach

For crowdsourcing legislative change, check out policypitch.com. Right now, its focus and users are primarily based in New Orleans and Louisiana, but the platform includes every town in the nation.

David, you can use policypitch to gather public input on your proposed legislation and even let users pitch their own policies to you. The site also provides a suite of tools (more features are added everyday) that allow citizens to collaborate and gather resources to promote their policy ideas, and then help transform those ideas into real world action.