Jane & John Q. Public’s “Year-End (2009) Gov 2.0 List”

There are some great “year-end” blog posts and articles reviewing e-Gov, or government via the Internet. This year, it is mostly about Gov 2.0 — stories or benchmarks for expanding collaborative technologies of Web 2.0 across the public sector.

All of these articles come from practitioners, intended for reading/discussion among other practitioners. What’s missing? How about a citizen’s angle? If John or Jane Q. Public were to create a “2009 Gov 2.0 List,” what would they include?

Note: The following list is NOT intended as a criticism nor does it discount the innovative and brilliant efforts that have been made in local, state and federal government agencies by dedicated and hard working government employees (of which I was once a proud member) who are striving to improve government-citizen engagement. Rather it is a list that addresses challenges that still exist and should be kept in mind of as we (all of us) continue to bridge the great chasm between government and the people it was formed to serve.

Jane and John Q. Public’s “Year-End Gov 2.0 List”

1. Where did my social network go?

We were so inspired by the social networks created in 2008 by the major political candidates. We joined many groups and collaborated with people across the country to learn about the issues while sharing our thoughts and ideas. Then, our candidate was elected and our social network along with its extensive list of contacts no longer existed. Even the ease to message with fellow group members and the candidate dissolved and we were left with only email or a long form to fill out to be able to communicate. What was once a thriving horizontal form of collaboration with my candidate and my fellow citizens has now become a vertical, mostly one-way form of communication with my elected official. Why?

2. Do you really mean “Contact me?”

To our elected officials who have a “contact me” icon on your page, please know that we will actually click on it and go through the laborious process to complete your form in order to communicate with you. So, instead of a pop up message that states you “get so much email from citizens” that you “only respond to (your) constituents” after we have taken 20-30 minutes to construct a thoughtful message to you, it would be better to know this up front before we dedicate that much time. Also know that while we are not a direct constituent of yours, that you are a member of a committee that will influence or vote on a policy or rule that affects us, our families or our districts (even though you may not be our representative).

3. How can you expect broad support from those of us without Broadband?

For all the cool web sites and collaborative applications that tout online transparency, access, and participation, we can’t access them without a broadband connection and from what we understand, some 37% of the nation’s homes are in the same boat.

4. Our phone is a talking device – why doesn’t that work?

We think all the mobile apps to connect with government to report issues and then even be notified that they are being addressed are cool and innovative. But our phones aren’t “smart” and cannot connect to the web or house these applications. However, it will let us place a call to someone and tell them the same thing. Still, it appears the human voice (when it’s not on hold or going through a series of voice prompts) is less powerful than the key pad to connect to and receive a response from government when addressing communiqués received from citizens.

5. Online democracy; but not really

For those governing bodies that broadcast their public meetings, yet require the public to be there in order to participate, stop teasing us. Electronically, you send a notice of the meeting and an agenda; even a link to a live stream of the event to watch it in real time. But, for citizens who want to participate in the meeting by offering comment on an agenda item or another public issue, we are required to be there in person. That means, having to get in our cars and drive to the actual venue; speak at the appointed time and for the specific time allotted. We applaud the effort to replicate your public meeting online, just replicate all of it, including the part for the public to participate.

6. We are “Generation Now (and forever)”

Is there a realization in government like in the private sector that now and forever the public’s preference for communicating and sharing information has changed and that there are citizens of voting age who are also “cradle to grave” digital users? And the appropriate response from government (considering they want to connect with us and engage us) should be to make it a high priority to restructure (not reinvent) its engagement processes based on these new preferences and expectations?

7. We want to feel “special” too.

Even if we had access to and expertise in all the cool Gov 2.0 solutions available and using the most cutting edge devices available, we still lack real interest in participating in our government and its policy making processes. This feeling of apathy is due primarily to a belief that government has become more responsive and responsible to special interests groups than to individual citizens, and that we believe we cannot influence them even if we were to have access to them. We think if this challenge is not part of the overall solution, then when all of this Gov 2.0 dust settles there will be a surplus of great technology tools and innovative processes available but that no one outside of government will be using them.

Check that. Special interest reps will be using (and exploiting) them and the chasm created between government and its citizens over the last 50 years will be even wider with even less people having access to those individuals they elected.

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I like #2. It’s a 2-way conversation with Gov 2.0 and people are saying they want feedback. But people are still figuring out how to respond. As the phrase goes “be careful what you ask for”

Rumon Carter

Great, thoughtful read – cheers. #3 is going to be a fun challenge, isn’t it? Often feels like Gov2.0’s elephant in the living room.

Jaime Gracia

Great post. A parallel article appeared in the Washington Post today about lawmakers learning to use Web 2.0 tools. Maybe this piece should be required reading for Congress, so they drop the attitude of “having to be on social media,” then business as usual.

Daniel Bevarly

Thanks for the comments, guys. Yes, it will take a pretty big undertaking to address most if not all of these challenges. Adriel, you have first hand experience with #5, and Steve, you and I have had a number of discussions on these issues throughout the year. Rumon, #3 includes a pretty big price tag, but there are ways to address it now on an incremental, community basis, e.g., “wired” libraries with central access for citizens.

Jaime, thanks for the suggestion and article link. Very insightful as to where the parties think they will connect with their constituents –through someone else’s social network. Pros and cons on that strategy as you know.