Like other governments, local governments are often too comfortable with the “press release” mode of interaction with its publics. Gerry McGovern, a customer-service-in-government consultant sums it up:
“Too many government websites tell us about the legislation they are enacting. We are victims of a tsunami of policies, procedures and publications in a language that is often meaningless.
The best thing governments can do on the Web is get out of the way.”
EveryBlock is an excellent example of what municipal websites could be if they got out of their own way. As a local website manager familiar with traffic trends, the question “what’s happening in my neighborhood?” is among the “top tasks” that visitors hope municipal government websites will answer.
“Our mission at EveryBlock is to solve that problem. We aim to collect all of the news and civic goings-on that have happened recently in your city, and make it simple for you to keep track of news in particular areas. We’re a geographic filter — a “news feed” for your neighborhood, or, yes, even your block.”
All politics is local.
The rise of mashup citizen-journalist sites and growing prevalence of XML data sources leads the way for local and state governments to enrich their web presences and be much more than press release machines. Business licenses, crime incidents, street closures, and upcoming local meetings are all simple to geo-tag, mashable content many local entities now provide in static, siloed ways.
As people in government explore the uses of social media in building community, encouraging civic engagement, and creating a more informed populace, it would be great if we could learn from projects like these what our communities want most from us, and how to best serve those needs. And then, of course, do it.
[cross-posted at my website]