MuniGov 2.0 is a coalition of local/municipal governments focused on exploring the use and principles of Web 2.0 in an effort to improve citizen services and communication via technology.
How about your city?
November 10, 2008 at 8:30 pm #62042
Making a case for Web 2.0 funding in a community of almost any size.
What does the Finance Director say? This usually stops any mid-fiscal year funding discussion because “It’s not in the budget.” Usually, that’s the end of the conversation. And that’s the problem.
What does the public say? Does the public want to fund this park or that road or any of the programs presented by City staff? Why or why not? Municipalities of all sizes have councils that meet regularly and make decisions for the rest of the community. They have the final say on the budget. That’s why we elect them. Now, local council members make decisions based on their own opinion and based on the input given to them by citizens during the (usually short) time they are given to make any decision. Web 2.0 is a platform for citizens to give timely input to their local representatives.
For example, following a meeting or agenda announcement, concerned citizens could comment on any of the items on the agenda. This would mitigate the impact of lobbying by special interests or council members’ small circle and provide a forum for other folks to get their side of the story to their municipal representatives. Quickly, and in time for decision-making.
Web 2.0 platforms could be directly placed on municipal websites. Many cities have private, anonymous, chat or forum areas where citizens rake their local governments over the coals behind the safe curtain of anonymity. Under these circumstances, the truth suffers and Municipal employees have no chance to answer questions.
So how do we get the Finance Director on board? The Council, City Manager and the citizens have to let Finance know this is the way that they want their government to work. We have to show them how to do it. It won’t cost much, (compared to a road or a sewer or a school,) but a municipal government must work better when communication with taxpayers and citizens is responsive to local decision-making timelines and gets information where it needs to be. How do we do it? Tell your friends. Tell your councils. We’ll get to the tipping point as fast as we can.
November 12, 2008 at 9:31 am #62060
Based on the experience on our city (which is only a pop. of 10,000), I see implementation of Web 2.0 in two primary areas. First of all, internally. In our city, the staff has been willing to try each tool, and most have adopted them into their regular work flow. So far, no one has been against using any of the tools, but then again, there really has been little cost involved. Skype, Second Life, Facebook, Google sites, flickr, etc. are all free. I also want to point out that in our city we are not necessarily a young crowd – the majority of us are in our 40s to 70s. So age does not seem to have made a difference at all – in either the acceptance or use of any of the tools.
The other side of this is the external use where we implement the tools to engage the public. I have spent a lot of time thinking about all the available tools and how best to use them, but so far I have only tried Twitter for one small application, met with a couple residents using Second Life, and set up a blog. The staff and elected officials were very supportive of these experiments, and I think they would give the green light to any other endeavors. As long as costs are reasonable, our finance director is always supportive. And again, Twitter, Blogger, and Second Life are free. The only person who has expressed any concern or hesitation has been our city attorney. But then he does that on everything we do.
So in our city, we have been fortunate to have an open and progressive mayor, council, and staff. Also by starting internally and having everyone see the value, I now have the buy in and am at the point of figuring out how do we engage so that the public actually wants to use the tool in a constructive manner.
And this is where I get hung up. Not sure how it is at other cities, but we rarely have folks show up or get involved at council meetings except when there has been a major problem like flooding or when we have specific issues like rezoning of parcels. So do citizens not bother because they don’t care unless there are problems or do they not get involved because there is no “easy” mechanism to do so. And then is this where Web 2.0 can help?
My next attempt is probably going to be to use Twitter or Cover it Live for a council meeting, if the mayor will approve it; the costs of both are free. But all of us are so busy in the meeting I have been trying to figure out who could be responsible for sending the messages. And what responsibility if any would the council have to respond to any feedback?
And I think you are right about telling everyone. If enough of us create the examples and success stories, it will be easier for others to convince their councils and staff they need to get on board.
November 13, 2008 at 12:07 am #62058
“The only person who has expressed any concern or hesitation has been our city attorney. But then he does that on everything we do.”
Sounds familiar. 🙂
With interactive tools there seems to be a large “iffy” area with regards to free speech issues if your Facebook, Myspace, etc. page exists in an “official” capacity. Can you censor comments? Can you decline friends? These are the types of issues we’re dealing with right now, however, the powers that be are finally realizing that it is a whole new world out there and adapting is a must – even if it requires a thicker skin or risking a backlash.
We utilize Facebook (although no ones seems to care!), Flickr (highly successful!), about to activate Twitter and are hashing over starting a blog for the City Manager. In the meantime, I’m working with my Director on developing a social media policy for official business.
It’s awful gray if you play careful and not-so-daunting if you just roll with it. I prefer the latter. 😉
November 13, 2008 at 12:20 am #62056
Were it only so that we had quiet empty Council chambers in our town (pop. 9,000).
Our citizens pack the meeting twice a month. Meetings run from 7 – 11:30 p. It’s on the local radio, it’s on the local TV channel. Sometimes we have 4+ meetings a mo. depending on the issues.
What I’m working on here is to try to get some buy in to overlay 2.0 tools on the website. Sort of supercharging the comment/feedback loop in the community. GovLoop(the person) has me thinking/working on a ROI idea. I know there are cost savings in here somewhere, but it’s pretty soft. I’m breaking down projects in Dept.s to see if there is any $ savings to be seen in communication/planning speed.
But it always comes back to the mission: It is our job to foster good communication between citizens/staff/council. WE can’t figurte out the vision if we don’t
Have a great day – MD
November 13, 2008 at 5:09 pm #62054
Wow Mark! Are you guys handing out food?
With all those people you really have a great opportunity to try to engage them and get them more involved! If only I had something like that to work with. Do you have open Internet in your council chambers? I set that up in ours but few are there to use it. If you did, people could Twitter your meetings.
What do you think of using something like Cover it Live (a chat-like tool that allows interaction from people viewing over the web?) and something like Ustream on your website so people can watch and have input w/o having to actually go to the meeting? You could project the Cover it Live/Twitter stream onto the wall in the chambers. One of the issues though would be how do you limit it to input just from your own citizens? Others could watch, but should they have input? Also, how should the council best respond to this online input? As for cost, I think these tools are free.
You could also try having some type of wiki/google sites/forum where you post your agenda and encourage the population to submit comments or discuss the issues prior to the meeting. Then the council could refer to this or reference it during the meeting.
November 13, 2008 at 6:45 pm #62052
I’m home with my daughter and the Chicken Pox thinking about the Assembly Chambers.
Laughing as I think about our former Mayor slamming his cell phone down as a gavel and yelling at a Tribal elder. Sometimes the ratings for meetings are high.
We do have broadband wireless in Assembly Chambers. But folks just go out in the hallway and talk. It would be cool to link them up with the folks sitting at home.
I am checking out the sites/stuff you mention – Twitter is great – I love this idea.
By thee way, the last (two-term) mayor went through 5 City Administrators in 6 years. It’s been eventful. The new mayor seems a little less strong-armed. They may stream the meetings on our local station KCAW – Raven Radio http://www.ravenradio.org/
Peace – MD
November 21, 2008 at 6:30 am #62050
Using Web 2.0 in a local government setting has to in some way involve validating citizenship. I’m working on a local resident group on Facebook and hope to put up a funny video on the subject this week. The other issue is the common problem that only retirees, those with a direct financial interest, and cranks are well represented in local government deliberations. I’d like to see Web 2.0 leverage much greater citizen involvement. Great discussion here!
November 21, 2008 at 2:49 pm #62048
My hope is to get 2.0 hooked into the Agenda for the Council (we call it the Assembly) meetings. Citizens could say their piece before the meeting. Get feedback. Maybe the meetings would be more productive. Maybe we would have better, more refined solutions.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. MD
December 16, 2008 at 6:06 am #62046
In the UK, at Barnet Council (one of the London boroughs) the Leader of the Council (party leader of the ruling political group), does regular sessions in different parts of the borough and then that content (video and/or transcript) is posted here: http://leaderlistens.com/ Folks who were or weren’t in attendance can contribute to the discussion.
There’s also a growing list of examples here: http://sandbox.dius.gov.uk/digitalgovuk/ though not all are local government.
December 16, 2008 at 6:17 am #62044
Thanks, Ingrid, that’s a great page.
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