Social Government – Connecting with the Masses
In the great words of Abraham Lincoln, our government is one that is “of the people, by the people, for the people”. In a two-minute speech delivered on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, only about 15,000 people were in attendance to hear it live.
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The speech reportedly gained its notoriety the following day, as newspapers across the country printed the President’s short, but poignant remarks. Over the ages, the available communications technology has kept constituents and government separated. Average, everyday citizens don’t normally have access to the leaders that they elect, or the individuals that those elected leaders appoint into public positions. Without the ability to interact and communicate with the public that they serve, how do we expect a leader to keep in touch with their constituents?
Fortunately the Internet, and a new trend called “Open Government” (#OpenGov) is changing all of that. I believe you can categorize open government into two primary segments: Data and access.
From a data perspective, governments are making data sets available to developers at events commonly called “hack-a-thons,” as was noted in my interview of Bill Schrier about the “Data Jam” that was held this year at the Public Safety Conference in Anaheim, California. While the name may lead you to believe otherwise, these events – also known as hack days, codefests, or hackfests – are extremely valuable, as they promote innovation and consumption of the mass amounts of data that governments collect and maintain.
We’re not talking about personal information, we’re talking about demographic information. Population, energy consumption, utilities usage and hundreds of other data points used to model and project just about any scenario you can imagine. It’s not about “spying on people”. It’s about utilizing the Big Data that we have to make intelligent decisions on critical issues.
The other side of open government is one of communication services. In the past, sending a letter may have gotten some action. However, you had no guarantee that a legislator actually read your words. The only thing that you had was a glimmering hope that a staff assistant was moved enough by your statements to bring it to the attention of “The Boss”, and although I am a proud Jersey boy, I don’t mean Springsteen.
Social media has opened up a whole new avenue for the “letter to the editor”. The Internet is a wide-open canvas that anyone can utilize to set up a blog, post or website promoting their thoughts and ideas. But this also applies to governments speaking out to the masses. During a recent meeting with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, (@AjitPaiFCC) he mentioned he and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel), were the first at the FCC on Twitter. In addition to providing an immediate outlet to citizens, it provided a vehicle for citizens to communicate into government, just as they communicate with their friends.
Personally, I feel this is important. An elected official, or one who was appointed by an elected official, needs to stay in touch in order to make informed decisions. Technology and connectivity has certainly changed our lives over the last three decades. I remember my very first cell phone in 1985, when I, as most other people did, made their first call. “Hey! Guess what I’m calling you from?!”
Now, with mobile smartphone connectivity at an all-time high, and the deluge of apps and users, “Hey! Guess what I just tweeted to Congress?!” is the new rage.
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Until next week. . . dial carefully.
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