April 12, 2010

Crowdsourcing Can Help Citizens and Government Alike

YEARS AGO there was a website that allowed citizens to log on and find out exactly "who" in local government was responsible for a specific municipal problem whether it was a pothole, a health care issue or a neighborhood graffiti problem. Maintaining the database of the "public sector" staff responsible for fixing problems was a huge effort and I doubt that the site still exists especially since I did a domain name search and the name "govguide.org" came up as being for sale.

Another good idea bites the dust.

But there is still good news for citizens wanting to report neighborhood problems to city government. I have just run across a site that makes problem reporting much easier than govguide ever imagined.

SeeClickFix "believes that the citizens may have as much to offer local government as the government may have to offer to people. By letting the man (literally) on the street report issues a local city or city department, and making them trackable, it shifts some of the management burden to the people most affected by them."

I checked out the site and typed in my town - Redwood City. I found out that there were three issues identified by citizens. Two were pothole problems and one was a low light, speeding issue. Turns out that all of those items are still "open" despite one of the problems having been reported a year ago.

Visit SeeClickFix. It's pretty cool.

April 10, 2010

The Race for California Governor on Twitter

THE CAMPAIGN to become California's next governor won't be won and lost based on the number of Twitter followers each candidate has, but it's interesting to note that the major gubernatorial candidates are twittering away.

Here is the latest data on the number of Twitter followers for each candidate:

Jerry Brown (D) 1,136,304

Meg Whitman (R) 230,659

Steve Poizner (R) 215,616

Prince Frederic von Anhalt (I) 34

And just for comparison purposes, Britney Spears has 4,692,203 followers; Oprah has 3,372,071; and Al Gore has just over 2 million.

April 8, 2010

Electronic Signature Not Valid

AN ELECTRONIC signature that was submitted on a statewide initiative petition does not comply with California's election code, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge George Miram's ruled on April 2. In denying the legal motion to compel election officials to accept the electronic signature, the judge said that the signer "did not substantially comply with the requirements" of election code to personally affix a signature to a petition.

April 4, 2010

Creating Greater Government Transparency

MONTIORING YOUR elected officials and keeping track of your government's spending? There's an app for that, as it turns out. Or such was the theme of the second annual TransparencyCamp, held at George Washington University last weekend, an event aimed at bringing programmers and activists together to mingle and talk shop about how to mine government data in clever ways.

"There's no reason why keeping tabs on your member of Congress shouldn't be as easy as seeing what your friends are posting on a Facebook wall," said David Moore of the Participatory Politics Foundation, explaining the concept behind his organization's site, OpenCongress.org, one of many online ventures that try to bring transparency to the workings of Capitol Hill.

It's a catchy sound bite that captures fairly well the type of work being done by many of the 250 or so folks who attended the event, hosted by a Washington- based nonprofit organization called the Sunlight Foundation.

Take LittleSis.org (an answer to Big Brother), which attempts to reveal ties between powerful business players and politicos by encouraging the public to log on and fill in such information. "We describe it as an involuntary Facebook," said Kevin Conner, the project's co-founder.

In the same way that social networking and apps have changed so much else on the planet, such technologies are being scrutinized for use in building stronger democracies. Dieter Zinnbauer, who traveled from Berlin to attend, said that his 15-year-old organization, Transparency International, works to fight corruption in countries around the world.

Although that work has generally been done off-line, the organization is hoping to figure out how to leverage the power of such technologies as the smartphone. To get ideas about how to do that, TransparencyCamp is the place to be. "The U.S. is very much in the forefront in this area," he said.

April 3, 2010

Half of City Governments Use Social Media

THE FELS Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania recently issued a how-to manual on local government use of social media. The manual is based on surveys and interviews conducted with 79 separate municipalities ranging in size from “less than 70,000 to greater than 1 million residents” in July of 2009. The information they provided has resulted in a comprehensive and useful report on how to get started putting your city on the social media map.

Despite the explosion of Facebook and Twitter use in the general population, the study's initial results showed only about half of the 79 cities had jumped on the social media bullet train: Just 50% of the cities had a Facebook presence, while 56% were on Twitter.

Of the cities that had established themselves on Facebook or Twitter, just a handful were making any real dent in citizen outreach. Only 13 cities had more than 500 fans on Facebook, and a mere 7 cities claimed more than 500 Twitter followers.

There appear to be multiple reasons for the foot-dragging according
the Fels Institute report, including concerns about the potential for public criticism, legal issues, workload, and general cost to the often cash-strapped towns. But the benefits of social media outreach, according to the researchers, outweigh the potential downsides.

April 1, 2010

Politicians Start Checking In On Foursquare

PATRICK KENNEDY, a 27-year old Democrat from Arkansas, is an example of the next generation of political candidates. He is on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and is the first congressional candidate to use Foursquare, a location-based social network that allows friends to share their location by "checking in."