Citizen Engagement: GSA Update

While there’s been little open discussion in recent days about the progress of President Obama’s Open Government Directive, the General Services Administration’s quarterly “Intergovernmental Solutions” newsletter has dedicated its latest issue to describing dozens of examples of how citizen engagement is increasing in government – federal, state, local, as well as other countries.  It is worth reading!

The stories about how states, localities, and other countries are engaging citizens are really interesting:

Ohio Redistricting Competition.  A partnership of organizations sponsored an Ohio Redistricting Competition that challenged the public to design a congressional redistricting plan that was better than the current plan.  Design criteria (e.g., minimizing fragmentation of counties, creating competitive districts, etc.), data, specialized redistricting software, and training, were provided.  People submitted plans that were judged to be better than the current redistricting approach, leading to a draft state constitutional amendment that sponsors hope to put on the ballot in 2010 to revise the state’s current redistricting process.

Citizen Pothole Patrols in Worcester, MA.  Worcester began using ComNET  (Computerized Neighborhood Environment Tracking) to change the way public managers and citizens view their roles and responsibilities. Neighborhood groups were armed with handheld computers and digital cameras and volunteers would go out to document street level problems and upload them to a central data base for action.

E-Petitions in Britain.  The British Prime Minister’s office extended a long-established tradition of British citizens presenting petitions at the door of Number 10 Downing Street by moving the process on-line.  Since the e-petition process was created three years ago, more than 63,000 e-petitions have been posted, with more than 10.5 million signatures.

Participatory Lawmaking in Brazil.  The Brazilian House of Representatives launched a project to engage citizens in the lawmaking process by creating opportunities to be involved at three points:  sharing information about a problem that needs addressed by law, identification and discussion of possible solutions, and drafting the text of the bill.  The site, e-Democracia, provides video, survey, and wiki tools, and allows the creation of thematic social networks. . . . Could you imagine what our healthcare debate would look like using something like this!

Participatory Budgeting in La Plata, Argentina.  City officials found greater participation in the budget development process when on-line forums were available.  In La Plata, a participatory budgeting effort started with 40 face-to-face deliberative meetings with citizens where they could allocate 30 percent of the city’s budget and options for allocating the remainder.  In a second phase, voting among options was allowed in a secure process using paper and electronic ballots, and text messaging.  This second phase attracted nine times more people than the face-to-face process.

Out of the many other short articles in the issue, one insight, in a piece by Nick Troiano and Chris Golden, was that “A citizen-centered approach to engagement necessitates organizations not just plug in those they engage but empower them to create change.” That will be the challenge for the new Obama initiative when it is announced.

One thought on “Citizen Engagement: GSA Update

  1. We seem to be heading in the right direction but there is one resource that has been overlooked: what was referred to during the reinventing government effort as the “back room networks”. These are the ad hoc systems that exchange informally information between Federal Civil Servants and various collaborators within and outside the Federal Service to deal with problems they have in common.
    A quiet offer to have them buy in would be a morale booster and a route to stop bureaucratic meddling.

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