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Citizen 2.0: How the internet has changed citizen/government interaction

Posted by Devin Cole  November 28, 2011 01:55 PM

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Excerpted from Citizen 2.0, a paper by Swissnex and Red Cut.

The internet has changed the way information is relayed and how people use it. We
have gone from an era of broadcast dominated by passive reception to an era of
digital natives, where communication is interactive and instantaneous. This new
generation has grown up with the Internet and expects continuous participation.

This evolution towards new communication patterns provided governments with an opportunity to function in a more innovative, engaging and cost-effective manner. In recent years, many businesses have integrated tools such as Facebook and Twitter in their marketing efforts to reach customers more directly. In a government context, such tools can be similarly used to engage with citizens with the goals of collecting their feedback and ideas, making them aware of public services at their disposal and reaching out to broader audiences through non-traditional channels.

Social media have also returned power to citizens. By providing inexpensive and widely-available tools that make it easier to organize and voice challenge, new technologies photo copy_tcm3-29064.pnghave contributed to empower citizens while improving governments’ responsiveness and accountability. A new citizen is emerging.

The City of Boston, for instance, recently launched a series of initiatives to engage with its citizens, such as the Citizens Connect App.

The convergence of these trends has generated a number of innovations, from ideation to agenda setting, from branding to crowdsourcing. There are any number of examples.

One example from Massachusetts is called Localocracy.

Localocracy: Constructive and transparent community-focused discussions

Keywords: Agenda-Setting, Ideation, Crowdsourcing, Advocacy, Community Information

The Innovation

Localocracy is a platform that gathers citizens, government officials and journalists to learn and exchange ideas about local community-focused topics. On Localocracy, users are able to influence issues that matter to them while local governments gain an opportunity to engage with their constituents and create greater transparency on a public platform, as well as be able to tap into citizens’ ideas and skills. Users must use their registered voter names, since, according to co-founder Connor White-Sullivan, anonymous comments weren’t generating the kind of constructive participation needed. Additionally, Localocracy has partnered with traditional media such as the Boston Globe to provide stories on the community.


The story
Connor White-Sullivan and Aaron Soules founded Localocracy in September 2008, when the two University of Massachusetts students wanted to change the way citizens engaged with local political issues. When they started Localocracy, the goal was to have a simple way to go online and bring political issues in front of a local audience. Six cities in Massachusetts currently enjoy the service.

The Amherst site features topics, such as “Should Amherst build a solar farm on the old landfill?” or “Should town schools start purchasing food from local farms?” The first “issue of the week” in Amherst was launched in 2010. The question “Should Amherst elementary schools continue to be a part of Union 26” had 98 votes and 60 comments and counted 53 supporters and 45 opponents. The initiative showed a lot of citizen participation and was a big success for the community.

Localocracy is one of 16 winners of the “Champions of Change”, contest hosted by the White House to showcase the potential of open data made available by federal, state and local agencies.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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