Okay, I've been asked to write something brief to help people get it. Seems like everyone in government is getting the idea, and that includes people who didn't grow up with two way electronic communications. I've been asked to write something brief getting people started on the idea, but I'm a dilettante; figured I'd write a draft and ask for help. Here we go…
Social media for government is just starting right now. Turns out, the folks in local Washington DC government are already having tremendous success. check out their Apps for Democracy Digital Public Square to see what they're doing.
Some specific ways people are using social media and the Net for down-to-earth needs:
- 311 customer service – if you see a pothole fixed or a big tree limb removed, you submit a request and it gets done. In the UK, there's an iPhone app which goes further. You photograph the problem, enter a description, and transmit it right to the people who can do the job. Check out FixMyStreet.com.
- neighborhood info – people are happy to pitch in and let you know what's going on, a great example is iLiveAt. (Check out Dupont Circle; I would've like to have known the long, long up escalator had failed at the end of Inauguration.)
- conducting business online – for example, it'd be a lot easier to get a license of any sort if you could just enter info online instead of waiting in line, say, at the DMV. As your application goes through stages, if lengthy, you could be notified by email at each step.
- emergency response – during Katrina, craigslist was immediately used by survivors to let friends and family know where they were headed. People located survivors by asking. Within a day or two, people were offering survivors housing, then jobs.
People are also using the Net to get involved in governance. It's a way for government leaders to hear from constituents directly, unfiltered by layers of staff.
Sunlight Foundation fosters a networks of sites focusing on transparency and accountability. Consider ReadTheBill.org which encourages citizens to check out legislation before passed; consider the possible results with legislation like the "Patriot" Act or TARP. Sunlight organizations like MapLight.org highlight the effect of money in politics.
The White House has started its first experiments with two way communications, beginning to learn how to engage millions of Americans directly. It's very early in the learning process; no one has done this before. Check out WhiteHouse.gov and Recovery.gov as really good starts.
The results of hearing from constituents in some manageable way has the major benefit of getting buy-in, of creating the perception of legitimacy on the part of the subject politicians. I like to call this "the consent of the governed."