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I’ve Seen A Lot About “Government 2.0”, Now I Want to Know About “Citizen 2.0”

Posted on 13 December 2009

During my brief foray into the provincial bureaucracy, I became loosely connected with a group of individuals working throughout Canada to make government more open, engaging, and engaged through the use of new ideas and new technologies. Since leaving government, I have continued to follow the conversations taking place on blog posts and on Twitter with interest, but have found myself going from “active participant” to “passive observer” to the point I’m at now, where I feel like the conversation really has nothing to do with me. This is not a criticism of these individuals– they are preoccupied with how to best do their jobs, which is breaking down barriers in government to increase the flow of information. But what I want to know is how I can best do my job– as a citizen– that helps promote the ideals these groups are working for: transparency, accountability, efficiency, ingenuity from our governments agencies (municipal, provincial, and federal).

So the question I’m asking of anyone involved in “government 2.0” is what does a “citizen 2.0” look like? How do we engage with our elected officials and, maybe more importantly, the non-political administrators, public servants, and policy-makers? How do we demonstrate that open government works, that we want to be engaged, that we are intelligent enough to understand that if you make government more human you won’t be opening yourself up to criticism for your flaws but respect for your transparency?

Basically, how do we support the work that you, the government 2.0 evangelist, are doing?

Replies welcome via comments, email, Twitter, or your own blog post responses.

Filed under: Best Of, Canada, social media

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8 Comments

Very carefully. You've asked a question that doesn't have a simple answer. I've been thinking about this for some time – the net of course has to be part of the solution. One thing I think could work, would be for each MP to list all of the pending bills, and ask voters to “vote” on them. This would give the MP a reading on opinions in his or her riding. This could also be used for other questions about upcoming legislation (would making this change be better for example).

This could be powered quite simply by IP address. The Internet Service Providers can supply lists of IP addresses within a riding, and use that to send the voter to the correct MP's page.

Would this fly? I strongly doubt it. The MPs have no reason to want a system like this, and they would have use it for it to have any utility. Of course we could just set it up on our own, and wait till they notice it…

Posted by TheMadHatter on 14 December 2009 @ 6am

I'll preface my comments by saying that, like you, I'm no longer working in the government 2.0 realm though I'm still an active observer.

Like TheMadHatter, I don't think there's an easy answer. Unlike him (her?), I don't think the answer lays in the political arena. There are too many interest groups and individuals with a clear agenda who would seize the opportunity to hijack the agenda no matter how many safeguards are put in place. The vocal minority of the politically-charged citizenry would always skew the results, I'm afraid.

I think the area with the most potential is in policy development. You're not necessarily going to get a representative sampling of the population but you will attract engaged and informed citizens (and I would think fewer of the agenda-driven types, though I stand to be corrected on that. I just don't think policy is as sexy as politics to many).

Start where there's an established practice you can build on.

There's an opportunity to build on the practice of public consultations by moving things to an open, online forum. The Globe's policy wiki experiment was a good first step but for it to really be meaningful I think it needs to be connected to policy makers.

Good question, though. I hope you get some more input from the folks working on the inside.

Posted by Joe Boughner on 14 December 2009 @ 1pm

Andrew – As you point out my role is to help move the system from the inside. I have really only ever had direct interaction with the public on a couple of occasions and in neither of them was a an official representative of the Crown, just a citizen who happens to be a public servant. The first was ChangeCampOttawa, the second was Ignite Ottawa. As a speaker at Ignite I found myself having to completely rewrite my presentation because I was no longer trying to fire up public servants, but also citizens. In my talk I urged them to get more involved because as a public servant I can leverage the pressures that citizens can bring to bear from the realm of the political. After my talk a group of younger students came up to me and asked me how they could step up their civic engagement. I think they were looking for me to point them in a specific direction, instead what I did was ask them what their interests were, then encouraged them to connect with people already championing those interests (using the web). I think that that is where Citizen 2.0 begins. Citizen 2.0 hinges on the ability to quickly self-organize without involving the government until there is a reason or need to. I actually think that citizen 2.0 is more likely to turn to government as a last resort because it tends to respond slower than other citizens.

However if Government 20 and Citizen 2.0 hinge on web connectivity we need to do something to address the digital divide as it may quickly become the democratic deficit of the 2.0 era.

Posted by Nicholas Charney on 14 December 2009 @ 3pm

However if Government 20 and Citizen 2.0 hinge on web connectivity we need to do something to address the digital divide as it may quickly become the democratic deficit of the 2.0 era.

Absolutely. No matter what form Citizen 2.0 takes, universal internet access will be a requirement. I have a feeling that it may have to be implemented the way universal health care was implemented.

And I don't think the current government is likely to do this.

Posted by TheMadHatter on 14 December 2009 @ 7pm

Like TheMadHatter, I don't think there's an easy answer. Unlike him (her?), I don't think the answer lays in the political arena. There are too many interest groups and individuals with a clear agenda who would seize the opportunity to hijack the agenda no matter how many safeguards are put in place. The vocal minority of the politically-charged citizenry would always skew the results, I'm afraid.

My proposal was specifically aimed at preventing that, which is not in my own self interest, because I'm one of the vocal minority.

I think the area with the most potential is in policy development. You're not necessarily going to get a representative sampling of the population but you will attract engaged and informed citizens (and I would think fewer of the agenda-driven types, though I stand to be corrected on that. I just don't think policy is as sexy as politics to many).

Informed citizens are agenda driven.

Start where there's an established practice you can build on.

There's an opportunity to build on the practice of public consultations by moving things to an open, online forum. The Globe's policy wiki experiment was a good first step but for it to really be meaningful I think it needs to be connected to policy makers.

That would be a step backward. We've been there, done that, with no effect. It's time to move to the next level, and directly hit on the politicians (which I don't expect to be popular with them, but hey, they are our employees).

Good question, though. I hope you get some more input from the folks working on the inside.

It's not the folks on the inside who matter. Citizen 2.0 is about the people on the outside, who need more leverage to get their elected representatives to represent.

Posted by TheMadHatter on 14 December 2009 @ 9pm

I think citizen 2.0 is modelled after the writing of Peter Block in Community. Block argues that a key mindset shift that has to take place is for citizens to take accountability and responsibility for shaping the future that we want for ourselves. Current frameworks of seeing government as a service to be consumed and complained about when we don't get our way, are no longer working.

The accountability and freedom to shape this future is daunting. Government can be one way to make that desired future a reality, but it's not the only way and should be part of a solution, not the only thing.

Posted by danielrose on 15 December 2009 @ 11pm

Interesting points all round, and I think it's clear that my question, being open-ended, has a myriad of interpretations and responses. One thing that comes out of all of it is the ability and importance of people to be engaged, and using the internet to do that.

I wonder if it means anything within government that we are at a point where public servants can have a “following” across the country (via blogs, Twitter) and that conversations like this one and on other blogs can occur between citizens, civil servants, and anyone else who wants to get involved. It strikes me that it's sort of like having a constant public forum, rather than one three-hour session once a year or so to discuss issues that matter to people. I'm in Prince George, BC and I know the names and thoughts of people working in Ottawa, and have significantly more understanding of the importance of their jobs– all thanks to the internet.

On this front, it seems to me that a potential model for “government 2.0” to engage with “citizen 2.0” would be to have online brands, be it a Facebook page, blog, or even a single employees Twitter feed that become de facto gathering places for people interested in various policy points, if for nothing else the exchange of ideas.

Of course, with Joe's comments in mind and a look at the comments on CBC.ca or the Globe and Mail it seems all too likely that this would open itself up to devolution and partisan sniping. Although I would like to add that those sites made the (in my opinion erroneous) decision to let people register under pseudonyms. I notice that Macleans is certainly more civil, and they have the IntenseDebate plugin for comments which, like Disqus on my blog, encourages (or, if you choose to do so, compels) users to log in as “themselves” via a website, Twitter, or Facebook. I think this discourages “trolling” and leads to a more thoughtful debate.

I'm not really sure what my point is and I feel like I'm rambling. I just wanted to point out that I'm mulling over all the points and am hoping they will cohere into something I can share in the future.

Thanks!

Posted by Andrew on 16 December 2009 @ 6pm

Hi Andrew,

I think I have to echo Nick's comments. The tools that are out there allow citizen 2.0 to connect more quickly and effectively than ever before. Find those areas that interest you and tap into them.

In terms of supporting Gov 2.0 “evangelists”, other than telling government what you need as a Canadian citizen, I'm not sure that you should be playing a supporting role. To do so would make all of this, well, self-perpetuating, really. Your focus should be you and gov's focus should be you. So knowing what you need is the ammunition that evangelists need…not to further “their ends”, but to support those who require supporting: citizens 2.0. That's my two cents…

Posted by @TariqPiracha on 17 December 2009 @ 2pm

No more than once a week, promise.


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