If you attended the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) annual conference this week, then you know citizen engagement is becoming a growing theme in local government. Why? Well, for one thing, with limited resources it makes sense to tap into the community when so many are willing to play a role. And cultivating data is a great place to start. Governments have so much data; more than they know what to do with or have the bandwidth to analyze. The concept of open data is to provide transparency and create an environment of “open government”. Data can hold many thought-provoking discoveries for educative purposes. All it takes is the right people to unleash its powers.
Take the City of Boston for example. They encourage their residents to take an active role in bettering their neighborhoods and community with the City of Boston Open Government site. One really cool project they are piloting is something called “Street Bump”, created through the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Street Bump is an innovative app that actually counts the number of bumps you hit on your commute through your phone. Residents are the ones collecting the data and serving it up to the Mayor’s office. Think of how much more efficient the app is than taking complaint calls about pot holes. The city can actually proactively go out and fix the problem.
Now this brings us to the question of can citizens and government employees work together? Employees are public servants who are paid to serve the community. And citizens are recipients of these services, whether good or bad. But when it comes down to it, the community is what they both care about. So why couldn’t they work together to make it better? The answer is, they can, and they are! As Beth Simone Novack, founder and director of the Governance Lab, said during her keynote presentation at the ICMA 99th Annual Conference, “Local government staffs have jobs that allow them to do work that matters. Most citizens want to do things that matter too. Data availability offers them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution”.
Government employees are in a unique position to partner up with citizens to use data to bring solutions to real problems. Keep your eyes open for more amazing things coming out of the move towards greater citizen engagement.
To read more about open data/open government and Beth Simone Novack’s keynote session, visit: Smart Communities and the Opportunities of Big Data