Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Citizen Voice and Permeable Government

The Missing Link: Citizen Voice

What became clear to me from writing my previous blog entry, "The Three Forces of Positive, Leaky Government" is that the Government <-> Citizen border is missing a service to manage citizen voice to government. In other words, all three services mentioned previously provide voice for government to citizen. All three services are immensely valuable.

However, the only voice citizens really have is their votes into government which seem to go unheeded. Furthermore, the prospects for improvement of the situations are poor given the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision to allow interference and sabotage of elections by third parties, e.g., big money and foreign corporations. SCOTUS (or at least, five of its nine members) seems to have an agenda of its own in conflict with citizens rights. So citizen voice is essentially being legislated out of the government by SCOTUS.

Meanwhile, citizen data (e.g., voting and issues) demands are being lost at the border to government. They go in at election time, and they largely fail to come back out. I believe we need to capture citizen voice on the way into the government, so that it can be retained in memory. No service that I know of has yet sprung up to manage citizen voice. (And no, the political parties seem to have their own agendas as well.) Yet, citizen voice is among the most important data in a democracy since it addresses elected officials' integrity and the performance of government. So, I hope to see in the future a fourth, complementary category of citizen data management to represent citizen voice to government:
  1. government -> citizens by government (#1 from previous blog entry)
  2. government -> citizens by citizens (#2)
  3. government -> citizens by third party services, e.g., innovative startups (#3)
  4. citizen voice -> government by anyone (new and necessary)
Permeable Government

Citizen voice is crucial. While candidates pay lip service to citizen voice at election time, citizen voice is all too often unheeded after election time. Up to now, unless journalists make an issue of broken promises, politicians generally survive unscathed to get reelected. I believe collecting and applying citizen voice over time would lead to a sea change in government (and a lot of resistance from the political parties et al. as well). So if citizens make requests at election time, that citizen voice data could be collected, managed, and applied beyond election time.

The citizen data is at least as important as the government data --- if nothing else than for accountability of our elected officials. Citizen voice is the obvious missing link of managing data not from government to citizens, but from citizens to government. I believe citizen voice collection would add an extremely valuable asset to the government <-> citizen border. Citizen voice could be among the most valuable assets to come out of Gov20 initiatives.

If citizen voice could be heard, then perhaps Leaky Government could even graduate to Permeable Government.

The Three Forces of Positive, Leaky Government

At @Gov20LA this weekend, Wayne Burke (@WMBurke) hosted a session on "Technology for Citizen Engagement". After some lively discussion, I noticed what seem to be three distinct forces promoting Leaky Government:
  1. Government Open Source technologies to reach and provide services for citizens, e.g., web services.
  2. Citizens using technology to access government, e.g., web sites and mobile app clearing houses for government records, services, or other contacts.
  3. Corporations creating value using openly published local government data in innovative ways, e.g., pothole data and other concrete (pardon) civic issues.
These three categories are broad and overlapping. However, the discussion did tend to polarize due to the separate categories until we broke into informal groups.

Leaky Government

These three poles of categorization cover the border of access to government by citizen. Government Open Source (#1) aims to mobilize government services from government to citizens. Citizens using technology (#2) aims to mobilize access to government services from the citizen side of the divide. Corporate data services (#3) exist along the border to provide new value from existing open data from government to citizen. All three of these approaches increase the leakiness (in a good way) of government service, access, and value to the citizen. I believe what we are seeing is a progression of Leaky Government: the usual control of government is leaking into the citizens hands. Each of the three categories provides an important role to increase government service, access, and value. And each is governed by a different entity: government, citizens, and (largely) innovative startups (e.g., SeeClickFix.com).

Monday, February 8, 2010

@Gov20LA: The Grundfest Manifesto: Start With Clear, Jargon-Free Communication

@Gov20LA_: In response to Mark's Cheeky Posterous blog critique of communications session advice.

I look at the Bill Grundfest (@BillGrundfest) & Alan Silverberg (@You2Gov) recommendation to drop jargon and speak plainly as inspired for Gov20LA. Any activist can lose their message in jargon. Often it takes many attempts to create a workable message. Then it can take many attempts to cross the chasm to the customers who need the message most, e.g., the electorate. If information and communication were perfect, we would not have entire industries based on them.
So I see the Grundfest Manifesto more as practical insight from his TV and screenwriting experience: first, make an elevator pitch.
I never heard Grundfest mention "elevator pitch" (probably because it's screenwriting jargon), but the pitch is what it takes to get in the door in screenwriting which has some of the same cutthroat and passive aggressive qualities as politics: no producer wants to waste their own time or say No to any screenwriter, but neither does any producer want to miss a good thing. So screenwriters need to give producers a quick one-liner taste (elevator pitch) of their story. The jargon-free elevator pitch is the door opener.
So I believe producer Bill Grundfest and Gov20LA organizer Alan Silverberg are just being realistic about communication in screenwriting... and politics. Drop the jargon, and find the elevator pitch for Gov20(LA). Define Gov20 in language that resonates. Jargon-free is an important and inspired message to help define the movement now, rather than later when poor communication habits could make any jargon harder to shrug off.