Restoring trust in government
The growing distrust and poor image associated with government continue. As a result, I see citizens asking more and more questions of their government and wanting leaders to hear their voices. The citizens I hear are speaking loudly and growing in number. They want to know how their tax dollars are being allocated. They want to find out if corruption in a neighboring jurisdiction is also happening in their backyards. In the absence of effective government forums, disruptive apps are providing a place for these citizens to communicate with each other.
On the other hand, there are those who question whether the need is real. Colleagues have said to me, “Citizens really do not want to participate in government. They elect individuals to take care of their communities so they do not have to think about it.” Others add that citizen engagement is a nuisance that will increase workloads and raise expectations. These same groups view soliciting public input as providing more ways for citizens to complain.
Perhaps I am becoming tainted by the company I have been keeping lately, but the reality is that citizens want to know whether government is going to be there when and where they want to interact. Diminishing is the notion that government can get by with merely communicating information to citizens without providing an effective way for them to respond. Delivering transparency, accountability, and engagement to citizens can provide an opportunity to restore trust in government; however, that no longer means just hiring someone to do the job. Instead, it is about providing the opportunity for others to validate or comment when the need arises or a passion is stirred. Worldwide, governments are grappling with how to achieve this openness.
It is clear that there are many options, ranging from information websites to town hall meetings to social media, that can be used to meet the demand for more transparency and accountability. The question becomes, “Which is the most effective?” Even with all these choices, governments are turning to the GIS technology that they have had in their organizations for years. Governments in places such as Singapore, Boston, New York, Corpus Christi, and San Francisco have seen great success and proved that citizens respond positively to location-centric civic engagement apps because they show how government activity relates to people in their communities. GIS provides a transparent solution that engages citizens, demonstrates accountability, and fosters collaboration. However, we are beginning to see a bit of a slowdown as the process becomes more bureaucratic.
The proof and technology exist to create a more open government, however, the debate continues.