Ever since Tim O’Reilly captured our imagination with the term “Government 2.0,” the world has scrambled to understand its true meaning. Some dismissed the idea as a passing fad. But much like Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative, it moved us toward an ideal. Early Gov 2.0 efforts sought to define this concept and understand how it could alter the reinvention of government. Since Gov 2.0 is grounded in Web 2.0 technology, startups and traditional companies explored how they could fit into the grand scheme of things. The concept was given a boost when politicians as high ranking as President Obama challenged governments to enhance civic engagement. Could we turn even large cities like Singapore, Boston, or Seattle into communities whose citizens have a strong role in shaping the future?
Gov 2.0 is driving this generation’s version of “reinventing government.” Concepts like transparency, accountability, and open data are all being explored, but the strongest movement impacting our daily lives on a personal level is the rise of citizen engagement. So far, it focuses primarily on leveraging social technologies to connect governments with their constituents. It’s being driven by those looking to disrupt government in the name of progress, including technology startups, social activists, non-profit organizations, and businesses seeking a competitive edge.
The platform for Gov 2.0 is geographic information systems (GIS) technology – the same technology cities and counties use to build map data, perform analyses, and increase operational efficiency. Projects throughout the world have already demonstrated GIS’s ability to engage citizens. Many civic leaders reacted to the concept of citizen engagement tools with concern that they would just open up government to more criticism. When Gov 2.0 applications began to prove their effectiveness, leaders’ concerns shifted toward what they perceived as a high cost of implementation. Now, they’re realizing that engaging the public through these tools may just be the catalyst for solving key challenges they can’t otherwise resolve via tax-funded efforts. Today, citizen engagement applications enhance a variety of government-citizen interactions involving public information, requests for service, public reporting, citizen as a sensor, unsolicited public comment, and even volunteerism. I suspect these are just the beginning stages of geo-centric citizen engagement.