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Of the People, By the People and For the People – Online

Originally published May 15, 2013

There has been much talk about how the latest advances in technology, especially social media and mobile devices, are altering our reality. They are changing everything, from the way we buy goods and services to how we educate our children, how we interact with family and friends, and even how we choose our future partners. Less has been discussed in relation to how these same phenomena are substantially transforming the way we govern ourselves and hence the nature of the relationship between the people and their government.

Now we can read a lot more in the ACT-IAC Paper entitled Empowering Citizen-Driven Government through Collaboration and Service Delivery,* which intends to point out directions and recommendations to the new Obama Administration.

My very first article as the Government Channel Expert for the BeyeNETWORK, almost ten years ago (7/8/2004), was titled “Citizen Relationship Management (ZRM).” Interestingly enough, at that time we were already discussing the significant number of individuals starting to deal with their governments online. Back then those interactions went from directory searches and queries about the weather to filing tax returns and paying traffic tickets. It was clear then that the die had been cast and that ZRM was going to play a big role in the interrelationship between the governed and their government.

That was, of course, before TIME Magazine named “you” as its Person of the Year for 2006. This was the other shoe dropping as that publication clearly saw the advent of the individual as a protagonist on the Net, rather than as a passive observer. In other words, ZRM was not going to be a one-way phenomenon. It was going to be a two-way street. And that precisely, citizen-driven government, is the topic at hand.

Evidently not all citizens are prone to interact with government in the same way and to the same extent. Depending on their needs, their points of view and their inclinations on technology, there will be certain gradations. Hence, both interfaces and approaches will vary. The ACT-IAC paper addresses this reality by identifying three major constituencies that they have called citizen partners, citizen advocates and citizen consumers. These are defined below:

Citizen Partners: Those who will work with government to accomplish the country’s goals more efficiently and effectively. Their theme could be perceived as “making society better together.”

Citizen Advocates: Any unified group willing to engage government through virtually any means in order to augment, improve, complete, disrupt or otherwise alter the course of services, legislation and policies.  Think of their role as “using the power of communities of interest to bring about change.”

Citizen Consumers: Those who expect a quality of service through a use of technology that equals or exceeds that of the private sector. Their modus operandi could be characterized as “engagement by needs or events.”
In the context of our nation, we know the importance of the constitutionally mandated decennial census. It is at the root of our representative democracy since it is this count that determines the apportionment of representatives in Congress by state. At the same time, we must periodically review and revise procedures when the reality of technology starts to point to a better way. While we are not suggesting a constitutional amendment to do away with the decennial census, the reality is that we need much more frequent counts of our demographic distribution in order to assist us in determining where to build schools, roads or hospitals, as well as to decide how to reapportion federal funding addressing health care, education or transportation to the states that make up our republic. The American Community Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, in effect keeps the pulse on the nation’s demographics on an almost continuous basis. Technology enables it, and we are all the better for it.

From the point of view of direct citizen interactions with government, there are many interesting programs at the federal level that are being used with positive results.

The paper points to a range of examples popular with the citizen partners including: 1) SeeClickFix.com, a service for local governments where “citizens take pictures of potholes, broken hydrants and other deficiencies and text them to a central repository;” and 2) The Code for America project that “enables citizen participation through ‘hack-a-thons’ and fellowships for talented individuals.”

Citizen advocates are holding their own through initiatives like the very visible and highly popular Data.gov launched early in the first Obama administration. It has allowed citizens to become “change agents” by using government data to develop applications addressing environmental, health care and veterans’ needs. Another forum for citizen advocate engagement featured is the White House’s online petition site, We the People, that “bridges the gap between formal participation through lobbyist groups and informal exchanges, such as Twitter.”

Citizen consumers also have their own examples of initiatives catering to their needs. One of them is the online community for small business owners created by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). It is singled out as a solid example of citizen engagement that can be used as a model for other applications.  The paper notes how on this site “small business owners collaborate, get answers to questions and find helpful tips and access tools that help them complete their desired action instead of muddling through pages of content.”

Likewise the paper notes that “citizens consume government services both directly by applying for permits or passports and indirectly by leveraging data created during the course of government business or through the physical and digital infrastructure supported by the government.” In this context, there are many examples from different agencies that empower the citizen by enabling self-service online. Furthermore, the National Broadband Initiative is singled out as an example “a unique crowd sourcing system sponsored by the FCC to measure and collect broadband speeds throughout America.” The results from many of these findings can be seen in the Department of Commerce’s National Broadband Map.

ACT-IAC proposes many recommendations that it hopes the new Administration will pay heed to in order to facilitate and advance citizen engagement with its government. Among them are the following:
  • Create defined standards of commitment and performance.

  • Develop a key indicator presentation of information.

  • Involve citizens in the formation and evaluation of data sets.

  • Move to two-way communication with citizens.

  • Create digital windows to government for business.

  • Create secure digital windows to government for citizens.
There are already some fascinating models from abroad. The April 10, 2013 New York Times ran an article titled “Online, Latvians’ Ideas Can Bloom into Law.” The piece points to ManaBalss.lv, a Latvian website whose name translates to “My Voice,” where any citizen can go online to create a parliamentary bill. Furthermore, the Latvian parliament has now ruled that “initiatives that gather 10,000 signatures from citizens 16 or older must be taken up by Parliament.” As a result, “…about 600,000 people, a number roughly equivalent to a fourth of the Latvian population, have visited the site, where 500 initiatives have been listed.” They also note that to date seven of those initiatives have reached the 10,000 signature threshold.

There are clearly issues to be addressed, as the ACT-IAC paper points out, in terms of capability to deliver organizational readiness, human capital/culture and success metrics. But it is clear that the movement is positive. In paraphrasing Abe Lincoln in our title for this article, we are suggesting that all this is good for democracy. That technology has now reached the point where we might aspire to a government “of the people, for the people and by the people” that is primarily technology mediated.


* This is one of six articles addressing the six papers offering input to the new administration that resulted from the Quadrennial Government Technology Review (QGTR) commissioned by the ACT-IAC Institute for Innovation. The American Council for Technology (ACT) - Industry Advisory Council (IAC) is a non-profit educational organization and a unique public-private partnership dedicated to helping government use technology to serve the public. (www.actgov.org) The QGTR initiative’s purpose was “to take a strategic look at the role that technology can play in achieving federal government objectives and missions.” More information can be obtained at http://www.actgov.org/quadrennial.

A Steering Committee provided guidance and governance to the QGTR and the papers were prepared by teams drawn from IAC member companies.

Empowering Citizen-Driven Government through Collaboration and Service Delivery was prepared by the following team:
Adam Coonin, Hitachi Consulting (Member)
Joshua DeLung, ENC Strategy (Editor)
Mike Dunham, Casewise (Member)
Megan Dunn, Ambit Group (Marketing Communications Liaison)
Amy Fadida, A.M. Fadida Consulting (member)
Christina Frederick, Sapient (Topic Lead)
Sieglinde Gooding, Vocus (Member)
Jay Handley, ICFi (member)
Karina Homme, Salesforce.com (Member)
Jay Huie (Member)
Naveen Krishnamurthy, Riva Solutions Inc. (Member)
Jeffrey Smith, Baker Tilley Virchow Krause LLP (Member)
Jon Stephenson, Marketwire/Sysomos (Member)
Montressa Washington, IBM (Member)
All six papers can be downloaded from the following link: http://www.actgov.org/quadrennial

SOURCE: Empowering Citizen-Driven Government through Collaboration and Service Delivery

SOURCE: Of the People, By the People and For the People – Online

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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