In a recent interview on KQED’s “California Report,” Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom—who boldly announced his run for his current position via Twitter in 2010—makes a clear point: Technology is used in campaigns, but there’s no technology-spurred civic engagement after the election is over.
His new book, “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government” (co-written by Lisa Dickey), explores that disconnect and how government and, more importantly, everyday citizens can work to fill that gap.
“One thing I’ve learned the hard way is a top-down hierarchical one-way conversation with my customers is no longer relevant in the world they’re living in and we’re living in,” Newsom said in the interview. “And that’s coming the way of government; we’ve got to wake up to reality.”
According to the Lt. Governor, state government has a way to go despite making progress, as it still operates under a “vending machine” system, meaning we put in our taxes and get out our services. Rather than fixing this machine—which frustrates citizens—Newsom writes that we should throw it out all together:
“The cloud is ubiquity, access, sharing, collaboration, connection…This is how our twenty-first-century government must operate…it gives power to the people, which is the first crucial step in moving away from the top-down, bureaucratic, hierarchical government that’s choking our democracy today.”
Here’s what Newsom might now view as a step in the right direction: Later this year, California’s Office of Technology (OTech) will provide two cloud service offerings: a private cloud to be located on the data center’s raised floor in Sacramento and Vacaville; and a public cloud (shared data) to be located on the vendor’s raised floor. Both services will be vendor-supplied and vendor-supported, but managed by OTech, which released a Request For Information (RFI), the first step in the formal proposal process, in February.
With a focus on government transparency, use of the cloud and open data are the two big innovations discussed in “Citizenville,” which includes interviews with 68 luminaries in the tech world—mostly from the private sector.
He suggests citizens take matters into their own hands by innovating new technologies. He uses Keyhole, bought by Google Earth in 2004, as a prime example. The company used government data—images captured by government satellites—to create a hugely successful commercial project. Millions of dollars were generated, jobs were created, and consumers got a useful project.
He lists the benefits of opening up government data in a clear way. It will: “(1) create more trust in government, (2) provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, and (3) create jobs. The fourth benefit: Open data empowers people.”
But before data is released, he says government must make sure it is findable, standardized, trustworthy and created with a narrative to it so that people can relate to it and use it.
On procurement—which he likens to an old boy’s network—Newsom says this: “Government doesn’t have to create everything; it just has to let others create it.”
An example he uses to show the need for this: There’s no clear feedback loop for government agencies. Citing Yelp as a powerful example of effective user-generated feedback, he suggests creating something like a RateMyDMV.com as an example of how constituents and consumers can provide input and connect with one another to spur improvements.
Ultimately, “Citizenville” has a clear theme threaded throughout its pages: With progress brings hope and promise for a more efficient participatory-style democracy as well as real job creation. It has been widely praised during just its first month in stores.
This article was featured in the spring issue of Techwire Magazine.