Washington attorney Ramsey Ramerman, who has been mentioned here before, has a very useful column in the current issue of the Association of Washington Cities magazine. I’d call this required reading for anyone dipping into, or currently immersed in, the waters of social media. If you know someone who is a candidate for office, be sure to give this to the person because they would not normally get the magazine. Both Ramsey and the AWC are to be commended for compiling and presenting this material.
Among the highlights:
Mostly during vacation, I shut down thinking about digital democracy. But not all the time. What I heard during vacation was the soundtrack of digital democracy: full citizen participation and steady progress.
And this soundtrack, like those recordings you hear of whales or dolphins in the water, comes from nature.
This is where we find out who has been snorkeling and who hasn’t. I snorkeled for the first time only about a year ago. I was mystified not by something I saw, but something I heard.
In some areas, you dip your head into the water, and you hear … crunching.
The water conveys sound broadly and disperses soundly widely. So when you hear something under water, it can be difficult to pinpoint a location. What I heard during that first time snorkeling was crunching, coming from everywhere.
Turns out it was. This is the sound of creatures like the parrotfish (and assorted critters like them, but let’s pick on the parrotfish for simplicity). What the parrotfish does is pretty amazing. He or she wanders the bottom, and bites coral and rock. He or she extracts the living matter, and then gets rid of the crunched material.
That makes what we call sand. One parrotfish, with his or her tiny mouthfuls, makes hundreds of pounds of sand a year.
Now that’s an accomplishment.
So what’s this got to do with democracy? Suppose for a moment that the conduct of public policy is as important as eating. Maybe it’s not that important, but just suppose. People have to get along somehow. So do fish. Notice how the fish approach the Herculean task of eating and generating sand.
You will notice that the fish in a cove do not sit back and elect seven other fish to do the chewing for them.
They don’t elect a city council of fish to go out and do the chewing and be responsible for handing out the food.
The fish in the cove also don’t sit back and let a few other fish activists do all the work.
Nope. The cove reverberates with the sound of hundreds or thousands of fish, all chewing.
That’s what digital democracy on the Internet should be. It shouldn’t be blips of posts and dialogue from council members, from staff, from just a few individual citizens who happen to know how to Tweet or post. There should be a way, someday, for a digital dashboard to light up, or sound off, to measure massive citizen participation: Not just the participation of a few.
And that’s the trick for Gov 2.0 and digital democracy. What forms of hardware, software and public practices will take us to a digital democracy as participatory as that of the conduct of the parrot fish? Can’t we rise to their standard?
I recently asked a bunch of folks how they are getting information about a particular topic when they don’t read newspapers. Not that long ago, the answer used to be news websites and blogs; more and more, the answer is, Twitter.
It makes sense. In a lot of the circles where I run, including elected officials, people unfamiliar with the service think it’s all about people Tweeting what they ate for breakfast. Well, it sometimes is. But Twitter also allows people to exchange links. When I look back, I’m amazed at the amount of information I’ve taken over the transom via Twitter. It’s yet another reason elected officials should sign up and listen, not only about their communities but other topics of interest.
That’s my way of introducing a broad theme that I write thanks to all this information, Hints of the Future. Each of these sites are a sign of something that’s bound to grow and develop. I found some of these sites via Twitter messages, and some through good ol’ fashioned blogs.
Online City Council: This just floors me. You can send a Twitter message or post to Facebook a *part* of a council meeting that might interest people. There’s a nice overview about the significance of this site here.
Why would this ability come in handy? It’s a lot more significant than breakfast. This is all about informing and involving people. In my town, for example, we had a political dispute about some folks who didn’t want to fund social services programs that serve Latinos and gay people. This is an incredibly shocking discussion for this century. But almost no one knew about the situation because we don’t have a community print newspaper. We just have a big metro daily that strains under declining staff numbers to report anything, and a local news blog that can’t afford a reporting staff. It would have been amazing to be able to send out a Tweet saying, ‘Hey, watch this broadcast.’ I bet we would have got some public feedback.
Idea exchanges: If someone asks me what Government 2.0 would look like in, say, a year, I think of a site like this. People exchanging ideas. That’s what it’s all about. I found this site by way of a Tweet, like described earlier, from Seattle tech whiz Bill Schrier.
Reacting to change: I am fascinated with how big ol’ staid government reacts to change. Here’s something found on Twitter, a story about a city that decided to ban access to Facebook. Expect to see a lot on this subject in coming months as governments try to decide how to interact with the public via Facebook. I am liking it more and more because it’s one place where you don’t get anonymous comments.
Good models: Several Twitter posts let the world know about model websites such as one from Virginia Beach. More and more websites are going to look like the sites listed at that link, and push the limits of providing service and information. Thanks to Twitter, one can know about these model sites now and see not only the present but a brighter future.
That’s long enough but there are plenty of other examples of great sites that one can learn about via Twitter. One can expect more and more services to spring up to aggregate and sort through the raging floods of Twitter posts today. For now, most elected officials as a baseline will want to monitor what’s being said in and about their community. I’ve got a post on my own council website on how listening via Twitter led me to convey a citizen concern. One can expect more and more communities and elected officials will take advantage of these tools to better serve citizens.