With state and local governments in a tax crunch, small towns often don't have the resources they need to provide -- in a traditional way, at least -- the services they must offer their residents. Here's how the cloud can help.
By John F. Moore, contributor
As founder of The Lab I have the opportunity to work in multiple roles in Government 2.0. As I wrote in my last article, It's time for a new version of government:
“There are more than 80,000 local governments in the United States. Very few of these cities, probably less than 0.1% of them, are yet able to point to any positive change as a result of government 2.0 initiatives. In the majority of cases the changes are occurring in large cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, not in the small and mid-sized towns/cities where the majority of our citizens live. In many cases education, the cost of technology and the lack of awareness are the problems holding back change.”<!-- more -->
There are, however, examples of small towns taking a strategic approach to government to achieve measurable results. Manor, Texas, a town of approximately 6500 citizens, is one such town. I spoke with Dustin Haisler, Assistant City Manager and CIO of Manor, in June, and asked him about what motivated the town to begin to embrace government 2.0 innovations. He said:
“The City of Manor’s motivation to embrace Gov 2.0 principles came out of significant budgetary constraints that were beginning to impact our ability to serve our constituents. Manor does not have a significant tax base, yet we do have 6,500 people we must provide service to on a daily basis. As a city, we knew we could not afford to buy the industry solutions -- and financing technology just did not make sense, so we went another direction and began to innovate.”
In other words, change was not motivated for the sake of change alone. Instead, a desire to maintain and improve services, in spite of tight financial constraints, led Manor to innovate, to think outside of the proverbial box. While technology has played a clear role in this change, technology alone would have failed in Manor, and in any other town or city. Instead, cities must be willing to take a strategic view. That starts with an obvious but overlooked point: Everyone -- city leaders, residents, contractors -- has to buy-in to make this work.
Town, and city, managers are focused on the bottom line, ensuring that services are maintained to the extent that revenues allow. To achieve buy-in:
- Speak the language of the manager and explain how proposed changes will result in cost savings for your town.
- Be able to explain to the manager, and key elected officials, how changes will benefit the citizens in your town. They must be able to make this case as well, help them.
- If technology changes are being requested explain in very simple terms how the new technologies will achieve the goals you have defined.
The introduction of new processes and technologies will be met by confusion and frustration by some portion of municipal employees. They will worry about losing their jobs, having to learn new programs, and most of all, they will worry about change. That's why it's so important to work them early and often in the process -- the employees are still needed to make government work, after all. They can be, if they are treated well during the process of change, the biggest advocates for adopting Government 2.0 practices in running a local government.
In Manor, for example, citizens can use their computers to participate in all kinda of aspects of local government. They can sponsor the town's innovation efforts by purchasing items from an Amazon wish list, they can submit and vote upon ideas for local improvements, and they can report non-emergency issues related to roads, water, and more. Active citizens are given multiple outlets to participate and the results are increased trust through transparency and communication as well as real cost savings.
Towns and cities throughout the world are also using live video streams to share town meetings so that people outside of the meeting itself can be involved. Departments of Transportation employees are tweeting and texting traffic updates and receiving updates in return from drivers on the road. Two-way communication, involving citizens, employees, politicians, and journalists is critical to break down barriers and save money.
Understand and addressing the digital divide
As Alan Silberberg notes in his recent article regarding the digital divide: "Here in the U.S. no Government 2.0 program should be funded without addressing the Digital Divide access issues, or at least examining alternative information distribution methods." Approximately 78% citizens in the United States have internet access, more have mobile access. Programs must always be developed in a manner that ensures the intended audience is enfranchised, not left out, thanks to technology.
To create change people must understand what is possible. While this is by no means a complete list, there are great sources available, including:
- GovLoop.com, billed as the social network for government. This community is filled with educational articles, blogs, ongoing discussions and is a place anyone interested in government should be involved.
- Conferences like CityCamp, focused on innovation at the municipal level.
- Top rate journalism from resources like Alex Howard at O’Reilly. See this article, How local governments are using technology to deliver smarter government, as one example.
- Guides, like this one from Dustin Haisler, a Guide for City Makeovers.
- Some States have created excellent resources like this one from Massachusetts on Social Media Guidance & Best Practices.
If government 2.0 is something you're working on, stay tuned for my next post -- with even more details on how to spur change in government.
-- John Moore is founder of The Lab, which works on Government 2.0, a citizen-centric philosophy and strategy that believes the best results are usually driven by partnerships between citizens and government. Government 2.0 achieves goals through increased efficiency, better management, information transparency, and citizen engagement and most often leverages newer technologies to achieve the desired outcomes.