18 June 2014

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Duke of Wellington later commented that … “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.”

The success of government, the extent to which a society is engaged, depends largely on understanding what is at the other side of the hill.

Governing.com carries a story about boosting open data mechanisms, the tools for social engagement, into real connections between people and their societies. The technology bandwagon – the numerous online processes for ‘repairing potholes’ – has had little impact on building community involvement. Distrust in the role and purpose of government has not diminished. “Finding ways to regain that trust and to show citizens the value of government services has become more important ….”  The theory is that making things more visible and engaging to citizens will raise the level of trust people have in government.

“One of the key barriers to getting more people to engage civically is the lack of transparency. Once people see how you are engaging — whether it’s writing blogs about improving neighborhoods or using Citizens Connect to report problems or attending community meetings — it will encourage others to engage and behave in similar fashion.”

The article reports on a research framework that will identify what works and what doesn’t when it comes to civic technologies; what social behaviour needs to change, how can change be measured, and how is success tested? The author describes some of the apps that may make a difference.

Street Cred is an app that will allow people to accrue a score for their civic reputation based on their activities that are visible to others. Another is aimed at building deeper trust between parents and schools. The hope is that it will influence the way parents think about their children’s schools and help them make more informed choices about education. Where’s My School Bus is another app which may have the effect of strengthening trust and confidence.

“…Finding out what makes people engaged with and trusting of their governments is very serious. Trust in government has been dropping for some time and … reversing that trend is extremely important.

“Everything from resilience to health and economic vitality of a city is tied to how well people are engaged,…It’s in everyone’s best interests to encourage people to report their concerns and become engaged. We want to encourage that behaviour.”