How connected do you feel to your local government? Survey after survey show that people not only want a better idea of what our elected leaders are doing, but they want a two way street where their voices are also heard.
To help bridge the gap, the New America Foundation has launched a special project called the California Civic Information Project (CCIP).
CCIP director Alissa Black says it will bring together technology, policy, data, and civic engagement to forge and strengthen connections between governments and their communities. Then, it will showcase ideas that are working in communities throughout the state.
“Local governments really impact the quality of life of all of us,” Black told the CA Fwd Radio Show. “Creating a two way dialogue between residents and government is essential for our cities to become more inclusive and representative of the people they’re actually governing.”
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California Forward Policy Director Richard Raya said technology and data can help get us to a better place.
“Confidence in our government is at an all-time low, and need for government services and direction is at an all-time high,” Raya said. “Data provides the transparency needed to restore confidence and drive solutions.”
Several California cities have already taken it upon themselves to utilize technology to foster deeper engagement with their communities.
One example involves including residents in the budgeting process. Participatory budgeting “allows people to really focus on the quality of life and see where their taxpayer dollars are going within their community,” said Black.
In addition, the city of Davis created a Wiki with all manner of government informnation freely available. “It’s completely outside of what local government is doing, but the city’s website didn’t meet their needs,” said Black. “Let’s get that stood up for other communities throughout the state.”
At the end of the day, the more trust people have in the process, the more they will participate, but right now, “there’s a mistrust of how government is representing (people’s) interests. But, there’s also a mistrust with the ability of the community to actually contribute to the decision-making process.”
Raya said technology can help alleviate some of that mistrust. “Data and technology allow for transparency – let the public know what’s being accomplished and how.”
But, both Black and Raya warn that technology is not a panacea.
“Technology has helped to a huge degree in communicating with our elected officials,” said Black. But, often, officials do not communicate back. “One-way communications don’t leave people feeling fulfilled.”
“Facebook & Twitter are great tools. But, it’s still going to take good, old fashioned human organizing and humans showing up, so they can actually influence the process,” Raya said.
The big power of social media, said Black, is that it allows you to reach more people than simple face-to-face communications.
Both Raya and Black worked within government and found they could create more change from the outside.
“My dream is that government gets back to the community level,” Raya said. “I want everyone to demand more of their government. It’s 2012 – there’s no excuse for us not to be able to track that, so we should demand it.”
“Government needs to learn to take more risks and experiment more, so we can get to a place where it’s running efficiently, using the latest technology to connect with all of its residents,” said Black. And, the people need to “become better citizens – be involved with our community. Making community decisions requires the community to show up.”\
Gina Baleria is a communications manager at California Forward