Virtual town halls? San Mateo County makes it a reality

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

California is a global leader in innovation. The Golden State is home to creative entrepreneurs, world-class companies, leading universities and premier research institutions. It’s only natural that cities and counties, up and down the state, embrace technology to engage and communicate with their citizens.

Such is the case in San Mateo County with its new website, San Mateo Speak Out.

“It’s not anything that breaks new ground here. All governments continue to search for more and better ways to communicate with their citizens. We’ve been actively involved in how we use technology and social media to better engage the public and the work of county government,” said John Maltbie, County Manager.

Speak Out, which launched earlier this year, is a virtual town hall where the County can educate citizens about certain projects, decisions and other county business. It’s also a platform where citizens can share their thoughts and ideas on how they want the County to move forward.

For instance, in November, voters approved a half cent increase in sales tax for seven years.

“We used Speak Out to ask how the money should be spent and we got a lot of responses. In fact, we used a number of those ideas. With this issue, citizens can go online and see where we are in terms of our performance metrics on a specific program or project.”

So far, more than 21,000 people have used the site.

“I’ve learned, not unexpectedly, in a county with more than 750,000 people, there are a lot of different interests, even if it involves just a few people, you can have a very rich, active discussion. One of the great benefits of modern technology, you can do it on the micro-level and you can do it on the macro-level. We have to be prepared to explore both,” said Maltbie.

This year, the County adopted an open data platform as part of their aggressive plan to continue engaging citizens. Part of that initiative was launching the County Open Checkbook.

 “We need to use a number of different tools in connection with Speak Out,” said Matlbie. “Speak Out is just one of a variety of tools we are going to use in the future to try and engage citizens in

Building trust with their community has become priority number one for San Mateo County and creating transparency and accountability is a good start.

“By making data available and making people the opportunity to engage with us and the data, we think that people will not only be better informed but be involved in major policy decisions, financial decisions that we can really use to generate a real honest dialogue about what kind of County do we want to be, how do we want to pay for that, what role do citizens have, what expectations of their government do they have.”


Cheryl Getuiza

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