Public service web: moving towards civic innovation and participation
I've been working with a group of web service people from all over the public service in the UK, from education to Local Authorities, health boards to city facilities services. The main message: citizens need to be able to participate more in their online civic world.
The message ties in with work at the RSA, LTS and other public sector projects. Civic innovation needs to flourish, but with our current attitudes to information gatekeeping and fear of handing the speaking stick to citizens this will not happen any time soon in the front garden of the public service organisations themselves. Even where appearances would seem to indicate a desire from our most senior civic leaders to participate in discussion with the citizen, we can see from the lack of linkage between one blog post and another, and the lack of conversation in those 182 pages of comments, that we are seeing a real Meatball Sundae - the cream's on top, but nothing has changed underneath. The result? The number of us wanting to participate in a discussion online with our leaders is diminishing. Fast. Instead, we will have to be savvy webusers who know of the existence of those other ways into the halls of power. Give me Bill Marriott's real leader's communication any day.
I try to show where our citizens have come to in recent years, from the simple act of uploading a 'silly video' to YouTube, to participating in the coverage of a concert or an event, to being highly creative in remixing content for different purposes and using the social web to coordinate smart democracy mobs. I showed how volunteer computing and the world of Alternate Reality Games had changed the nature of participation, from 'press the red button' to something much more profound, where 'consumers' really were the ones in charge of the TV show (think, I Love Bees). It's not just for entertainment or play: scientists are harnessing group thinking power and computer power to channel scientific data, find extra terrestrial life and make the world a better place.
Key to this, for the public sector, is working out where they stand in relation to their 'secret' information and the public/private relationships they have with their citizens.
Hopefully a few seeds have been sown in the minds of these web pros, from this enthusiastic amateur. I am, after all, first and foremost a citizen that wants to participate more in his civic (online) life, but who currently can't.