Sunday, January 25, 2009

Community Involvement

So I'm preparing for my interview with ZenBiz radio. I was approached by Bruce Stewart because of my activity in using social media in community based initiatives. I believe society is just getting going with using the internet as the platform for citizen led electronic government initiatives. There is a lot going on in this space right now, and the "coronation" of President Obama has really legitimized citizens being able to ask for openness and transparency (municipal, regional and national) and for this information to be available as an API via the internet. Bruce asked that I have a quiet space and a landline for the interview. He also let me know I should expect questions in four themes. This post is my preparation for this interview.

1) Who am I, my relevant background

I would say the biggest impact upon why I am becoming increasingly involved with citizen based initiatives is a value given to me by my parents. Its the value of leaving somewhere in a better state than when you arrived. In general, I just don't see the "collective" we doing that. I believe if we increase citizen participation in caring for our neighborhoods and localizing our needs then we will be much more sustainable. I also believe government transparency will assist in this considerably.
I also believe my technology and educator background combined with my work with Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) have also influenced me. I think my work with ICT4D has influenced me in how I think the "collective" we (in the developed world) expect to much. To be blunt I think in the west we have become lazy and are overly entitled. Its time we collectively stopped consuming so much and started being more grateful for what we have and put back.
Lastly, I believe this YouTube presentation by Hans Rosling really taught me the importance of access to data and the social change it can assist.

I am involved with citizen based electronic government because I believe;

  1. Citizen based initiatives are more sustainable

  2. The developed world needs to give more back (or take much, much less)

  3. Government transparency will be created from the grassroots
2) What I am doing regarding e-Gov't on Bowen Island (BOWEGOV)

With these beliefs what am I doing about it? When I reflect, I'm doing a fair amount. I continue as a contributor and council member for WikiEducator, and this experience has taught me a lot about self-organization. I am continually assisting organizations to be successful with social media, organizational learning and technology architecture. I have brought my understanding of all these things together by initiating the use of BOWEGOV as a tag / hashtag to tie everyone's work together. As with any community there are a lot of differences among the different people, groups, neighborhoods, etc. What else would you expect!?! I felt if we chose a social media (web2.0) approach that was technology agnostic and was platform independent it would have greater appeal. So with tagging people can use the client side tools (Mac, PC, Nokia, iPhone, Browser, Linux, Etc, Etc.) they want without the whole thing getting tied to a single technology platform (Wiki, Blog, Drupal, WordPress, MediaWiki, Google, Etc, Etc.). After some discussion with others we came up with the idea that the internet is the platform. So we're not tied to any single platform and as the internet evolves, innovates and improves so do we.

3) Reaction from the powers that be

The short answer, there has been no reaction. So far this initiative is only starting. We have contacted a couple of council members and had social conversations with the mayor about BOWEGOV tagging. Its a small town of 4000 so these conversations happen. I think it is way too early to expect any traction. The idea of using social media for government really got started around the same time as Obama became a democratic candidate Though their is earlier evidence of this, it really didn't get traction/acceptance till Obama. And the conceptual learning curve is steep for people indoctrinated into traditional forms of governing. I have sent an email to our municipal council (see related post). I think this email will be most useful to refer back to in a Kolb kind of a way. I believe the learning has started... when it gets traction is the unknown.

Recently I have been seeking ways to coordinate citizen based approaches in preparation to meeting with the powers that be. I think this needs to be a good experience in a more coordinated way. In my seeking I have found the visible government website. I really like how they describe themselves; is a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to promoting the planning, funding, and implementation of online tools for government transparency in Canada.
The visible government group has also recently hosted change camps to get local groups to start working toward this initiative. There will be a change camp in Vancouver on 28 March 2009. I believe all this work in creating transparency to government will have an impact. Even upon our local municipal government(s).

4) Citizenship involvement

On bowen Island we are fortunate in that we have a number of citizens active and involved in the community. And a lot of the efforts are toward influencing local politics (though this could be for better or worse). I believe it is a part of living in a smaller community. I do see it increasingly important that citizens start doing more for their neighborhoods. I believe that our current expectations for what our governments will provide is unsustainable. I believe citizens need to let go of government even sustaining the current levels of service. Services are going to become increasingly expensive and the tax dollars aren't there to increase service. What this means is that citizens have to become more active at a neighborhood level to offset the need for services.
On Bowen Island we have had a number of people starting using Web 2.0 technologies to gather and communicate information. Here are a few;
I do believe all these technologies are useful, but I think the face to face activities of getting neighbors together are more productive. I think the electronic tools will compliment the physical neighborhood activities. As these Web 2.0 tools mature they will provide increasing abilities to gather data and provide transparancy. This transparency will go both ways it will allow citizens to see into the depths of how government decisions are being implemented (tax dollars spent), and it will provide community information sources to politicians as well as citizens. It is hoped that this increase in information sharing (or transparency) will enable citizens to make better decisions at a personal and neighborhood level as well as assist politicians make better decisions for their constituents.