(Slightly Orwellian image courtesy of Newsweek)
I’ve read Newsweek magazine since childhood. In today’s environment of ever more immediate and narrowly focused media channels, a weekly magazine cannot go very deeply into issues. But the magazine is still a useful read on the zeitgeist of the moment.
So I took note when Daniel Lyons and Daniel Stone wrote this week on Barack Obama’s use of technology and how his administration may tap into the grass-roots organization built during the campaign to actually help govern the country. Government 2.0 is a term increasingly heard in Washington, with a number of proposed definitions. Here’s the one Lyons and Stone advance:
“Call it Government 2.0. Instead of a one-way system in which government hands down laws and provides services to citizens, why not use the Internet to let citizens, corporations and civil organizations work together with elected officials to develop solutions? That kind of open-source collaboration is second nature to the Net-gen kids who supported Obama and to the technologists from Silicon Valley who are advising him.” http://www.newsweek.com/id/170347
The piece suggests some ways to keep the “army” Obama built engaged and involved, and some of the challenges. A senior level CTO/Tech Czar is a good step, and making the full text of passed legislation available online for public comment prior to being signed by President Obama. A good first step here is the web site www.change.gov, which contains detailed position statements, videos of the transition team members and the ability for the public to provide feedback.
There are some obstacles as well. By law President Obama cannot directly contact the reported 10 million supporters gathered during the campaign separately from the rest of the public. Everyone has to be included when the President communicates. To get around this the administration may have to create a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization to handle the huge database. And the much reported decision to bag the presidential blackberry has more to do with a law making every presidential communication public property than it does security concerns.
For me the most interesting thing to watch will be if technology can make staying connected to government truly a mainstream activity. After all, to paraphrase a well known expression, you campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. Governing means making tough choices (at least it should), sometimes the “least worst” choice, and compromising when necessary. How many of the Obama army will find this process as inspiring as helping to elect candidate Obama? And will they be energized by broad-based initiatives or by value issue/litmus test disputes?
To a great degree, this is a social experiment powered by technology, but it’s not about the technology. It’s about us, the American people and our capacity for active citizenship. Plenty of obstacles remain, but the Obama campaign has already rewritten the rule book for winning the presidency. It will be fascinating to see if the Obama administration can now rewrite the rule book for governing. Success or failure depends on we the people, as much as it does on the technology provided.
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