On Tuesday, I started a discussion about how government agencies are using social media to change how they communicate with their constituents. That post focused on some examples of government officials and agencies utilizing Twitter. But since there are more approaches to social media than just Twitter, I wanted to also look at examples of governments using other social media tools. That’s the focus of this post. As always, I hope you’ll share your opinions. Are these examples of governments using social media well? Do you think they should be using it differently than they are? What should a government’s social media objective be: communication of events and info? Collaboration with constituents? Listening and assessing need? All of, none of, or other than the above? Now, four examples of local governments going beyond Twitter in their use of social media:
- Pheonix, Arizona: Police Produce Daily Video PodcastThe police department in Phoenix, Arizona produces a daily video podcast, dubbed The Last 24, reporting on crimes committed, as well as progress on standing cases. Every day there’s another slickly produced video featuring Sgt. Andy Hill recounting the details of such crimes as a kidnapped hitchhiker who escaped but was shot in the chest in the struggle, an internet sale that turned criminal, a home invasion robbery, and asking for help in solving the crime. No doubt it’s compelling to the local audience: it reminds me that the most popular feature of my college newspaper was the “cops box”, a small section inside the front page in which you could read all the titillating details of the kinds of underworld activity your peers had gotten into over the weekend. But I think there’s a potential value here beyond appealing to natural prurient interests: it shows citizens their police department at work — and very unpleasant, difficult work, at that — on a consistent basis and, perhaps, helps to build a body of appreciation in the community for the work the officers do. Short of that, the presence of Sgt. Andy Hill, at the very least, humanizes the police department to a mass audience — it’s the modern equivalent, in that sense, of the police officer visiting the elementary school classroom to show the kids that the “officer is your friend”. It’s a good use of new media to spread the human face of government, and it is popular — between 19,000 and 40,000 hits per month — but it is largely one-way communication and would probably be even more effective if they coupled it with some more “real-time” communication options. Mesa, Arizona, police, for example, send out texts about crimes and have a system by which citizens can text tips back to them anonymously.
- Sacramento, CA: City Facebook Fan PagesThe city of Sacramento, California has turned to Facebook to increase it’s connection with citizens. Log on to the city’s Facebook Fan Page at “City of Sacramento” and you’ll see a series of posts relating information about upcoming events in the city, but also some policy-related posts. For example, the post on May 18, 2009 reported on the city’s $30 million budget shortfall. Twenty-four comments appear below that post from citizens offering a range of ideas for dealing with the problem. Some of those comments are sarcastic and most are tinged more with emotion than with innovative vision. Nonetheless, it is a direct connection between the government and the community on a topic that impacts everyone. A value of social networking — whether in government, business, or personal use — is its ability to reach out into the long-tail of the community and uncover ideas that otherwise would have gone undiscovered or unarticulated. Using Facebook to engage the community gives the government a chance to hear from people who they might otherwise not encounter, but just as importantly, it gives opportunity for interaction to people who might be disinclined to communicate with government via traditional means — by showing up at the city council meeting, for example.
- Seattle, WA: My Neighborhood MapsThis example is more Web 2.0 than it is purely social media, but it’s an example worth noting of government embracing the culture of transparency central to social media success, as well as delivering the constituent empowerment that is the great potential of Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0. My Neighborhood Maps is a mashup that brings together Microsoft Virtual Earth and the city’s Oracle database back end to create a map-based reporting tool that gives the public information about the location of city services, city offices, recreational and transportation facilities, “incidents by neighborhood, related statistical data, real-time 911 incidents and Seattle Police Department crime data”; more than 50 city services in all. According to Neil Barry (interviewed in this video), My Neighborhood Maps grew out of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickles desire to provide citizens with a way to track services and incidents (those things that “impact their mobility” in the city) down to the personal level of their own neighborhood — thus the reliance on the mapping tool as the basis of the information presentation.
- Boston, MA: Citizen Connect iPhone App
From PSFK.Com(via the Boston Globe): “In an effort to streamline some of its governmental bureaucracy, Boston has released the city’s first official iPhone application, allowing citizens to report complaints ranging from broken street lights and potholes to graffiti and downed power lines directly to City Hall. Called Citizen Connect, the mobile application will enable residents to send both pictures and text with a feature that tags the information with location-based GPS. After filing a complaint, users will receive a tracking number so that they can easily follow-up if the problem persists. Though the application has yet to arrive in Apple’s iTune’s store, once it does, it will be available as a free download.”
New Approaches to Citizen Involvement Gartner analyst Andrea DiMaio (@AndreaDiMaio)writes in this blog post that “agencies will be called upon to take creative action in developing new approaches to citizen involvement, including the utilization of social and visual technologies, such as Web 2.0 tools.” And certainly I think we see that happening in the examples above. What’s also interesting to me, though, is how the advent of social media has the potential to fundamentally change the relationship between government and constituent — it has the potential to make the access to information and participation on the basis of that information easier, and, perhaps, more likely as a result.
I’m reminded of the documentary film “Startup.com” that followed two entrepreneurs trying to cash in on the dot com craze of the late 1990′s by starting a company called GovWorks.com. Their idea was to use the Web to make it easier for citizens to take care of their financial obligations to government. Paying parking tickets, taxes, license fees, for example. The relationship between government and constituent revealed in that film was a purely transactional relationship: government and citizens operating in separate spheres but for those moments when the citizen has to give the government money. GovWorks.com’s idea was to make that financially-based interaction as smooth as possible; a worthy aim, but notice where the power resides in that relationship.
To return to DiMaio’s point: we’re now seeing new approaches to citizen involvement, as governments become more comfortable releasing their control over information. Through the technology of social media we have an opportunity to establish a relationship of greater depth, a conversational relationship — a partner relationship — between government and constituents. How far can that partner relationship go? My city government is dealing with a $17 million budget shortfall — no small number for a small city. City governments like mine could make the budget numbers and expense data public via a wiki and let the constituents collaborate on cost saving solutions. They could, but will they? Should they? What would be the impact if they did?
What Business Can Learn from Government Governments, unlike businesses, are required to be accountable to their constituents. They are not required to use social media, but increasingly I believe they’re seeing that social media provides them opportunities to meet their obligations in truly constructive ways that can increase access and participation by constituents. Empowering constituents to have a voice ultimately leads to more engagement, greater mutual understanding, and the development of trust and respect, so business could stand to take a lesson from government in this instance.
Photo by Dotbenjamin