By Jonathan Hirsch

A growing number of Americans live in a world where daily interactions are seamlessly integrated with current technologies. It would seem that every measurement of transmitted information about our lives and preferences is available through one application or another, from long-form Wordpress blog posts to 140-character tweets to six-second video posts on Vine. Despite this new reality, the lack of communication between government and everyday people in our era has reached epic proportions.

Congress is mired in oversimplified representations of its constituencies’ needs, often locked in protracted arguments that have, in recent days, run close to shutting down the government. All the while, technology continues to find innovative ways to instantaneously express even the tiniest minutiae of our everyday lives. Why is it that with such incredible advancements in technology, Americans now more than ever do not see their public representatives as working on their behalf?

The question is one that has plagued many politicians and public thinkers, and one that former San Francisco Mayor and current California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom offers a practical and inspired solution to in his recent book, Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.

Co-written with Lisa Dickey, Newsom’s book draws on his experience as mayor and numerous interviews with public intellectuals and politicians to articulate the problems facing government in the digital age.

At its heart, Newsom’s argument is a simple one. However, the difficulty lies not in the idea, but in its implementation. A general overview of the current political climate reveals a profound gap between current technologies and the ones used to administrate our local, state, and federal governments. While everyday Americans have free and simple access to mediums that would easily revolutionize the way government operates, public institutions are slow to release information about their activities and even slower to adopt new technologies. Newsom outlines a plan that would reinvent government in a way that would open the lines of communication between the people and public bureaucracies, while vastly improving the quality of service provided.

Perhaps the most compelling idea in Newsom’s plan involves making government data more readily available to the public. Only then, he argues, can a feedback system be established (drawing on the principles of modern crowd-sourcing) whereby the everyday constituent can easily provide input.

Individuals need to be given the agency necessary to foster innovation. The government may continue to be a step behind progress in technology and communication, but without an environment that fosters such innovation from within public agencies, we are destined to endure a political climate locked in a cycle of policy-making that rarely draws on accurate representations of public opinion.

Newsom invites us to imagine what the world would look like if all government agencies made their data public, with the exception of the limited information that would pose a threat to national security or specific individuals. Perhaps most importantly, he is inviting us to imagine what the world would look like if government empowered people to weigh in on its effectiveness in a more relevant way. What if information about individual voter preferences could be gathered as easily as a Facebook survey gathering information on our favorite television shows? Newsom’s compelling theory is that Government 2.0 is closer than we think. The final hurtle entails reshaping our opinions about government and the public bureaucracy’s opinions about the modern individual.

“How do we bridge this gap?” Newsom writes. “By embracing the very thing that created it. Technology has rendered our current system of government irrelevant, so now government must turn to technology to fix itself.”











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This article was published in:
Idea Issue - Released March 2013
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Issue 11
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