Digital Public Square of the District of Columbia
Vivek Kundra, America’s Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), spearheaded this project when he was still the Chief Technology Officer of D.C. This portal allowed online access to different government data and services, making it easier for the public to interact with the federal government. A major part of this project was the innovation contest, ‘Apps for Democracy’, where D.C. released its database to the public and encouraged talented technologists and creatives to create the most useful applications from DC’s Data Catalog.
The result: 47 applications ranging from web applications, widgets, Google Maps mash-ups, iPhone apps, Facebook apps, and other digital utilities were developed, representing $2,000,000+ in value and a 4000% ROI. http://www.istrategylabs.com/government-20-the-rise-of-citizen-innovation-through-open-data/
MAPLight.org is a public database that illuminates the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes. Two public databases are combined: a database of all known campaign contributions to any legislator, and a database on how legislators voted on specific bills and resolutions. Bringing the data on money and voting together in an accessible way is groundbreaking as it opens the doors for the public to the legislative processes in the US in an accessible and creative way. The World Summt Awards describes this website as a “…treasure for journalists, NGOs, and bloggers. It helps, citizens to hold legislators accountable. MAPLight.org, findings makes complex research publically available in an instant and shows that public scrutiny can be also visually appealing, easy-to-use, and customizable.”
It’s daring and simple in its approach and that’s why it’s gaining a multitude of followers. Imagine how the White House might work if it was run completely democratically by thousands of people on the internet. Whitehouse2 does exactly this. All you have to do is endorse or oppose priorities and find people to support or fight against it. From the creators: “The more people who endorse a priority, the higher it rises in the charts. The more people who join the network, the more clout we will have with the President and the media.”
In the UK, there’s a competition called ‘Show us a better way’ where the citizens are asked for their help in developing better ways to publish vast non-personal information that the government collects & creates on the public’s behalf. The winner gets £20K to develop the idea to the next level.
NASA has multiple Twitter-streams in the realm of micro-blogging, and they leverage YouTube and other new media to publicize their work.
Again, in the US, extra-governmental efforts include, GovLoop, an online community for government employees. In only seven weeks, it has attracted over 500 users from federal, state, and local governments. There was also the event, ‘Social Media in Government’, which aimed to “capture the power of social media in your organization, along with helpful tools, tips and techniques to get started.” Activities like these already pave the way and provide the tools for public servants to share ideas and knowledge.
Can you imagine how similar application or website in the Philippines, such as MAPlight.org or Whitehouse2, would un-Zen the powers-that-be? I wonder how many representatives, senators — and even Presidents? — would oppose it or bog it down with charges of malicious intent orsubversion? Who would welcome the sunlight and who would burst into flames?
“Mabuhay ang social media!” Long live E-democracy!”, pero wait lang…
Social media and digital technology are only tools that can be used to enhance democratic processes. They are not equivalent to democracy itself. One needs only to think at how the digitalisation of government bureaus can be (has been) prone to abuse of power if only technology has been improved, but the innate structures and processes within an organisation remained corrupt.
Case in point: the digitalisation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the Philippines (BIR), for example, has not put a stop to abuse of power and corruption. Digging into the records of small entrepreneurs is only a mouse click away, and thus ‘auditing’ can be done more efficiently. By auditing I mean the process whereby the unlucky entrepreneur, whose business supposedly needs to be audited, is forced to pay the tax chiefs an insane amount of money to just close the case. Why resort to paying rather than fighting? Because the entrepreneur knows it won’t be a fair process: the auditor will magnify every small error and s/he will end up paying so much more than what’s needed. Honesty and openness is not given any ground to take root.
Another major consideration: the growing popularity of E-democracy needs to be seen in the light of phenomenon called ‘digital divide’. For let us not forget, despite the tremendous growth of social media and daily advancements in digital technology, 80% of the world still remain disconnected, living at the margins of the digital grid. It’s not enough to think of applications of E-democracy in developed countries; the more difficult challenge is to think of how a technology that fosters sharing, collaboration and transparency can be utilised to uplift the quality of life in underdeveloped lands.
E-democracy is not just about the tools or the technology that’s employed, but also the structures and processes that an organisation embraces. Social media is neither the latest, shiny, new gadget in the market to be used superflously without a good strategy nor a solution to be taken outside the realm of democratic principles.