Citizen Engagement: Applied Gov 2.0

Reinventing government

Ever since Tim O’Reilly captured our imagination with the term “Government 2.0,” the world has scrambled to understand its true meaning. Some dismissed the idea as a passing fad. But much like Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative, it moved us toward an ideal. Early Gov 2.0 efforts sought to define this concept and understand how it could alter the reinvention of government. Since Gov 2.0 is grounded in Web 2.0 technology, startups and traditional companies explored how they could fit into the grand scheme of things. The concept was given a boost when politicians as high ranking as President Obama challenged governments to enhance civic engagement. Could we turn even large cities like Singapore, Boston, or Seattle into communities whose citizens have a strong role in shaping the future?

Gov 2.0 is driving this generation’s version of “reinventing government.” Concepts like transparency, accountability, and open data are all being explored, but the strongest movement impacting our daily lives on a personal level is the rise of citizen engagement. So far, it focuses primarily on leveraging social technologies to connect governments with their constituents. It’s being driven by those looking to disrupt government in the name of progress, including technology startups, social activists, non-profit organizations, and businesses seeking a competitive edge.

The platform for Gov 2.0 is geographic information systems (GIS) technology – the same technology cities and counties use to build map data, perform analyses, and increase operational efficiency. Projects throughout the world have already demonstrated GIS’s ability to engage citizens. Many civic leaders reacted to the concept of citizen engagement tools with concern that they would just open up government to more criticism. When Gov 2.0 applications began to prove their effectiveness, leaders’ concerns shifted toward what they perceived as a high cost of implementation. Now, they’re realizing that engaging the public through these tools may just be the catalyst for solving key challenges they can’t otherwise resolve via tax-funded efforts. Today, citizen engagement applications enhance a variety of government-citizen interactions involving public information, requests for service, public reporting, citizen as a sensor, unsolicited public comment, and even volunteerism. I suspect these are just the beginning stages of geo-centric citizen engagement.

What do you think the next applications of geo-centric citizen engagement will be?

Chris Thomas

About Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas is the global manager for government activities at Esri. He has worked in and with government agencies worldwide for over 22 years. He is viewed as a pioneer and thought leader in the adaptation of technology by government and citizens alike.
This entry was posted in Industry Focus and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply


  1. Don Nanneman says:

    There’s no question that the not-too-distant future will see an unprecedented level of citizen interaction and engagement with government. But Chris highlights an important issue: too many of the technologies currently being touted are driven by those looking to disrupt government in the name of “progress”.

    Any truly effective app for citizen engagement also needs to recognize the realities facing resource-strapped local governments. Complaining about potholes is of little value if an agency isn’t equipped to process and respond to the request.

    Accela, Inc., an Esri partner focused on web- and cloud-based software that automates e-government, is tackling this challenge. This month we’re introducing Accela Mobile 311 – a free, downloadable iPhone app, which engages citizens in a range of issues that involve their local government, including service requests, planning reviews, requests for information, reporting on the condition of public works assets, and more. Powered by Esri’s ArcGIS map engine, Accela Mobile 311 incorporates geolocation information to help citizens and local governments pinpoint the precise spot where an incident has occurred or service is needed. It is available for popular mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, with Android and other platform support planned.

    A boon for citizens, to be sure. But what about the needs of local governments?

    As a component of Accela Automation enterprise software, Accela Mobile 311 functions as an end-to-end solution. Beyond helping local governments efficiently receive service requests, it helps them prioritize and manage requests and schedule and dispatch public works staff through GIS-enabled mobile devices using their existing Accela Automation system. It also provides a type of “crowdsourcing” capability by tracking which issues are creating the biggest “stir” among the public. For example, a traffic signal problem that spurs a thousand requests for repair would clearly be causing more public pain than one that elicits only a handful – and repair crews can be deployed accordingly.

    Accela Mobile 311 is branded by the local agency and offered as an app to their local constituents, using the local government’s own name and logo.

    • For example “Salt Lake City 311” ( is the name for the Utah city’s Accela-based app, which enables the public to request weed abatement, report inoperable vehicles, construction without permits, and illegal signs for addresses within the corporate limits of Salt Lake City.

    • Lenexa, Kansas (, is developing an Accela Mobile 311 site supporting a broad range of citizen submittals, including curb and sidewalk repair, drainage problems, traffic signal and streetlight malfunctions, and snow removal requests. The status of the submittal is displayed on the user’s device so that once a request has been resolved, or a reported condition has been corrected, the status is changed providing direct and immediate feedback to the citizen.

    The cities can tailor or expand the app to meet a range of citizen submittals, based on evolving priorities or needs. And with the backend processing provided by Accela Automation, the service requests are managed as efficiently as if submitted at City Hall.

    Like Chris, all of us at Accela are excited by the opportunities that lie ahead in the realm of government/citizen interaction. We feel that apps like Accela Mobile 311 are opening to door to a new era that will benefit both parties.

  2. Abhi Nemani says:

    Whatever language we choose to use – Government as a Platform or Gov 2.0 – it’s hard to deny that there’s immense potential for governments to leverage technology to redefine their roles and interactions with citizens. Citizen engagement is quickly transforming from an afterthought to a guiding principle. Examples of this abound, from the project ( led by the federal government to generate new ideas to the smartphone gyrosensor-based pothole detection system, Street Bump (, which launched in Boston. Governments are starting to take advantage of the “cognitive surplus,” to borrow Clay Shirky’s phrase.

    At Code for America (, we think there’s promise to deepen citizen engagement beyond just reporting or data input. Citizen requests for government services are usually one-time, anonymous communications that include only basic information such as location. Cities respond on their end through call centers and issue tracking applications. There is a missed opportunity when government focuses on the issue itself and people making the submission. The opportunity for real citizen engagement is citizen-led problem solving. Governments should be facilitating collective action and enabling a model where the government itself is not at the center of the interaction; rather it is among the individuals and groups interested in working toward a common solution. It’s the necessary transition from problem spotting and reporting to problem solving.

    What’s encouraging is that this transition is already starting to take shape, fueled by the creative use of location-based data. A new startup called GroundCrew ( is built around this very idea: citizens submit local issues, and neighbors are alerted and asked to get involved and help. In Boston, this platform was used in this winter’s snowstorms when there were too many snow-blocked driveways for the city to clear ( The government needed help. Using the platform, which we helped with, individuals were able to submit geotagged requests, and then nearby citizens were pinged and they stepped up, taking to the streets with their scarves, gloves, and shovels. Another innovative example comes from the San Ramon Fire Department, which recently launched a mobile application for first responders in emergencies. Studies suggest that when an automated external defibrillator (AED) is used within the first 10 minutes, survival rates rise to nearly 80 percent. Their app, Fire Department (, allows people trained in CPR to sign up to receive text messages when someone nearby is suffering cardiac arrest. They can then use the app to map the location of the victim and any nearby AEDs so they can respond before an ambulance arrives. These advancements are transforming “real time” data into the “right time” and “right place” data.

  3. Kurt Daradics says:

    As emerging leaders in this trend, we’re creating a big possibility for a brand new day. Without a doubt, we’re living in unprecedented times. This is “kairos” time (the right or opportune moment) versus “chronos” time (measured by a clock). Soon there will be nine billion people on planet Earth, and to quote one of my heroes, Buckminster Fuller, “humanity is at the final exam.” Our mission is to transform civic engagement in order to catalyze more leadership and ensure sustainability for future generations. Leveraging GIS is an efficient path to optimizing resources and connecting broken workflows for our public sector clients. Plus, by taking advantage of all the latest technologies we can extend these optimized processes to the public and remove friction for civic engagement worldwide.

    First, a critique on semantics: There has to be a better term than Government 2.0. We need to use terms that everyday folks can understand. Tim O’Reilly coined the term, and it seems that it’s just another wave he’s trying to ride in his 2.0 conference brand (Web 2.0, Where 2.0, etc.), which doesn’t seem to do much more than create even more noise in the echo chamber. A better term is open government, which speaks to the zeitgeist and is really what we’re talking about.

    We’re witnessing a perfect storm of pervasive broadband, mature GIS, social media, web services/xml, and mobility. The velocity of mobile adoption is incredible. Nielsen predicts there will be more smart phones than feature phones by the third quarter of 2011. Mobility is transformative because it’s both a new channel and incorporates a new group of users (minorities and low-income citizens). This speaks to kairos time.

    Collaboration is the future. The best foot forward for multi-stakeholder collaboration is GIS. It’s a foundational system that federates departmental data silos and gives the public sector and the public the ability to visually analyze data. The principle here is SEE – FEEL – CHANGE. Speaking in the abstract, it’s only when our blind spots are illuminated that we can begin to take the first step towards awareness. This short video shows CitySourced data overlaid with Esri’s Community Analyst ( It gives us a glimpse of this principle and what tools public policy makers might use in the future.

    Finally, “unfolding” is a word that describes this season well, and ironically the best metaphor I can think of to describe this word is a map. It’s this unfolding of the map that illuminates our path. As for what’s next, we invite you to collaborate with us. As the world becomes more transparent, and as more context unfolds, we’re betting that the possibility we’ve created for a brand new day becomes reality.

  4. CJ Lucke says:

    As a former public servant grappling with the issue of civic engagement, the GPS mobile apps appear to be part of the solution.

    I like to look at government services matched against Maslov’s Heirarchy of Needs ( right now, in this economy, we are back at the bottom struggling to help people hang on to their shelters, feel secure from danger, and have enough money to feed their families. For most people, using a mobile app to report an out traffic signal, engage with their city council or get a planning permit seem like time consuming tasks not related to the bottom rung. Or are they?

    Right now, we need to provide mobile information and services that will make life easier for people to find jobs, get to their jobs (traffic info), feed their families (coupons and deals), provide free entertainment (arts and culture info) and keep them safe (police data reports, safety alerts and disaster info). Once our economy begins to recover and we are moving further up the rungs, citizens will naturally start to engage at a higher level. People will have found value in the apps and be willing to use them to crowdsource ideas about how to improve their communities.

    Which brings us back to the out traffic signal. Many of the city managers I speak with are not sure they want to spend money right now to implement what they see as a “nicety” not related to the bottom rungs. But what they are not seeing is the decrease in frustration they are bringing to their population by providing a low cost, easy solution like a mobile app to report simple structural problems. Their citizens need some help right now and if they can provide a one stop shop on the phone to help them, then they are meeting an immediate need, while laying the groundwork for future positive interactions.

  5. Anna Fischer says:

    As a graduate student working towards a Master of Public Policy with a certificate in GIS & Technology, I have focused my research on the interaction of public policy decision-making and GIS technologies, particularly GIS and online mapping as a technique of civic engagement.

    Chris speaks of the increased value this generation places on government transparency and accountability and how this has fueled the use of social and location-based technologies to connect citizens and government. It is encouraging to hear industry leaders, including the featured contributors, speak of their goals of going beyond engaging and truly empowering citizens as leaders in problems solving. While citizen empowerment may be the ultimate goal, it is important to not overlook the contribution location-based mobile apps, such as those created by CitySourced, have made, and continue to make, in working towards this ideal.

    For a citizen to engage in communication with the government and then to receive feedback and see tangible results, even of something as seemingly simple as a public service request, can start to restore constituent faith in their government. Facilitating these lines of communication and increasing government responsiveness sends the message that citizen concerns matter—letting the public know that if they speak up, or engage in the dialogue, their concerns have the potential to be met. Multiply this positive experience by the amount of people that can be reached by GIS technology on social and mobile platforms, and there is great potential for a monumental shift in attitude and perception towards that of ownership and empowerment.

  6. I agree with a lot that has been mentioned. I just would like to plug ESRI’s Home Use program and the 30 day trial of the Redistricting website ; I think these solutions goes a long way to bring citizen participation and geographically enabled information to Joe citizen.

    With redistricting occurring across the US, opportunities created by government, such as County of Santa Barbara, before they cut their E-GIS program, which allowed anyone to make an appointment with the county GIS dept to learn and use the Redistricting web service to create their own ideal districts which then they could then take to the open meeting with supervisors to voice their concerns.

    Now if there was a way to communicate to the citizens that participating in the redistricting process was more important than voting…

  7. Ewan Peters says:

    It is an interesting game changer. As there is a move to more data that is available to the pubic so the thirst for this information intensifies. There are obvious benefits but the business model for working in this area is very different to a traditional one. I am seen a few examples where agencies have been keen to use “2.0″ technology but they only see their role as providing data feeds and nothing more. There seems to be an expectation that the tech companies / private sector will provide the apps. I am not sure how this will pan out or where the business is ? There are obvious benefits for this approach but who pays ?

  8. A Adelodun says:

    Developing E democracy Application that could make governance open and accountable is key to anti-graft mission in Africa….that is the focus of our next conference