Government 2.0: Humanizing Public Sector Apps to Keep People More In The Loop
Mike Strand (Seattle, WA) —
Nowadays, it seems like just about every kind of organization is hopping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon. Sure, it’s one thing for a retail store to put its Facebook fan page on their windows, but at a recent business conference, I saw a sign for the convention center’s official Twitter feed. What should a convention center tweet about? And who would be interested, except for perhaps on a day you’re actually in it?
There’s always room for another social media account, but have things gone too far when individual flavors of soda have their own information feeds? Mark Drapeau, the Editor-in-Chief of Publicyte, wrote a controversial post for Mashable.com long ago (in 2008) entitled, Do Brands Belong On Twitter? Even today, the debate continues. In business,the bottom line is the ultimate determinant of whether buildings and soda brands should tweet.
But in the public and civic sectors,there is no financial “bottom line” (for the most part), and these organizations tend to have other values and goals. Interestingly, in these areas – government, education, and so on – there are still large and important groups of people for whom Web 2.0 isn’t yet part of their daily lives.
We Need More Social Public Servants
Here are three kinds of public servants who I’d like to see utilizing social media more, around Seattle at least:
Mail Carriers: In this age of instant gratification and online shopping, we sometimes make bad decisions – and I ship a lot of returns. When my mail carrier from the Postal Service or friendly neighborhood UPS or FedEx person is approaching the house, is it too much to ask for a personal tweet? Just a simple, individualized note from time to time will stop me from stalking them about the delivery of my Xbox Kinect!
Bus Drivers: Every morning as I dash to the bus stop, I wonder, Did I miss the 7:25 bus? Is the driver slightly ahead of schedule, making me have to wait an extra 20 minutes? If bus drivers kindly (and safely!) had real-time information feeds from their routes, that would be pretty handy. Perhaps they could use geo-location services to check-in to landmarks in certain cities, and be somewhat of a tourguide for people unfamilar with those places. Maybe they could blog about their route and the things they encounter every day – I’d join that niche community.
Garbage Collectors: Even with the love of recycling in Seattle approaching that of love of Steelers football in Pittsburgh, I still find it difficult to track the bi-weekly pickup schedule. Missing a recycling pickup means 30 days worth of milk cartons, soda cans, and Amazon.com boxes in my driveway! What if my neighbors and I could get an information stream about the schedule? What about tweets or text messages as reminders prior to a pickup day?
The Internet Of Things vs. The Internet Of People
Now, I realize that for each of the examples above, there are examples of leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to provide better public service. (“Government 2.0″ is the nickname often given to this.) For example, the U.S. Postal Service had one of the first government blogs, something called Deliver Magazine.
David Eaves, a Canada-based Government 2.0 blogger spoke at Gov 2.0 Summit about an app called VanTrash being used to coordinate trash route information in Vancouver B.C. – my neighbor just to the north. And transportation, including buses, is a hot Government 2.0 topic in general. Developed during its groundbreaking Apps For Democracy contest, Washington, DC now has an iPhone app named – wait for it – Where’s My Bus? which answers just that question for you.
All of these advances in government leveraging technology to communicate information to citizens is positive, and useful. But am I wrong to want more humans in the loop?
There’s an App For That, But Where Are the People?
Yes, I might someday be able to download an app that shows me my recycling schedule, whereever I live. But how much do I “care” about that app when it’s not attached to a person in my social network? Will I feel compelled to check it?
A completely impersonal piece of computer software that provides data to me may be useful, but in some ways it’s not really any more advanced or social than calling an information hotline or visiting a regular website. When humans are in the loop, people might care just a little bit more. It might make Government 2.0 more “sticky” for citizens. I might feel compelled to see the information stream from my bus driver within my app.
Is there a hybrid set of future Government 2.0 solutions that will provide powerful apps but also keep humans in the loop to make those apps more personal, human, and sticky? And is this possibly how to build greater appeal of such apps among regular citizens?
Mike Strand is a Business Relationship Manager for Microsoft IT based in Bellevue, WA.
Photo by Chris Radcliff and used under a Creative Commons license.