Last year at this time: evolving nature of Local Gov 2.0

Last year about this time, I began researching Web 2.0 applications, and exploring their relevance for local governments. I thought it might be useful to share my editorial comments from the June 2008 issue of MW, as a reference point:

Is your municipality using interactive web tools? Web surveys? Wikis? Blogs? Social networks? A new genre of web applications (commonly dubbed “Web 2.0 apps”) is transforming the way people interact with content on the Internet – changing them from mere users to participants. If you think this sounds like something that has significant potential for local government, you’re right.

It’s this kind of technology that allows communities like Nanaimo (featured on page 5 of this issue) to harness powerful tools like Google Maps to deliver an unprecedented level of service to citizens and local businesses. And, rapidly evolving technology means the municipality doesn’t necessarily have to spend a bundle to deliver these enhancements, either. Potential cost savings are just a fringe benefit, however. The greater benefit lies in the improved access that Web 2.0 apps can offer – to information, to services and tools, and to the participatory process.

As an example, City of Kamloops Councillor Arjun Singh has a personal blog, where he posts his views on various local issues, and encourages discussion, debate and involvement on local issues, projects, and initiatives. (A May 14 entry features Councillor Singh in a YouTube video, sharing his solution for those concerned about current gas prices, with a plug for public transit.) He makes it very clear that this is not an official city website, and that the views expressed are entirely his own.

Councillor Singh’s blog is just one of 30 that appears on MUNIBlogs , an online community that features “blogging mayors, municipal councillors and officials” from across Canada.

Red Deer’s public library is also on the “Blogroll.” During the past two municipal elections, the library has hosted a website for community discussions , providing every candidate with a blog on the site. The library’s annual report notes that the involvement of many ordinary citizens was key to the site’s success. Citizens were able to comment online, “providing feedback to candidates, raising important issues, and exchanging views with candidates and other citizens.”

Using another Web 2.0 tool, the City of Kingston website features a municipal accessibility survey, soliciting public input about to identify the barriers the disabled face in accessing municipal services and facilities, as well as possible solutions. Says the website, “Accessibility planners hope that the survey results will indicate the levels of support for certain accessibility projects and help set priorities for the city’s responses.”

And, in the City of Davis, California, a community wiki encourages people to “explore, discuss and compile anything and everything about Davis – especially the little, enjoyable things.” The Davis Wiki claims to be the world’s first and largest English-language “local wiki,” boasting over 11,000 pages about the small city. “This entire site is maintained by the people who use it: Everyone can edit this website!”

These are just a few examples and, with the array of applications now available, it seems the potential for genuine service improvement, communication, and civic engagement is limitless. If you’re not already doing so, it’s probably time for your community to explore the possibilities.

Web 2.0 is not merely a passing fad, and things have continued to evolve since then … more on that next time.

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