But as my colleague @timjhughes pointed out, it may be that deliberative methods are even more skewed than the polls. In participative processes, the public are usually asked to explore and express their views in a social context – much more exposing than having a private word with the polling man. As Tim and my Sciencewise paper explored, questions around a ‘pro-social’ bias to such processes are common – where participants end up being more sympathetic to ideas that are oriented towards wider, community wide concerns or benefit those other than themselves, having spent time thinking about the issues in a collective rather than a private context.
We have more opportunities to get involved in our communities, through a wider array of tools, processes, meetings, and apps than ever before. Some of these opportunities are interesting and beneficial, while others—especially the ones supported by governments in the name of public participation—can be frustrating and may even be harmful. So how should we judge? What kinds of public engagement are helpful?
On this side of the Atlantic, “civic technology” is a tough concept to define. Maybe for us in Britain, it’s that poor, abused word “civic”. Think of grey, dull “civic centres” or boozy freebies justified as being part of “civic life”.
But across the ocean, the same five-letter word conjures up the best in American public service – fine-spirited men and women giving up their time to make the lives of others easier.
Much has been written about the so-called “digital divide,” the technology availability gap between the richer and the poorer. But as digitally enabled government comes to the fore, we may be risking the emergence of a new kind of digital divide, between the largest, most richly resourced cities and smaller communities with less capability to exploit new technologies.
However, even then, interested citizens may not want to sit through a video of a meeting – instead they might expect a SparkNotes-like breakdown with all of the critical points they should know. Obviously, government organizations post minutes from their meetings as a record of the decisions made and actions taken during public meetings, but again, making that information more consumable for the citizen on the go is ever-more important.
As you look for ways to present information to your citizens, here are the main takeaways citizens want from government meetings:
Do you have something great to offer for civic technologists? Do you have a product, a software platform, a suite of services or a consulting practice that could help city decision-makers improve their communities' use of technology?
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