There was a report issued by Ipsos-Public Affairs (data not available yet) and covered by the AP today that came to the conclusion that “Americans feel strongly that good government depends on openness with the public, with seven out of 10 people concerned about government secrecy.” I agree that the more disclosure that is available the better government serves the people. The political junkie in me agrees, but the Tech guy in me asks how can that be done?
I think that I have an answer that would cost a mid sized or smaller municipality less than a $1,000 dollars a year, and provide all of the information on meetings and government services that any citizen could want or use. The tools used would be Weblogs, RSS and Podcasts.
If you are interested, look below the fold for my take on it.
A city would create a weblog with categories. They would be able to post all of the meetings to it. They could post every contract RFP, and when it was awarded, the amount that it was award and who won. Every citation and announcement could be added. Every piece of government could pass through this weblog.
The great thing about weblogs is that they are easy to use, essentially free, and scale very, very well. The software I am using is WordPress 1.5 would fit the bill perfectly.
The weakness is how to manage the data that would be coming out. Let’s face it; in reality government is like making sausage. You do not want to see all of the specifics in how it is made, but you want to know the outcome will be good. And if there are problems, you would like to go back and see what caused them.
Also, there are certain parts of the process that certain people would want to see. A contractor would want to know when certain cities and counties are putting up contracts for bidding. Citizen watchdogs would want to review the meetings that they are unable to attend. By using categories, it is much easier to review the information you care about.
The tool for this is RSS.
RSS allows the information from a weblog to be pushed to a RSS reader. The RSS reader acts as a collection station for the individual citizen. By using the RSS feeds by categories, the citizen would have the information pushed to them as it is published to the government’s weblog. This way the citizen does not have to search a city’s weblog for relevant information.
The RSS feeds could be separated by categories so that those who only want certain information would not be deluged.
It would make the process of government much more accessible to the citizens and reporters and create a level of transparency that Americans are clamoring for according to the poll released by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
This is the new toy of the blogoshere, and it has the ability to be the most potent. Podcasting is the ability to push audio recordings out from a weblog to the RSS readers. This can allow recordings of meetings to be listened to in the car via devices such as I-PODs or listened to at one’s computer. This removes the restraints of space and time to listen to what is happening at your local government.
The combination of these 3 elements, weblogs, RSS, and podcasting, can change the dynamics of citizen interaction with government. Used with categories, government would be transparent. You would get to see the sausage made, so to speak.
If something happened that was different from what was reported, the politicians would be held accountable immediately, as this new paradigm would be fully searchable, and transparent. Just what the people are calling for.
So we have a solution that is scalable, inexpensive, and fits a need. To me it sounds like a winner, how about you?