The future of the local social web lies at the confluence of two emerging realities: Government 2.0 and Media 2.0. Here we see social networking tools, user-centered design, wikis, blogs, and mashups being used to create novel networks and platforms that enable a new civic reality: Community 2.0.
According to technologist Tim O’Reilly, Government 2.0 has several defining characteristics. Foremost is the concept of government as a platform, rather than a service, that enables the development of an ecosystem of self-governance, transparency and accountability. Whereas Government 1.0 represents power in the hands of the few; Government 2.0 represents power in the hands of the many. Citizens become participants, rather than observers, in their local government, actively engaging with civic leaders, government officials, and each other to proactively define and solve the most pressing local issues.
The social web is also leading to new models in the media industry. According to Jeff Jarvis, the hierarchical, siloed world of mainstream media is being replaced by a new news ecosystem that is ever-dependent on a network of voices and links. There is no longer one centralized, autocratic, top-down news source, but a series of linked enterprises—both large and small—that work together to report on local issues. These professional and amateur journalists do what they do best and link to the rest, creating a richer and more vibrant community of voices at the local level.
The new news ecosystem is built on an interlocking system of platforms. Imagine if you combined hyper-local versions of WikiLeaks and data.gov, with SeeClickFix, Document Cloud, Meetup, citizen journalists, and local news sites. You would end up with a new news ecosystem that is more transparent and efficient. Using these tools, news organizations with smaller editorial teams would still be able to perform the critical watchdog function that is a necessary component of a well-functioning democracy.
In Community 2.0, the relationship between government, the press, and the citizenry evolves into something that is much more transparent, engaging, and active. It is about redefining the idea of the Fourth Estate. Members of the former audience are now producers, not just consumers. Members of the former constituency are now actors, not just voters. Community 2.0 creates a living, evolving ecosystem of citizens.
Community 2.0 is open, local and vocal. At the heart of Community 2.0 are platforms like SeeClickFix, which make the traditional modes of communicating with media and the government more iterative, process-oriented and real-time. Using these tools, voices are aggregated, issues are documented, groups are organized, actions are broadcast, and citizens are more engaged in their environments. The output is a curated, crowdsourced live stream of information detailing the most topical and timely issues in a community.
Earlier this fall, The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in Democracy released its report detailing the ways that technology can be harnessed to help local communities help themselves. Using citizen-centered design, SeeClickFix has created a multi-platform social tool that allows citizens not just to complain, but to act. It enables Community 2.0, where citizens can communicate with one another to solve the most pressing issues in their cities or towns—from graffiti to crime to potholes to transit issues. It allows citizens to self-organize, crowdsource solutions to problems, reach out to relevant public officials, and work collectively to improve the quality of life in their cities and towns. The power of the tool is not limited to the few, but open to the many.
The local social web embodied in Community 2.0 is more inclusive. Web 2.0 technologies like SeeClickFix can atomize activities to reduce a primary barrier to civic engagement—time. Unlike a town hall meeting, that requires a significant time commitment; systems like SeeClickFix account and provide for different levels of engagement and make the act of contributing to the community simple. As these constraints on participation are liberalized, a wider cross-section of the community begins to contribute to the collective efforts. In a networked information economy where citizens are linked together, the tragedy of the commons is replaced with the promise of the collective.
On SeeClickFix we have seen utility companies, clean air non-profits, police chiefs, public works officials, State Transit officials, business improvement districts, city councilman and citizens all working together and communicating on issues to resolve them. Since no one individual typically owns the problem and no one agency typically can solve it, SeeClickFix enables these types of public/private partnerships.
Something interesting occurs within a community when people begin to experience the power of the SeeClickFix platform. As with any networked tool, the utility of the tool increases exponentially as the number of users increases. Residents start by using SeeClickFix to do simple tasks, like reporting potholes and traffic issues, or noting that they would like an issue fixed. They are alerted via email when people join the conversation which allows them to see that others in the community share their concerns. These alerts draw users back into the conversation and help to create a sense of community. The next step in the evolution from resident to member of Community 2.0 is when people use the tool to self-organize to find solutions to the problem, moving the community from complaint to action.
The impact of SeeClickFix is magnified through the positive feedback loop that is created via interaction between media, citizens and the government. In New Haven, issues are being uploaded on SeeClickFix. The New Haven Independent and The New Haven Register are then using the tool to source stories. Links to the issue on SeeClickFix are embedded in these stories or in the reader comments, directing others in the community to contribute to the conversation. Links to the stories are embedded in the issue report on SeeClickFix and used as rallying cries to gather support. Emails are sent to government officials, citizens, non-profits and other interested actors detailing the issue and alerting them when someone else in the community has joined the conversation. Government officials can post on the issues and thus communicate with many citizens at once. It is these multiple layers of feedback that encourage repeated engagement.
Recently, SeeClickFix was used to report increased instances of muggings occurring in a specific block in New Haven. The New Haven Independent used SeeClickFix to source leads for a story. The story linked to SeeClickFix, where the problem had first been acknowledged. Immediately, hundreds of citizens voted to have the problem “fixed.” Neighbors used the platform to organize a neighborhood watch, suggest solutions such as better lighting and an increased police presence, and arrange a meeting with the Mayor. Officials from City Council and City Hall responded to citizens’ concerns via SeeClickFix and followed-up these online conversations with offline meetings to work to resolve the issue. These meetings have lead to promises of increased lighting from the City and the arrest of several mugging suspects. More importantly, the neighborhood is now better connected and, therefore, better prepared to self-organize to solve issues in the future. SeeClickFix has enabled the creation of Community 2.0.
This is just one example of the way that the tool is being used in one city. Now imagine a world where we have data from every city and town across the country. Through geographically-specific collaborative democracy projects, we begin to see patterns of engagement, self-organization, deliberation, and problem resolution. We can evaluate what works and what doesn’t and then share this information across the platform. Experts in one city who have discovered solutions to issues that are broadly applicable to other cities can easily disseminate this information. Web2.0 allows for the creation of a new collective commons, where hyper-local, hyper-specific issues are hashed out in an open and transparent manner and then dispersed across the network.
Through the web and tools like SeeClickFix, an instrumented, interconnected and intelligent local citizenry coalesces to become Community 2.0.