Architecture for civic participation

Last week’s brainstorming session on the use of social media for voter education got me thinking about the architecture that is needed for civic participation. The underlying concept is that the government provides basic infrastructure services and data. Citizens can participate in oversight and decision-making, and build tools for additional engagement, through access to services and data.

To facilitate participation, openness is needed in several layers.

  • open code and open data. These are two related families of practices that engage the community in the development and review of technology; and that make public information available to the public. Open data includes basic availability, as well as support for standards and licences that enable re-use and participation.
  • open APIs. Application programming interfaces enable developers to build on basic government infrastructure services, creating a broader ecosystem of applications that deliver value to the public without additional government funding, and that provide services that the government can’t.
  • Effective practices for social participation. Several attendees noted the problems with simple comment systems that devolve into anti-social anarchy, driving away constructive citizen participation. There are many techniques, tools, and social practices to overcome these problems. Solutions are context-dependent – there is no one-size-fits all solution.

It is exciting to participate in discussions such as the Social Media for Voter Education, the Hacking Open Government session at OSCON, and Transparency Camp West, coming up this weekend in Mountain View, that are helping to spread these ideas and encourage their implementation.

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