Governing Gets Social

Government Executive: “More than 4 million people joined together online in December 2011 to express outrage over the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill Congress was considering that would have made content-sharing websties legally responsible for their users’ copyright violations, with punishments including prison time.
Experts called the campaign a victory for digital democracy: The people had spoken— the ones who don’t have lobbyists or make large campaign donations. And just as important, their representatives had listened.
There was a problem, though. Through social media, ordinary citizens told Congress and the president what they didn’t want. But the filmmakers, recording artists and others concerned about protecting intellectual property rights, many of whom supported SOPA, had a legitimate beef. And there was no good way to gauge what measures the public would support to address that.
A handful of staffers in the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., thought they might have a solution. As the debate over SOPA rose to a boil, they launched the Madison Project, an online forum where users could comment on proposed legislation, suggest alternative text and vote those suggestions up or down. It was a cross between Microsoft Word’s track changes function and crowdsourced book reviews on Amazon.
Not all examples of this new breed of interactive social media happen at the macro level of legislation and presidential directives. Agencies across government have been turning to the platform IdeaScale, for instance, to gather feedback on more granular policy questions.
Once an agency poses a question on IdeaScale, anyone can offer a response or suggestion and other discussion participants can vote those suggestions up or down. That typically means the wisdom of the masses will drive the best ideas from the most qualified participants to the top of the queue without officials having to sift through every suggestion….
What many people see as the endgame for projects like Madison and Textizen is a vibrant civic culture in which people report potholes, sign petitions and even vote online or through mobile devices.
The Internet is great at gathering and processing information, but it’s not as good at verifying who that information is coming from, says Alan Shark, a Rutgers University professor and executive director of the Public Technology Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on technology issues affecting local governments.
“Star Trek is here,” Shark says. “We have these personal communicators, their use is continuing to grow dramatically and we’re going to have broader civic participation because of it. The missing piece is trusted identities.”