The Future of Public Participation: Better Design, Better Laws, Better Systems

Tina NabatchiEmma Ertinger and Matt Leighninger in Conflict Resolution Quaterly: “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, conflict resolution practitioners faced a dilemma: they understood how to design better ADR processes but were often unsure of their authority to offer ADR and were entrenched in systems that made it difficult to use ADR. Today, public participation faces a similar dilemma. We know what good participation looks like, but using better participation is challenging because of legal and systemic impediments. This need not be the case. In this article, we assert that tapping the full potential of public participation requires better designs, better laws, and better systems….(More)”

Three ways to reframe a problem to find an innovative solution

Stephanie Vozza at FastCompany: “Everything really comes down to solving problems. To be successful and a leader in your field, you not only have to come up with good solutions; you need to be innovative. And that can feel like waiting for lightning to strike.

Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head And Into the World, has been teaching classes on creativity and innovation at Stanford University School of Engineering for 16 years, and she says most people don’t have a clear understanding of what those things really are.

“Imagination is envisioning things that don’t exist,” says Seelig. “Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge. Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions. And entrepreneurship is applying innovations, scaling the ideas, by inspiring others’ imagination.”…Reframing a problem helps you see it as an opportunity, and Seelig offers three techniques for finding innovative solutions:


Start by questioning the question you’re asking in the first place, says Seelig. “Your answer is baked into your question,” she says.

Before you start brainstorming, Seelig suggests you start “frame-storming”: brainstorming around the question you will pose to find solutions. For example, if you’re asking, “How should we plan a birthday party for David?” you’re assuming it’s a party. If you change your question to, “How can we make David’s day memorable?” or “How can we make David’s day special?” you will find different sets of solutions.



When an individual or group is tasked with being creative, often there’s pressure to only come up with good ideas. Seelig likes to challenge teams to only think of bad ideas.

“Stupid or ridiculous ideas open up the frame by allowing you to push past obvious solutions,” she says. “There is no pressure to come up with ‘good’ ideas. Then, those terrible ideas can be re-evaluated, often turning them into something unique and brilliant.”…


Another way to reframe a problem is to challenge its perceived limitations or rules. Ask, “What are all of the assumptions of the industry?” Make a list and turn them upside down by thinking about what would happen if you did the opposite….(More)”

Innovation Experiments: Researching Technical Advance, Knowledge Production and the Design of Supporting Institutions

Paper by Kevin J. Boudreau and Karim Lakhani: “This paper discusses several challenges in designing field experiments to better understand how organizational and institutional design shapes innovation outcomes and the production of knowledge. We proceed to describe the field experimental research program carried out by our Crowd Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University to clarify how we have attempted to address these research design challenges. This program has simultaneously solved important practical innovation problems for partner organizations, like NASA and Harvard Medical School, while contributing research advances, particularly in relation to innovation contests and tournaments….(More)

Why it is time to redesign our political system?

Article by Pia Mancini: “Modern political systems are out of sync with the times we are living in. While the Internet allows us unprecedented access to information, low costs for collaborating and participating, and the ability to express our desires, demands and concerns, our input in policymaking is limited to voting once every two to five years. Innovative tools, both online and offline, are needed to upgrade our democracies. Society needs instruments and processes that allow it to choose how it is governed. Institutions have to be established that reflect today’s technological, cultural and social realities and values. These institutions must be able to generate trust and provide mechanisms for social debate and collaboration, as well as social feedback loops that can accelerate institutionalised change….(More)”

The Diffusion and Evolution of 311 Citizen Service Centers in American Cities from 1996 to 2012

PhD thesis by John Christopher O’Byrne: “This study of the diffusion and evolution of the 311 innovation in the form of citizen service centers and as a technology cluster has been designed to help identify the catalysts for the spread of government-to-citizen (G2C) technology in local government in order to better position future G2C technology for a more rapid rate of adoption. The 311 non-emergency number was first established in 1996 and had spread to 80 local governments across the United States by 2012. This dissertation examines: what factors contributed to the adoption of 311 in American local governments over 100,000 in population; how did the innovation diffuse and evolve over time; and why did some governments’ communications with citizens became more advanced than others? Given the problem of determining causality, a three-part research design was used to examine the topic including a historical narrative, logistic regression model, and case studies from Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and St. Louis. The narrative found that the political forces of the federal government, national organizations, and policy entrepreneurs (Karch, 2007) promoted the 311 innovation to solve different problems and that it evolved beyond its original intent.

The logistic regression model found that there was a statistically significant relationship between 311 adoption and the variables of higher population, violent crime rate, and the mayor-council form of government. The case studies revealed that mayors played a strong role in establishing citizen service centers in all three cities while 311 adopter Pittsburgh and non-adopter St. Louis seemed to have more in common in their G2C evolution due to severe budget constraints. With little written about the 311 innovation in academic journals, practitioners and scholars will benefit from understanding the catalysts for the diffusion and evolution of the 311 in order to determine ways to increase the rate of adoption for future G2C communication innovations….(More)”

Ready Steady Gov

Joshua Chambers at FutureGov: “…two public servants in Western Australia have come up with an alternative way of pushing forwards their government’s digital delivery.

Their new project, Ready Steady Gov, provides free web templates based on an open source CMS so that any agency can quickly upgrade their web site, for free. The officials’ templates are based on the web site guidance published by the state: the Web Governance Framework and the Common Website Elements documentation.

The site was motivated by a desire to quickly improve government web sites. “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase… ‘Everything takes longer in government’. We want building websites to become an exception to this rule,” wrote Jessy Yuen and Vincent Manera, the project’s founders.

They have created five open source templates “which are lightly styled so that you can easily integrate your own branding”. They are responsive so that they fit all screen sizes, and meet the required accessibility standards….(More)”


Institutional isomorphism, policy networks, and the analytical depreciation of measurement indicators: The case of the EU e-government benchmarking

Paper by Cristiano Codagnone et al: “This article discusses the socio-political dimension of measurement in the context of benchmarking e-government within the European Union׳s Open Method of Coordination. It provides empirical evidence of how this has resulted in institutional isomorphism within the self-referential policy network community involved in the benchmarking process. It argues that the policy prominence retained by supply-side benchmarking of e-government has probably indirectly limited efforts made to measure and evaluate more tangible impacts. High scores in EU benchmarking have contributed to increasing the institutionally-perceived quality but not necessarily the real quality and utility of e-government services. The article concludes by outlining implications for policy and practical recommendations for filling the gaps identified in measurement and evaluation of e-government. It proposes a more comprehensive policy benchmarking framework, which aims to ensure a gradual improvement in measurement activities with indicators that reflect and follow the pace of change, align measurement activities to evaluation needs and, eventually, reduce measurement error….(More)”

Mobile customer service gives city residents a voice with government

Lauren Horwitz at TechTarget: “When social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling devised their broken windows theory during the 1980s, they couldn’t have imagined smartphones as tools to keep neighborhoods safe and clean. But for the city of Philadelphia, a new online initiative known as Philly 311 turns mobile devices into frontline tools for citizens to report problems and engage with local government.
Until just a few months ago, when Philadelphia residents wanted to report a graffiti-riddled building, they would have to call the city’s customer contact center. Some residents toted around hefty physical binders to track issues. But today, they can use mobile phones to report incidents and track them online without having to make a call or stop by the contact center.
With Philly 311, which launched in December 2014, residents can take photos of wayward trash littering a street, “geolocate” the incident with a mobile phone,…
With initiatives like Philly 311, the city has experienced changes in resident interaction with government. Between 2013 and 2014, for example, mobile phone use to report incidents to the city’s contact center exploded, with communication increasing more than 300%. Walk-in communication with the contact center decreased by 9%, by contrast, and email communications by 1%. Mobile reporting of incidents can thus promote some contact center efficiencies, in which incidents are automatically reported by phone and routed to the appropriate department. Lue said that the city has made the shift to accommodate residents’ need for more effective and scalable multichannel options….(More)”

Making City Hall Leaner

Nigel Jacob at Governing: “…How do we create services that people actually want to use?
The first change is to start thinking about these services as products. What’s the difference? Well, this is where we can learn something from startups. Products are the tools that we build to deliver value to our users.
Products are typically managed by one or more product managers that watch very carefully how users interact with the product so  the startup can determine which features to keep and which to toss. We can contrast this with traditional government services which are developed at some point to solve a problem of some sort, but because they are typically not monitored in a way to understand whether these services are actually adding value, they quickly fall out of sync with the needs of people.
Consider government websites that allow people to access their benefits. These sites are typically clunky to use and hard to navigate. This isn’t a small issue. It can be the difference between people getting and not getting the resources they need to survive.
Case in point: CalFresh.
These are services.

Compare this to a site such as Balance which was designed by watching how people use the CalFresh site, talking to these users about how they would like to access their benefits and then building a tool that actually responds to their needs.This is a product.
So, we need to be thinking about not only what government is building (in terms of tools), but also how it builds them.
The approach to building high-value products used by startups (and other orgs looking to build better products) is called Agile.
There are many flavors of Agile, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. One of the more recent agile methodologies that has garnered support in the startup community is Lean developed by Eric Reiss in his book, “The Lean Startup.”
Now, a word of caution. Any methodology that is used outside of the context in which it was intended runs the risk of simply not working. However, at its core, Lean is about learning what works and what doesn’t, so I’ll focus on the central elements of Lean since they have much to teach those of us who are working to overhaul local government about how to create value….(More)”

One State Wants To Let You Carry Your Driver’s License On Your Phone

at Singularity Hub: “There’s now a technology to replace almost everything in your wallet. Your cash, credit cards, and loyalty programs are all on their way to becoming obsolete. Money can now be sent via app, text, e-mail — it can even be sent via Snapchat. But you can’t leave your wallet home just yet. That’s because there is one item that remains largely unchanged: your driver’s license.

If the Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles has its way, that may no longer be the case. According to an article in the Des Moines Register, the agency is in the early stages of developing mobile software for just this purpose. The app would store a resident’s personal information, whatever is already on the physical licenses, and also include a scannable bar code. The plans are for the app to include a two-step verification process including some type of biometric or pin code. At this time, it appears that specific implementation details are still being worked out.

The governments of the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates had both previously announced their own attempts to experiment with the concept. It’s becoming increasingly common to see mobile versions of other documents. Over 30 states now allow motorists to show electronic proof of insurance. It only follows that the driver’s license would be next. But the considerations around that document are different — it is perhaps the most regulated and important document that a person carries….(More)”