Let’s Keep Public Conversations Public

Last week we came across sentiment on a government technology blog that we thought had disappeared five years ago.

"The objective should be to enable PRIVATE, fast, secure, 2-way communication between the Public and the responsible Service Provider"

This quote was in response to a discussion of SeeClickFix as a public and open channel as such, we felt this was an important time for us to reassert a few of our beliefs.

I3Open

On Privacy


We believe that public conversations should be public. We are grateful as residents of our own hometown that our city communicates with us publicly. We hear the same sentiment from our hundreds of thousands of users around the US. We are also humbled to have thousands of public officials who have opted to benefit from the public gratitude that comes with doing public work publicly. We know that what we created with our users and partners breaks the traditional mode of digital communication. But it very much mimics the analog process of a town hall in the fashion that our democracy was established.


The attitude that conversations with the public should be kept private is fundamentally dangerous to civil society. We are going to continue to stand against technology that promotes unnecessary opacity by leveraging a social network that provides meaningful value to government officials in ways they will never receive from opaque communication. The public record laws foundational to SeeClickFix were established for the public good. Modern technology lets us have more of that public good more often. In the case of Open311, we have helped set a new standard through code with our partners and the White House for the future of government and civil society.

On two-way communication


We believe that two way communication is necessary for solving problems in the public space. A few reasons why:


  1. Residents have become discouraged from communicating with government. Public feedback loops are the only way to efficiently undo the damage of recent years past.

  2. The public space is complicated. It's hard for a government official to know where their own jurisdiction starts and ends. For citizens it is even harder. Assignment to the proper agency or accountable org based on location is crucial for the public space. Any government vendor who argues otherwise is technically incapable of solving the problem or not listening to the real problem.

  3. Requests about the public space are fundamentally public. The effect of the resolution benefits more than the requestor. We are not asking for a refund on our airline tickets. We are asking for help solving a problem that affects many.

  4. If you can open communication for more people to speak up you can also open up communication for more people to respond. We are increasingly surprised by the diversity of individuals and organizations that solves problems in the public space. City Hall shoulders much of the burden but they have a greater support system that can be leveraged.


Evolution


Our beliefs have evolved over the years as we learn and grow with our partners in local government. We respect and value the need for those within a public organization to have internal conversations that do not directly include the public. Over the last few months we have added a number of internal tools to help with direct communication between government users of the platform. It has been a pleasure to see the effect the internal workflow tools have had in improving local government communication. We will continue to adapt the platform to this increasingly mobile connected workforce. We also know that as this part of the workforce eases into SeeClickFix through internal communication the end result will ultimately be more public communication.


To our team adoption of SeeClickFix by both residents and officials has been shockingly fast. We do not expect that every government official will participate in SeeClickFix today nor do we expect every resident to participate today. We know that public conversations historically only happened when an official was being shamed or blamed. We know that lack of civic participation globally is the challenge we all fight in the civic tech space. We have found one of the successful solutions in that fight. By providing a neutral space for residents and governments to solve problems together we find that even conversations where officials are not yet participating sometimes lead to a resolution. If every government official and resident signed up for SeeClickFix tonight we might declare victory. Until then we have a lot of work to do attracting and welcoming new members of this passionate civic community. Open communication is a critical component on the road to a truly engaged populace and respected government service.


BB


Not convinced that the future of civic communication is open and many to many? Check out last week's GovLove podcast with our partners from the great State of Florida.