Public engagement is powering civic improvement

I had the good fortune of attending the Open Government panel during Social Media Week in New York City, where city leaders profiled recent efforts and discussed plans to further transform the New York government's digital presence.

I had the good fortune of attending the Open Government panel during Social Media Week in New York City, where city leaders profiled recent efforts and discussed plans to further transform the New York government's digital presence. 

Perhaps the most exciting part of the panel was the introduction of Rachel Sterne, New York's first chief digital officer. While still new to her job, Sterne is formulating an initial 90-day report on the state of digital affairs in the city. During her remarks she talked about the importance of citizen involvement in New York's operations. 

As founder of Ground Report, Sterne championed citizen journalism and reporting. In her new role as New York's digital czar, one might assume that she will continue to harness the power of crowds and communities to advance the public good through innovation and creative partnerships.

Throughout the nation and the world, more and more governments are recognizing and leveraging the power of the Internet and social media to engage with citizens and encourage a deeper collaboration in the function of the communities where we live.   

On one end we can see a new level of transparency and accountability as enabled by groups like the Sunlight Foundation, which empower people with data and tools to enable greater scrutiny of elected officials and government operations. The attorneys general in a number of states have pursued similar efforts to add a measure of disinfectant in their jurisdictions.

On the proactive side, we can see progressive, creative states and cities working to crowdsource the operation of government and the delivery of social services through an open-source civic model. Coast-to-coast public sector agencies governing anything from regional transportation to crime prevention are partnering with citizens to innovate and improve public service. 

Public affairs professionals operate at the intersection of public and private sectors, giving us a unique opportunity to help transfer innovation and communication best practices between business and government. Sharing strategies and facilitating collaboration presents an exciting opportunity for us to make meaningful contributions to society. 

The ability of government to leverage these digital innovations to engage with the public in new and different ways that foster open dialogue will continue to build trust between individuals and institutions and lead to increased civic involvement. It should be our goal as professionals to serve as catalysts and fuel that trend. 

David Vermillion is EVP and the New York public affairs practice leader for Edelman.

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