Thoughts on Engaging U.S. Citizens In Their Government

I’ve been mulling this topic over a lot lately. It really hit home when I traveled from my insulated community in the DC suburbs back down the I-81 “technology corridor” through Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia to the rural community where I grew up… 18 miles from the nearest town in rural Alabama. The average income is $18K. The average household income is ~$36K. There is little to no cell service much less broadband service. The number of citizens with computers that actively use the Internet for anything more than a little shopping or Facebook is limited to those households with kids ages K-12. Beyond that, much like the inner city or tribal Afghanistan, governmental decisions occur at community’s epicenter: the marketplace. In Alabama, it happened to be the local diner. In the inner city it’s usually something else.

So how do we service all of these citizens with OpenGov and Gov 2.0 initiatives? I think it all comes back to providing the same infrastructure that Gov 0.1 started from: the post office. Today, most Official Government correspondence is communicated via Post. In order to move to the next generation of Official Government correspondence we should consider the incentives to do so. Maybe Internet Cafe-style kiosks that run on a dedicated network for accessing local, state and Federal Government websites would be a start?

Overall, the solution is going to be multi-faceted: infrastructure, sociological shifts in the levels of acceptance of engaging the Governments via electronic mediums, education, and then the incentives for “doing business with the Government online” instead of via paper. One such example that is gaining ground in N. Virginia is that the cost of paper based processes is being tagged onto the filings and taxes as a separate line item. Once I saw that it was going to cost me extra to do my business with the local Government via paper, I switched to online transactions where, originally fee subsidized, the fees are now waived.

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The information contained on this post is my opinion, and mine alone (with the occasional voice of friend). It does not represent the opinions of any clients or employers.