Public-Government Interactivity: An Example for the Future

19 12 2009

In the midst of partisan bickering and intra-party squabbling over major policy issues such as health care reform and the federal budget, it isn’t surprising some people are deeply upset over the current direction –or lack there of– of the United States government. However, I will not be weighing in on either of these political hot potato issues.

Instead, attention should be paid to an encouraging sign of the government actively soliciting public insights for greater transparency and interactivity. Luckily, I came across this awesome endeavor and felt it very worthy of passing along.

Following the lead of President Obama’s initiative for greater government transparency with the release of the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies earlier this year, work is underway to increase public input on Data.gov’s future growth. For those unfamiliar with Data.gov, this website serves as a central nerve center of sorts for accessing a plethora of government information presented in one place online. The idea behind such a website is a strong one but it is clear that work remains to make the site more user friendly.

A promising step towards this feat comes through a collaborative effort between the Chief Information Officers Council and several other government groups to shape Data.gov based upon user suggestions. This attempt is being carried out now at the Evolving Data.gov With You website. Here, users can propose ideas for greater government transparency and efficiency that are then viewed by other visitors who can vote in favor of ideas they find most beneficial. The voting concept demonstrated here is very similar to the type of social ranking systems utilized by popular websites like Digg.com that rely upon user input to determine the popularity of user submitted stories.

You may be wondering:

  • Why is this important?
  • Why should I care that about this?
  • What’s in it for me?

For one, the idea that the government is actively working to make an easily accessible platform for visitors to shape how the future of Data.gov evolves is a rather new concept. This is especially relevant when considering it is not just a concept, it is actually being undertaken through actions.

Secondly, as citizens complain about the government turning a deaf ear towards what the people want this should serve as a demonstration of a changing mindset it Washington, D.C. President Obama proposed rather sweeping changes through the aforementioned Memorandum earlier this year to force government entities to tackle ways of making government more responsive to the people it is meant to serve.

Thirdly, the open forum for idea sharing and user contributions at Data.gov provides a free idea generator to the government. By soliciting insights from visitors who perhaps come from a wide range of professional backgrounds, the government can benefit greatly through the variety of different perspectives towards usability these citizens provide.

Along those lines, the website interface of the voting platform used with Data.gov is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. The structure of each page on the site is consistent so as to limit the chances of a visitor getting lost with no way to retrace their steps. Also, the information presented is clearly separated into different categories allowing users to access the material they are most interested in without wadding through pages of unrelated material.

I have already voted for the ideas which I feel would be most beneficial to citizens trying to access and use information provided from the government. There are many ideas presently waiting for your vote. If you want government to be more responsive, you have to speak up. Here is a great opportunity to do just that. Encourage these initiatives to assist the government in order to help us. I did my part today in this process. Question is, will you do yours?

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