The digitization of government and democracy

It’s no secret that mobility, cloud computing, and the Internet of Everything has changed the pace and process of commercial and consumer dynamics. Customers want information and service on-demand and delivered in real-time. Because digital transactions are faster, more convenient and mobile, they are now the 21st century precedent. Citizen demand for speed and transparency in service delivery from the government is no different. Government bodies are reaching a point where they must be ready to exchange data and services at all times and across multiple channels for the sake of efficiency, transparency, and democracy. Government bodies are reaching a point where they must be ready to exchange data and services at all times and across multiple channels for the sake of efficiency, transparency, and democracy.

Fortunately, an onslaught of diverse and open technologies and increased involvement from startups are lighting the path toward progress. With today’s automation and technology, government department records can be digitized, making it easier for employees to find information and fulfill public data requests.

See also: Global government spending on Internet of Everything skyrockets

In New Zealand, the government worked with software provider, ForgeRock, to test a system allowing citizens to select and share digitized records with caregivers, in order to get benefits. Meanwhile in India, the Digitize India Platform provides digitization services for scanned documents or physical paperwork for any organization.

On the other side of the world in America, the Digital Government Strategy has been initiated to develop and publish an open data, content and web API policy for the Federal Government, which is feeding the app developer’s industry. For example, when the city of San Francisco released public transportation data on train routes and schedule updates, app creators were able to build more than 10 different navigation tools for residents.

In Palo Alto, CA, the city has adopted an “open data by default” policy. Palo Alto city manager James Keene, and Palo Alto CIO, Dr. Jonathan Reichental, stressed the importance of fostering openness and collaboration in government IT in a Brookings post in January. They believe centralization should be a practice of the past, and included that their IT department was rechristened the Civic Technology Center.

“Our IT offices are open space, with an Apple-like “genius bar”, and a small conference space open to private sector technologists for meetings and collaborative mash-ups.”

To move digitization and civic engagement forward, Keene and Reichental say government agencies need to kill big government hardware, and restructure so that every design plan and technology service is built around mobility.

The city of Palo Alto is one of the first clients of Peak Democracy, the creator of Open Town Hall, a cloud-based civic engagement platform that facilitates public participation in local democracy. The company has worked with over 100 government agencies across North America and powered over 1,500 online forums. Its Open Town Hall app allows governments to have control over citizen engagement and provides real-time insight and reporting tools, including geographic and demographic analysis. 

Peak Democracy co-founder, Mike Alvarez Cohen, says the demand for the online civic engagement service has been growing steadily.

“Our company’s vision is that online civic engagement will become standard operating practice, and correspondingly ubiquitous across the tens of thousands of government agencies in North America,” he shares. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Patience, agility, and listening to customers is key for moving the platform forward.

“Under our agile development process, we are frequently releasing new feature sets,” says Cohen. “We prioritize our product road map based on feedback from our client government agencies.”  

In the same vein, government agencies are undoubtedly receiving feedback from citizens.


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About Melissa Jun Rowley

Melissa Jun Rowley is an award-winning journalist, on-air host, and content strategist with a passion for all things tied to social innovation.

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