Stephenson: Government in your hand

Governing in the YouTube era will change relations between government and citizens

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to let people attach camera-phone photos or videos to their 911 or 311 calls demonstrates how new technology will inevitably empower individuals in their relations with governments as it has their relationships with the news media. Referring to YouTube’s popularity, a Bloomberg aide said, “This is the way the world is now working, so it’s just time to bring 911 and 311 into cyberspace.”

Powerful, networked personal communications devices and applications are part of the reason for the transformation. Equally important but less understood, however, is a new scientific understanding of how leaderless groups, such as social networks of people linked by cell phones are capable of high-level collaborative thought and action.

That combination can transform the public’s relationship with government from a passive recipient of services into an invaluable collaborator. One example of how devices and applications are empowering individuals illustrates the potential for new interactions between government and individuals.

The District of Columbia publishes several Web-accessible databases that it updates in real time. Using one of those databases and city maps, also available on the Web, someone created a Google mash-up that tracks pothole complaints and pothole repairs.  A mash-up combines content from two or more Web applications in a new hybrid Web application. Displays showing the status of potholes repairs subtly, but effectively, keep the city’s Department of Public Works on its toes. That example also illustrates an important aspect of the Web 2.0 world. Some call it “sousveillance,” which happens when people turn the tables and monitor government.

Also, the growing scientific understanding of the principle of swarm intelligence is an important aspect of this potential transformation of government. The term suggests that groups of people may be capable of a higher level of collaborative behavior than could be predicted from the abilities of individual members.

The synergies between networked devices and social networks mean that friends and neighbors can share real-time, location-based information during a terrorist attack or disaster and plan better responses than preplanned ones to fast-changing situations. An example of that is the action of strangers thrown together on Flight 93, who used situational awareness obtained from cell phone calls to organize the only effective action left for them to take that day of terrorist attacks.

In addition to the new benefits, Global Positioning System devices and camera phones create privacy concerns. But people can manage them by designing interactive processes to eliminate crank users.

During the recent tornadoes in Alabama, first responders had trouble communicating because they, along with everyone else, reached for their cell phones rather using the state’s $18 million emergency network. Does that undercut my point? Not at all. It only shows that government must move quickly to use these devices for creating a resilient, flexible network in which we all have a constructive role.   

Government in your hand — it’s coming whether officials want it or not. The government’s challenge will be to find new ways to make the public an effective partner in government and capitalize on this new, bottoms-up technology.

Stephenson is president of Stephenson Strategies, a homeland security and e-government consulting company.


The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above