Citizenville by Gavin Newsom and Lisa Dickey

This article was inspired by Gavin Newsom and Lisa Dickey's Citizenville . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.


How to Make a Transparent Government

“Opening up government data is…the right thing to do. We paid for it. We own it. We have a right to it.”

Unfortunately, Americans these days see government as a collection of politicians who run our country without our input. However, the Founding Fathers created this country as a democracy “for the people.” As a citizen of this nation, you are supposed to be in control of the government. They are employees working for you!

In an age of information, technology presents the government with an opportunity to make their spending more transparent than ever. This would regain the trust of its citizens again. When people have to submit Freedom of Information requests just to know what is being done with their tax money, this affects morale. This information should and can be made available to all if the government allows it.

WikiLeaks demonstrated that transparency will have its day whether allowed or not. Bureaucrats may fear that the public’s opinion of government will be affected negatively if the government is transparent, as citizens can also see bad news. Despite fears of security leaks, a government should strive for transparency. It demands the same of its citizens.

A standardized Application Programming Interface should find use among government agencies as a way to share open data. Falling behind in the Internet age, the US ranks 26th in Internet download speeds.

On the US Department of Veterans Affairs website, a big blue button allowed veterans to download and save their own information. The VA met objections by stating that it was the veterans’ personal information and that they had a right to it. Now other governmental agencies seek to use the same protocol on their websites.

One of the most popular games of our age, Farmville has generated $1 billion for its developer, Zynga, as it sells goods to users. What if local governments created a virtual game, in which participants could allocate funds to projects in their communities? Rather than seeing taxes as unpleasant, the internet age could make tax paying into an enjoyable virtual experience.

In Estonia, people vote digitally over a period of days rather than meeting at town halls were votes become more polarized. Technology, when implemented correctly, brings people together. Currently, Republicans and Democrats fail to agree on anything. Partisan politics really means nothing at the local level. The openness that technology provides could show people that both Republicans and Democrats really have the same obligations at the local level, so voting could transcend partisanship.

If our government would use technology to become more transparent, people would put their trust in it again. Unfortunately, the government is so paranoid about making its failures public that people cannot see what has actually been done with their money. With the Internet being such an integral part of peoples’ lives, this is as good a time as any for the government to share information with its citizens.

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