The E-Government Act of 2002 (PL 107-347) was established in an effort to “promote use of the Internet and other information technologies to provide increased opportunities for citizen participation in Government.” Increasingly, libraries are well positioned to partner with government entities to meet their constituents online –the place where people can voice their opinions and influence decisions, transforming citizens from passive observers to active participants in a more inclusive conversation. As a vehicle for citizen engagement, libraries help build trust and maximize transparency of government while expanding their civic agency role in local communities.
Libraries can transform their roles from providing citizen access to becoming “hubs” for improved access to and input into government information and services. By promoting interactivity through social networking, e-mail and other tools, librarians can create more open and transparent public institutions and empower citizens to connect directly with each other, legislators and government agencies. In conjunction with President Obama’s initiative to promote greater civic participation in governance, libraries can reinvent their role from access agents into civic entrepreneurs, helping citizens interact with government officials in order to shape public policy and deepen the national discourse.
Two models of E-Government citizen participation are emerging. One is a deliberative model where online dialogue helps inform policy making by encouraging citizens to scrutinize, discuss and weigh competing values and policy options. The other is a consultative model that stresses the communication of citizen opinion to government, using the speed and immediacy of electronic networks to seek voter opinion to improve policy and administration. Some examples of interactive sites include:
- Regulations.gov collects public comment on agency rulemakings.
- Peer to Patent: Community Patent Review taps the expertise of distributed scientists and technologists to inform the patent examination process.
- FixMyStreet, a British site, provides an easy way to report, review or discuss local problems.
- MyBikeLane can be used to report bike lane violations around the world.
- TSA’s Idea Factory generates ideas from 40,000 employees of the Transportation Security Administration.
- Open Government Initiative blog offers a collaborative drafting process.
- The Morris K. Udall Foundation works with citizens to engage in environmental dispute resolution.
- DefenseSolutions.gov allows entrepreneurs in industry and academia a way to obtain funding for innovative solutions.
- The Crowdsourcing Public Participation in Transit Planning Project developed by the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning and the Department of Communication at the University of Utah and the Utah Transit Authority and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, sponsors an online bus stop design competition.
Actions to encourage citizen participation through E-Government include:
- Connect citizens to interactive government websites that encourage citizen feedback and participation in policy making, design and innovation.
- Encourage library users to participate in online and in-person dialogue on topics such as healthcare and the economy.
- Participate in the Obama administration’s experiments with a variety of tools ranging from a freely available “crowd-sourced” tool as part of the backend to the “electronic town hall” to wiki government where citizens participate in peer review.
- Educate citizens about their civic role and provide opportunities for them to create their own mediated messages and interact with government agencies and officials using tools that fit individual or specific community needs.
- Partner with government officials and citizens to facilitate well-informed and productive discussions online.
- Provide citizens the ability to create “My E-Government” so they can personalize their interaction with government agencies and officials.
- Become “online town halls” for E-democracy for agenda setting and discussion of public issues.