My first epiphany about the potential of social media came at a government-centric conference at the end of 2006. I recently had another one of these moments, this time as a presenter at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington D.C.
For those who may not be familiar with Gov 2.0, it’s essentially the movement to engage government at all levels on the web. The key concepts are transparency with public data and helping citizens become active participants in their government.
One of the events bringing people together around these concepts is the Gov 2.0 Expo, which was held for the first time this year. I spoke about creating online communities that help non-technical audiences start using new media so they can become consumers of your content. I call them social media “cribs,” and they may be fostered by organizations initially, but driven by their communities. Such communities were critical to NCPTT’s early efforts on the social web.
I found a new community of my own at the Expo. So many folks are earnestly working to make government at all levels–from towns to countries–work for and with the citizenry. The developments in the Web over the past few years have given us the capability to achieve the promise of a democratic government for the first time in a very long time. When governments make their information open and accessible to the public, they begin to function as facilitators rather than roadblocks. The public then begins to function as an extension of the government as they remix and repurpose this data to serve their needs. In this interactive process, we all begin to see each other people.
I met a lot of really good people at Gov 2.0. Folks like Denice Ross of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, who never lost her grace or good humor as she kept me updated on the BP oil disaster’s continuing impact on our home state of Louisiana. And Carl Malamud of Public.resource.org, who gave me tips on preparing speaker notes in the style of Abraham Lincoln. Among the weighty topics presented throughout the conference, these little moments of connection served to demonstrate the importance of personal relationships and trust to the functioning of government.
That’s a huge step, because we’re removing those barriers–from information access to geography–that we’ve traditionally used as excuses for not understanding each other. With all its current hardships, I’m grateful to be living in this time of vast potential. Cultural heritage is also key to our understanding of one another, and our ability to achieve our full potential. I hope that my sharing NCPTT’s journey at the Gov 2.0 Expo helped a few more folks understand why.
On the way back to the airport, passing the National Mall and its shimmering reflection on the Potomac, it struck me that there was really no better place to be telling this story. After all, what is Washington D.C. without the principles of progressive government and protecting cultural heritage?