What does it mean to be a creator and how can we make it easier and more rewarding?
To be a creator is to take the step from merely accessing information online (in the form of data or content) to adding new information (again, content or data) online. Using online tools to submit forms or payment also falls into this category. There are countless venues through which people can do this: through apps, government websites, and nongovernment websites. More on each of these in a moment, because to talk about any of them requires an understanding of why anyone should visit any of them.
Though many people walk through the stages of Citizen 2.0 one rung at a time (I've already written about becoming a consumer), some people jump right to this stage. They're often motivated by a problem (e.g. graffiti on their streets, a broken street light, an unkempt public space) and they're looking for an easier way to notify their government. Sometimes, they're motivated by the possibility of saving time while performing a required activity, like renewing a license or paying a parking ticket. Yet other times, they feel like they have an important contribution to make to the public dialogue, for example about a pending rule change, or about an issue they hold dear.
In short, people create for one (or more) of three reasons: to complain, to comply, and to converse and connect.
Creating to complain
Perhaps the greatest motivator, or at least the most urgent, is the need for people to let their government know that it's failing them. Before the advent of digital social media, people would flock to town hall meetings and agency hearings to give the government a piece of their mind. Now, they can take to digital channels to do the same in real-time and with multimedia engagement. Here are a few ways Gov 2.0 is helping Citizen 2.0 complain:
- Mobile Apps: iTunes and Android market are bristling with apps to allow people to complain to their governments. Selections include SeeClickFix, FixMyStreet, CitizenConnect (for Boston), iBurgh (for Pittsburgh), and Citizen Report (for Portland, OR). Others, of course, abound.
- Twitter: The microblogging platform can easily get the attention of your government -- all you need to do is use hashtags. A lot of local, state, and federal agencies are engaged on Twitter and many staffers are listening to conversations through the use of hashtags. Try looking up the name or abbreviation of the city (for example, #dc in Washington.) and see how they're tagging their posts. In D.C., for example, you could tag your tweets with #DCVending if you wanted to dish about food trucks
- Exchange.gov: Do you feel strongly about the proposed changes to the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System rules? How about any other matter open for public hearing? The Exchange on Regulations.gov is the place to raise your voice.
- Facebook: Many federal agencies, as well as city (here's Annapolis) and state governments (Georgia), have a presence on Facebook that they monitor and post to. It's a good place to lodge a complaint on a fairly public medium.
Creating to comply
No one likes standing in line at the DMV to renew their license, much less doing their taxes by hand. Both governments and private sector organizations have created online tools to help people fulfill their civic obligations:
- Apply for an Employee Identification Number from the IRS;
- Apply for unemployment benefits in Washington, DC;
- Start a Business in New York City; or
- Skip the DMV lines in California.
Creating to converse and connect
This is the natural progression of people who begin the journey of Citizen 2.0 from consumer. They've read some blogs or comments on regulations and now want to add their own voice to the discussion. Here are some places that they are likely to visit:
- When DipNote bloggers asked "Which Issues Should Top This Year's United Nations General Assembly Agenda," 53 people responded.
- Astronaut Ron Garan asked on his NASA blog for the best 200 songs in the world to bring with him into space. So far he's got only 68, though two-dozen people have given him more suggestions.
- The first blog entry from DHS garnered only six comments, but in a testament to open government, even harsh comments were not removed (harsh as in "Why don't you hire people who have first hand, in the field, boots on the ground, combat (Iraq and Afghanistan) experience rather than DC egg heads and "book read" big shots.")
- On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a number of EPA officers posted their recollections of the storm, to which 11 people left comments.
- When the Patent and Trademark Director David Kappos posted "Trademarks Next Generation," about how his office is modernizing and streamlining its process, 51 people left comments.
Of course, there are many nongovernment sites that feature conversations on governing, but most also tend to be politically self-selecting and the comments often tend toward the partisan. In those kinds of environments, it is difficult to stay focused on questions of implementation and management.
Next, I'll explore ways to move from creating content online to helping co-deliver services typically seen as the provenance of government.
Follow Gadi Ben-Yehuda on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gbyehuda