Carmi Levy: open government is about leveraging technology and citizens to do more with less

It looks like the dog days of August 2011 may be the month when the meme of a citizen-centric government gets some traction in the business world. Over on the finance section of Yahoo Canada, Carmi Levy writes that the future of government is citizen-focused.

Levy cites open government in British Columbia and initiatives in New Zealand, Toronto, and Lousiana as case studies for his thinking and then connects the dots with the big idea: that technology enables officials to empower citizens to work with government in new ways, driven by macrotrends towards open data, mobile connectivity, social media and austerity measures.

…governments are increasingly giving citizens free rein to do as they wish with previously inaccessible data. Costs are significantly reduced as big, conventional IT projects are replaced by more on-the-fly approaches to resource management. Timelines are also cut down to size thanks to the use of agile development methods and more collaborative models. Crowdsourcing also maximizes the use of newer technologies, thanks to home-based developers looking to market their prowess to a broader audience. This all translates into more bang for the public buck.

Proponents of open data initiatives claim they increase government efficiency and effectiveness by encouraging greater levels of citizen participation in the creation and delivery of public services. But in light of the just-completed U.S. deal to restructure its debt ceiling and begin trimming the federal budget, it’s difficult to ignore the cost side of the equation, as well.

As governments on both sides of the border find themselves increasingly pressured to deliver the same — or more — services for less, open data and so-called Government 2.0-based initiatives could hold the key to taxpayers having their cake and eating it, too. As government shrinks, citizens willingly take up the slack using rapidly evolving development and social media tools.

Open government isn’t just a philosophical concept designed to drive democracy.

It’s really about leveraging technology — and technologically enabled citizens — to do more with less. By throwing data out there and seeing what develops, governments can reduce spend and enable business in ways they simply wouldn’t be able to do if they functioned conventionally. They can leverage the motivations and skills of interested members of the public to create value that conventionally hired departmental resources have never been able to achieve; at least not at this level of efficiency.

-Carmi Levy (@CarmiLevy)

It’s a bold vision, although perhaps a familiar one to those who have been following the narrative that runs through these open government stories. The notable connection is connecting this approach to the need that governments have now.

If open government is going to work better, however, citizens will have to become more civically engaged — and their governments will need to both listen to them and work with them.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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