An AgencyNet guide to digital government

Enthusiastic about our new President, we turned the mic over to the agency via Yammer (think: Twitter for companies) and asked “Now that we have a Digital president, what sorts of innovations would you like to see in the way citizens communicate with their government?”

And this is what some AgencyNetters suggested:

Right now there are separate sites for everything from paying a parking ticket- to looking up government service numbers – even pay water/garbage bills. It would be great if all these sites were consolidated into one single application that could be simplified for ease of use. Once such a system is complete state/federal governments could offer more of their forms/paperwork digitally. For example, citizens could register to vote, look up statistics, register children for school – this could make the system much more efficient. - Josh G.

Technology should provide the conduit for localized social initiatives. A great deal of substantial political policy is created on the local level (education, zoning, taxes and subsequent budget dissemination, etc.) The power of online community, coupled with innovative tools (like the one I’m typing this into), and simplistic tools (like survey monkey) allow the community to truly and efficiently influence grass-roots policy, right where it matters – at home. I wonder if my 72 year-old congressman is up for a quick yammer exchange? -Rich

If the president shares his policies with the public via the internet, it will allow his administration to get an immediate pulse on whether or not those policies are in line with people’s expectations. In addition, the web will allow the grassroots movement the President created to continue. By involving people directly in policy making, he will be able to get the same level of volunteer involvement. People will feel involved and most of all feel they will they have a hand in bringing about change. -Pierre

I think that thinking the government will open the lines of communication for individual citizens to reach out is a bit far fetched .The system is set up to have representatives speak on our behalf. The only way this will work will be if the senate and state government systems create a multi-level hierarchy to allow for more direct connection to the people. But again. I don’t think this will happen.

Why don’t we incorporate an “American Idol” methodology on key issues? Imagine if a bill was held up by a filibuster…we could allow consumers to monitor a social site that would allow them to weigh in on issues. We could empower a society of engaged citizens willing to weigh in on the issues. It would also allow them to “monitor” the government instead of the other way around. -Garett

A large part of this president’s challenge is reassurance. He is taking the helm of a country locked in a mindset of apprehension and fear that projects around the world, from Detroit, to Wall Street, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Russia, Georgia, Poland and beyond. To date, the president-elect has done a wonderful job of bringing us hope, but his current efforts will not be enough. I’d like to see him double down on digital as a way to maintain his connection with the American people. Like FDR’s “fireside chats,” Obama and his senior staff should reach out via weekly webcasts, podcasts, webchat sessions, etc – keeping the country abreast of his initiatives, our standing in the world and explaining the decisions made by our government. We’ve had 8 years of a president who didn’t feel the need to explain himself, nor the need to ask for our participation. Obama finds himself with both the message and the medium to do so. -Brian

Legislative Branch. Executive Branch. Judicial Branch. Yammer Branch? -Alex

Technology allows for transparent 2-way communication (such as commenting on blogs) and can give the government a touch point on what the population feels. A polling system on important topics would allow people to speak to the government as a whole. -Larissa

Other than a more educated stance on internet/technology related issues I fail to see what a Digital Administration will bring to American politics. There are plenty of existing tools in place (phone, mail, legs) that empower civilians participation in the running of their country and while I wholeheartedly agree that the internet provides more options for a civic connection, it is still just as, if not more susceptible to the many existing problems that face more traditional methods of citizen-government communication. You just have to look at the multitude of ‘sponsored’ blogs or paid wiki ‘authors’ to see the Digital equivalents of lobbyists’ and dubious fact checking. I am hoping for Barack’s press conferences to be translated to l337-speak in real time though. -Ben H.

Obama should utilize the “collective consciousness” of the web to inform decision-making and impact change. As Rich suggests, promoting a ground swell at the local level will probably yield the best results initially. True success can only be achieved, however, if the data represents a true cross-section of society – still a challenge for the digital realm. To ignore the voices that not only remember history, but in many cases lived it, could be as dangerous as ignoring progress. There’s an expression, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. -Betsy

I would like to see a system/social network that truly empowers people to change their neighborhoods, communities, and beyond. Just like Facebook allows everyone to have a profile and create groups that bring people together, I would like to see a Facebook-like tool that allows people to voice and get behind/support their own causes: anything from gay marriage, save the whales, to save the park three blocks away from my home, etc. A user would create an organization in the digital space and get other people interested and behind that organization’s function and purpose. -Matias

Update: Since we asked this question, the president has launched a series of digital initiatives designed to address many of the concerns we discussed.  Read more about the President’s exciting digital outreach in WaPo.  Or head over to his transitional team’s digital presence at for up to date information and video updates regarding Obama Administration staffing and policy.

Update 2: Well, the transition has ended and we have a new President — and he’s got a new website.  There isn’t much there yet, but it looks like he plans to continue his use of digital to engage the nation and create an unprecedented level of transparency in government.  This particular item caught our eye: “One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”  Exciting times.  Read the first of their blog posts here.