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Web 2.0 and Citizen Engagement

September 24, 2008 By

We hear the term "Web 2.0" everywhere. For many, it's mostly associated with YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. However, like any term that develops into hype, the definition seems to expand.

Open source advocate Tim O'Reilly said, "Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform."

The best explanation may come from Wikipedia: "Web 2.0 Web sites allow users to do more than just retrieve information. They can build on the interactive facilities of 'Web 1.0' to provide 'network as platform' computing, allowing users to run software applications entirely through a browser. ... These sites may have an 'architecture of participation' that encourages users to add value to the application as they use it."

Web 2.0 offers vast opportunities for local government to organize and interact with citizens. However, it presents new challenges to government's customary approach to citizen engagement and leadership.

Ten years ago, government could usually get ahead of the news story by managing the news cycle. Fast-forward to the world of Web 2.0 and the reality of de facto "citizen journalists." If there's Internet access after a large disaster, videos, blogs or photos will likely be on the Net within hours, if not minutes. How does government keep up with information online that solidifies people's opinions, and also possibly influences their actions?

Local government must embrace Web 2.0 technologies because they offer new ways to interactively engage citizens as partners in action.

In this issue, we examine some Web 2.0 implications for government and explore the possibilities to enhance community and local government service to citizen.

While discussing media and community in general, we also offer a take on changing media ownership rules, which some say could seriously impact locally owned and operated community media. Examples of regional cooperation on IT projects, an option many communities will investigate in the future, are also discussed.

These articles reflect how we're expanding digital communities beyond what's traditionally been viewed as the wired community. It's safe to say a digital community is one that embraces Web 2.0 possibilities, creating innovative ways for citizens to interact with government.

Improving citizen service has been a fundamental driver for IT in local government over the 20 years. With Web 2.0, we step beyond the service paradigm by essentially adding another layer: government as a platform for community-citizen interaction and cooperation in ways yet imagined.

And that makes the future of digital communities very exciting.

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