In her Ted Talk, remedy ‘Coding a better government, viagra ‘ Jennifer Pahlka suggests that apps, thumb built quickly and cheaply, are a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments — and their neighbors.
She describes what is happening in the USA, but the concepts could apply equally well in the UK. The first example Jennifer gives is where local people “Adopt a Fire Hydrant.’ In winter, people often tend to clear snow from footpaths in front of their houses/businesses, but fire hydrants are often left completely covered in snow. As a result, they often prove difficult to use in event of a fire. A simple app was written to mobilise local people to ‘adopt a fire hydrant’ and ensure it was kept free from snow. Not only did it work…. the app spread virally. The same thing has happened with an ‘adopt a tsunami siren’ app. and several others.
The important point Jennifer makes is that these apps take less time to write and are much less costly than many government ‘projects,’ which can take years to accomplish and then often don’t work. Good ideas can spread virally if they’re open, not smothered by bureaucracy and left free to spread organically; they can lead to wider opportunities for people in different communities to share ideas, take on responsibility and get much more involved in things that affect life in their own communities.
If designed specifically for democratic purpose, digital technology can be very very good at supporting collective action. But, it takes more than technology alone. To change local governance and share power with people, the onus is also on local government to become more like the Internet – freer and more flexible. Officers need to understand how to network.
Among the main measures of the Localism Act are ‘new freedoms and flexibilities for local government’ and ‘new rights and powers’ for communities and individuals.This means there are new opportunities to develop creative approaches to local governance and citizen empowerment leading to increased responsibility for and participation in the things that affect people locally. The challenge is to recognise new potential, alter course and act dufferently.
Watch the video and hear about the ‘Possum App’ and how people can take steps themselves to help strengthen civil society.