In an article published today in SF Gate, Beth Simone Noveck, co-founder of GovLab and visiting professor at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service reviews Gavin Newsom and Lisa Dickey’s new book “Citzenville’: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.
“Upgrading the operating system of our democracy and making town hall as easy to navigate as Twitter has real potential for improving people’s everyday lives. “Citizenville” offers both an impassioned plea for more tech-enabled government and a tour d’horizon of the ways some governments have begun using technology to good effect. …The company at the center of the book is Zynga, creator of “FarmVille.” In the game, players work with their friends to tend farms and animals to advance to the next level. It’s addictive – much more engaging, Newsom and Dickey suggest, than participating in the dull life of our democracy. If more of government involved play and prizes, Citizenville would be just as engaging as “FarmVille.”
But according to Beth, ” the authors of “Citizenville” don’t acknowledge that getting to this kind of decentralized, participatory, tech-enabled democracy is a long and uncertain path.” In particular, she surfaces “two different challenges to achieving greater self-governance. First, we have to create incentives for people to engage more. Second, we have to create incentives for government to let them do it. Zynga wants players to create their own farms because the company gets rich if they do. Newsom and Dickey suggest that if we make self-government fun, people will sign up. Maybe. But we also need to make enabling self-government a positive for the majority of politicians and civil servants who currently lack the incentive.”
Finally, Noveck makes reference to the absence of the views of real people in the book: “We never hear from San Franciscans about whether the city is a better place to live since the adoption of tech-enabled innovation. We are left wanting but not knowing how to make Citizenville work in reality”.
Despite these qualifications, Beth Noveck recommends the book and acknowledges Newsom’s leadership in her conclusion:
“Citizenville” might not give us the evidence that its proposed solutions will work. But it surely gives us the faith that open government – namely, more participatory, decentralized and agile institutions, enabled and supported by advances in technology – could lead to better solutions for citizens and more legitimate democracy. And, thankfully, if we are looking for a politician who claims he knows how to get out of the way and catalyze bottom-up democracy, we know where to find him.”