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Business - Written by on Thursday, November 27, 2008 14:01 - 4 Comments

Unleashing Wikinomics in the City of Toronto

The City of Toronto’s web 2.0 summit is coming to a close this afternoon so I thought I’d take the opportunity to make a few quick observations about what I’ve learned so far. For those who missed it, I’ve also posted my slides from yesterday’s keynote.

Unleasing Wikinomics in the City of Toronto
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: government services)

1. Mass collaboration could change virtually every aspect of government: From the way we deliver services like education and health care to the way we develop policy and engage citizens in democratic decision-making to the way we recruit new talent into government agencies and orchestrate capability in the public service.

2. Toronto has an enormous talent pool with more than 4 million residents in the GTA. That’s a lot of brainpower to apply to the challenges that face this city. Could we make the city the most vibrant, progressive and dynamic urban space on the planet? Yes, but we’ve got much work to do to harness this latent potential. That’s why this summit was a good start.

3. Web 2.0 has enormous promise at all levels of government, but the local applications have the greatest potential to make a real difference in how citizens interact with government. The services offered by local government and the kind of decisions taken in the council chambers impact people’s lives very directly. They shape the quality of the urban experience in Toronto and the evolution of its many neighborhoods. The irony is that engagement at the local level of government is typically low, in large part because the existing consultation mechanisms are slow and cumbersome and exclude the vast majority who may not have time to show up to a council session or a town hall meeting. Web 2.0 can make decision-making around issues such as transportation and urban planning more transparent, and that transparency can bolster our ability to scrutinize our local officials (see They Work For Us). With greater transparency comes greater input, with intuitive online tools for information gathering, brainstorming, and collaborative filtering making the process of contributing less onerous and more productive. The City’s facebook consultation on the Jarvis St. streetscape improvement project (demo’s this morning) is a good start.

4. There is an emerging consensus that one of the best ways to enable government 2.0 innovation is for government to embrace the kind of platform openness that has driven the success of entities like Wikipedia, flickr and Amazon. In other words, government should open up their data and online service applications to enable any individual or third party with the skills and inclination to develop new service innovations. The rationale is simple. Government can’t anticipate how citizens’ needs may change or all of the creative ways in which services could be delivered in the future. So by providing an open platform for innovation they can leverage the talents and insights of a much broader community of co-innovators. Indeed, it’s probably fair to assume that citizens, non-profits and businesses—being generally unconstrained by rigid internal brueaucracies and strict accountabilities—will innovate around the data far faster and more freely than government can. Apps for Democracy in DC and “Show Us a Better Way” are showing us the way forward.

5. The City of Toronto’s website needs a major overhaul. Rather than a static portal for disseminating information to residents and visitors, we need a dynamic platform for citizen engagement and service innovation, using the kind of approach described above. One thing is clear from this meeting: the web 2.0 commmunity in Toronto would gladly get this done quickly — just give them access to the underlying data and services. In other cases, the city could simply piggy back on what the community has already provided, much the way local councils in the UK leverage fixmystreet.com, an application developed by a non-profit called mysociety. As of today, 200,000 people have written to their MP for the first time using mysociety’s tools, over 8,000 potholes and other broken things have been fixed, nearly 9,000,000 signatures have been left on petitions to the Prime Minister. No need for government to reinvent the wheel.

6. More than a better website, we need a new form of participatory urbanism that gives citizens a major role in addressing some of our most pressing challenges–e.g., how do we reduce the city’s carbon footprint, improve local transport, and ensure the city remains an attractive destination for investment and job creation. We need a city-wide talent marketplace and solution exchange where problems citizens can converge around these issues. This participatory urbanism project has become one of my latest favorites.

7. None of this needs to be prohibitively expensive. Technology is the easy part – it’s relatively cheap, quick to install and easy to use. The tough challenges are about changing people, processes and culture in the way things are done in the city’s administration. It will take a combination of grassroots wiki communities growing organically (with enthusiastic participants that demonstrate the benefits) and strong leadership from the mayor and other officials to create an environment where innovation can flourish.

8. Finally there’s a wealth of pathbreaking projects to draw inspiration from. This blog is a good source. Be sure to check out The Collaboration Project, run by my friends at the National Academy of Public Administration.

Feel free to suggest other sources or add your observations about the meeting!


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Wikinomics » Blog Archive » A city that thinks like the web.
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[...] 1st, 2008, 10:38am Following up on Anthony’s post about last week’s City of Toronto Web 2.0/Gov 2.0 Summit I thought I’d share this [...]

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[...] Apps for Democracy as a case study at #to20 (he talks about it at min. 30 in his presentation here) as did Anthony Williams, author of the super-awesome-sitting-on-iStrategyLabs-shelf book “Wikinomics: How Mass [...]

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