Gavin Newsom’s Citizenville and Next Generation Government

Many advocates in both government and private enterprise seek to bring about a transformation to the relationship between government and citizenry. Recently, one of the highest profile figures in state government has led a charge to create the next generation of government-public interaction through technology. 

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California and former San Francisco mayor, released the book Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government earlier this year. The main points of Citizenville can be broken down as follows:

  • Governments must embrace open data with standardized data formats and civic Application Program Interfaces (APIs) that allow easy integration and access for citizens and third parties.
  • Governments should actively lay out a roadmap for the future and give “innovation” an internal set of initiatives, much the same way the private sector has embraced innovation. This can even include a “Chief Innovation Officer” position.
  • Social media, citizen engagement apps, and even community town hall events are instrumental in keeping an ongoing dialogue between citizens and elected officials.

The cities of Austin, Fresno, Oakland, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have accepted the “Citizenville Challenge,” which is an initiative to actively adopt these recommendations.  

It is not a coincidence that Newsom’s proximity to Silicon Valley as former mayor of San Francisco influences much of this model. Newsom is a business owner as well as a collaborator with the tech sector, who has even unveiled a plan for a “California government app store” at an event hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership group.  Newsom has pointed to Steve Jobs and the case of iPhone applications as a model of success: create an effective and robust platform (such as the Apple App Store) and count on the efforts and creativity of countless collaborators to drive innovation. 

Newsom has also pointed to a seemingly innocuous but massively popular website as a model for the future of government success – Yelp. Though it may seem like a stretch to tie restaurant reviews to invigorated democracy, it is worth pointing out that Yelp was disruptive: it moved an entire industry away from the realm of elites and experts and opened it to the transparent influence of the citizen critic.

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