Inside Capitol Hill’s Northwest Film Forum theater #2, in front of an audience of citizens, technology experts, journalists, students, and some of his own campaign volunteers, mayoral candidate Mike McGinn held an open forum on creating “Government 2.0” — a formation of policies and actions to utilize technology to manage and deliver information to the city. Amongst minor campaign plugs and a few “future mayor” Freudian slips, the focal point of the meeting was the McGinn campaign’s new website, IdeasForSeattle.org. The site, which is already up and running, is a place where citizens can post, vote up, and comment on ideas for improving the city as a whole, and create a platform for them to be gathered in one place. “People have a ton of wisdom, knowledge, and passion, and they need to figure out how to tap into what’s going on so they can contribute to the city,” said McGinn.
Following models such as Data.gov, and DataSF.org , McGinn hopes IdeasForSeattle.org will be the first step in creating a government data platform that will, according to McGinn’s presentation, “Do more with less, Democratize the data, and Revolutionize community engagement.” Mcginn, who uses web 2.0 Company 37Signals’ project management web application Basecamp for his campaign as well as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, has experience in the emerging tech world, but admitted to the attending crowd of geeks that he was definitely not an expert. The meeting was introduced by McGinn, as audience members provided questions and suggestions on the future of a government 2.0 for a little over and hour following McGinn’s presentation.
The session was mostly about creating a discussion and information gathering for the campaign. McGinn wasn’t ready to answer bigger questions like will he have a documented technology and information policy, will there be increase in city IT resources or will new roles in City Hall be created to make ‘Government 2.0’ happen. “Great questions,” McGinn said and then got back to the brainstorming.
McGinn continued to field questions on issues such as the power of a new tool like his site, trust, privacy, and collaboration. There was concern that despite the novelty of a site like IdeasForSeattle, it could be forgotten, overwhelmed, or overruled by powerful private interests that can simply pick up the phone and contact government directly. McGinn’s response stressed the need for online and offline collaboration, saying the tool itself won’t deliver, and participation from the community and leadership is required for it to work. Audience input included the need for the data to not only to be open, but shared across the region using accessible, open source formats. Again McGinn acknowledged the need for openness, and expressed interest in dumping industry standard formats from “our neighbors to the east” — as one attendee referred to Microsoft — in favor of cheaper, open source alternatives.