Published 5:59 pm, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, www.sfgate.com
by Gavin Newsom and Ken Goldberg
Although the results of last week’s primary election are still being certified, we already know that voter turnout was among the lowest in California’s history. Pundits will rant about the “cynical electorate” and wag a finger at disengaged voters shirking their democratic duties, but we see the low turnout as a symptom of broader forces that affect how people and government interact.
The methods used to find out what citizens think and believe are limited to elections, opinion polls, surveys and focus groups. These methods may produce valuable information, but they are costly, infrequent and often conducted at the convenience of government or special interests.
We believe that new technology has the potential to increase public engagement by tapping the collective intelligence of Californians every day, not just on election day.
While most politicians already use e-mail and social media, these channels are easily dominated by extreme views and tend to regurgitate material from mass media outlets.
We’re exploring an alternative.
The California Report Card is a mobile-friendly web-based platform that streamlines and organizes public input for the benefit of policymakers and elected officials. The report card allows participants to assign letter grades to key issues and to suggest new ideas for consideration; public officials then can use that information to inform their decisions.
In an experimental version of the report card released earlier this year, residents from all 58 counties assigned more than 20,000 grades to the state of California and also suggested issues they feel deserve priority at the state level. As one participant noted: “This platform allows us to have our voices heard. The ability to review and grade what others suggest is important. It enables elected officials to hear directly how Californians feel.”
Initial data confirm that Californians approve of our state’s rollout of Obamacare, but are very concerned about the future of our schools and universities.
There was also a surprise. California Report Card suggestions for top state priorities revealed consistently strong interest and support for more attention to disaster preparedness. Issues related to this topic were graded as highly important by a broad cross section of participants across the state. In response, we’re testing new versions of the report card that can focus on topics related to wildfires and earthquakes.
The report card is part of an ongoing collaboration between the CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative at UC Berkeley and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to explore how technology can improve public communication and bring the government closer to the people. Our hunch is that engineering concepts can be adapted for public policy to rapidly identify real insights from constituents and resist gaming by special interests.
You don’t have to wait for the next election to have your voice heard by officials in Sacramento. The California Report Card is now accessible from cell phones, desktop and tablet computers. We encourage you to contribute your own ideas to amplify California’s collective intelligence. It’s easy, just click “participate” on this website: CaliforniaReportCard.org
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