Coming out of the banking industry, I began my career in local government almost four years ago as the Finance Director for a small growing city in Central Texas. After a few days on the job I realized there were significant technology shortfalls that needed to be addressed. At the time, the city did not own a server and each departmentâ€™s software operations were run on stand alone machines, and there was no integration. The biggest challenge was how to overcome this monstrous obstacle with an IT budget less than $100,000. We could have issued debt to pay for building a technology infrastructure from scratch, but instead, we decide to innovate most of our own solutions. After three years of software and network integration, the City of Manor is now recognized as a leader in local government technology. The amazing thing is that through innovation and creativity our city was able to make this transformation with limited funds in such a short period of time. These technologies have allowed us to further increase efficiency and transparency in our community.
One of our most notable Gov 2.0 campaigns can be seen in our deployment of a Quick Response Code (QR-code) program. I discovered QR-codes when I initially began hunting a solution for our lack of a document management system. I was drawn to QR-codes because I could generate them for free and they could also be decoded using a camera phones equipped with a free reader installed. This meant that instead of investing in a $50,000 document management system with expensive barcode reading equipment, I could make my own system for free. In addition, I realized that QR-codes could be used not only for document management but for information dissemination, and ultimately, economic development. We placed 24-fixed mounted QR-codes signs throughout our community. When scanned, each code links to a website specific to its location of placement. For instance, if you scan the code in front of one of the water towers we are constructing, your mobile phone browser would be redirected to a website with information about that particular capital project. It contains information about the company building the water tank, how much it costs the taxpayer, when itâ€™s scheduled to be completed, and much more. If the project information needed to be updated, the only thing that needs to be changed is the content on the website. Once this project is complete, I can simply move the metal QR-code sign to a different project and replace the content on the website that it links to. We also have the QR-codes placed on historic homes and other points of interest. If you scan a QR-code on a historic home your mobile phone browser will be redirected to additional historical information including pictures and audio narratives. This two-year old program has celebrated great success, and I enjoy traveling the US telling cities how they can use this program, or one of our many others, to change the status quo by increasing efficiency while cutting costs in the process.
Local government agencies have the biggest opportunity for improvement using Web 2.0 tools because, speaking from experience, they have the lowest number of resources available and the greatest needs. Local governments are on the frontlines of citizen interaction, and for many people, their primary government experience is with a local government agency. Through the use of Web 2.0 technologies, local government agencies can offer their citizens many features that would have otherwise been unobtainable through an expensive industry software package.
I donâ€™t necessarily believe that thereâ€™s a killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm. I think that this will be achieved by a change in thought process. As a government employee I know that minimizing risk is a top priority; however, I have seen some agencies that claim that using Gov 2.0 technologies is risky because it gives the public â€œtoo muchâ€ information. This flawed thought process needs to be purged from any government agency that still clings to it. Gov 2.0 is not a new model for information dissemination; instead, it is a new way of thinking.
What excites me about Gov 2.0 is its ability to empower and engage citizens in their local, state and federal government agencies. Our citizens can help drive innovation and creativity in government, and Gov 2.0 allows their voice to resonate in agencies across the country. Some of the greatest ideas in the world came from the bottom of the totem pole, and what allowed them to ultimately be successful is the open atmosphere in which they were derived. In my community, we refer to this atmosphere as Gov 2.0.