MAPLight

Gov 2.0 Hero: Daniel Newman

What was your path to Gov 2.0?

As a volunteer in politics, trying to improve my community, I realized the tremendous influence of wealthy interests which slant laws to their benefit. I co-founded MAPLight.org to shine the light of transparency on the river of money that underlies our politics and to help citizens hold their politicians accountable.

What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?

The biggest opportunity comes with getting government to post its data on campaign donations and voting records. It takes continuous, serious pressure to make this happen.

This past year, MAPLight.org sought data about how California legislators voted. We had to sue to force the government to release this information and we won. But it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to make government make information available. It’s amazing that government has to be dragged into the 21st century in this way.

On the Congressional side, public records have been published sporadically if at all. Information on Congressional committee votes should be up on a website the same day the vote is taken, not released months later, if at all. Information about how our government representatives vote should be available to everyone and not just people or firms that can afford thousands of dollars for private subscriptions to this information.

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

The killer app is a political representative who is both honest and savvy about reaching and working with the voters. It’s a government official who will use the web more effectively to engage his or her constituents, whether they use email or discussion forums or other means. And conversely, we definitely need more and better ways to access elected leaders.

What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

I’m excited that it’s easier than ever for citizens and voters to determine what their elected officials are doing and hold them accountable.

The internet makes it possible for good research to be done and shared.

MAPLight.org is a lean and effective organization. With just six full-time staffers, we have reached at more than 13 million during the past year and a half with groundbreaking research findings on how campaign dollars align with lawmakers’ votes. Our work has been featured on CNN, Marketplace, and hundreds of other media outlets. New Internet tools make it possible for organizations like ours to shine a light on government in ways that are farther-reaching than ever before. This empowerment of anyone who wants to shine a light on government is the exciting promise of Gov 2.0.

What’s Gov 2.0’s return on investment?

I work in online marketing and social media for my “day job,” and we are endlessly consumed with how to measure returns on investment (ROI) in the Web 2.0 space.

There are similar issues with measuring Gov 2.0 ROI. You can involve yourself in all sorts of efforts — publicizing data, engaging in social media, utilizing email campaigns, encouraging questions, fostering transparancy. And all these things are great, but (just like with our marketing clients) someone’s got to answer for the bottom line. With governments tightening their belts and funding being cut, showing that investment in government transparency pays off is crucial.

The things is, there are no easy answers. A post from openSF (Measuring ROI of Gov 2.0 Efforts) highlights a few ways in which various social media efforts actually SAVE money, including:

  • Vivek Kundra quantifies value in dollars
  • Gavin Newsom notes the cost-savings of using Twitter (free) for 311 vs a SMS provider ($100K)
  • Edwin Bender, executive director of followthemoney.org, in a conversation sites legislative change through the use of their data in two Supreme Court cases
  • MAPLight.org (money/vote connection) highlights the use of their data in media to help promote accountability

The truth is, this space is so new, relatively speaking, there aren’t a set of cut-and-dried rules that apply across the board when determining what counts as making a worthwhile investment. There may never be. The flip side of this conundrum is that we can be a part of helping to determine ROI. We, the people, have the burden to prove its relevance and importance. And as the several examples above prove, once you get creative and put your mind to it, it may not be that hard after all.

Questions:

  1. If you’re involved with an agency that places importance on transparency, why do you think they place an importance on such?
  2. What are some ways your agency “proves” the worth of its Gov 2.0 efforts?
  3. Have you discovered any unique, cost-effective ways to spread information?