On the Road: Open Government Part 4

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The Open Government Tour 2014 is officially in the books. I rode my motorcycle about 18,500kms all in an effort to bring attention to the Open Government and Open Data Movements.

One of my goals was to put into practice the theories of Open Government. In a weird way, I (kinda) wanted to put myself in the shoes of government/public servants and have a better understanding of their perspective in executing a project that truly embraced the Open Government values.

Now that the #OGT14 is over, I’d like to share my thoughts on how government/public servants can help bring about an Open Government culture.

Politicians are ruining Civic Engagement

Those who read this post belong to a very small community of Engaged Citizens and Public Servants who want to bring about change. Thing is, the vast majority of citizens and public servants are NOT engaged.

Most call it apathy. Others, like Dave Meslin, say that it is due to bad marketing. Now that I’ve completed the Open Government tour, I propose there is atleast one more reason why people aren’t engaged:

People don’t want to be affiliated with politics.

What kind of politics? The kind they see on TV. You know what I’m talking about, right? Politicians trying to cover up their scandals. Politicians acting as bullies or as spoiled little children. Politicians two-facing citizens by kissing babies and attending ribbon cutting ceremonies.

That’s what people see…all the time. Whether it be columnist, breaking news, pundits, that’s all people ever see. Bad politicians doing bad things.

And when news outlets aren’t clip-baiting us into reading a story, politicians themselves are making concerted efforts to remind us during that politicians abuse their power! That politicians aren’t up for the job! That politicians have dangerous ideas! Heck, even the Green Party has gotten into fear mongering. Because that’s what elections, electoral advertising, and electoral debates have turned into: Diatribes about why you can’t trust other politicians because they’ve screwed up our country.

Politicians don’t don’t trust each other. They keep reminding us we shouldn’t trust them. And then they have the audacity to talk about how people aren’t engaged anymore. What kind of thinking is that?

This thought has never been more eloquently written than in Steve Paikin’s book The Dark Side.

“When airlines buy advertising, they don’t spend millions of dollars bad-mouthing their competition. They wouldn’t think of boosting their own image by pointing out how many fatal crashes other airlines had experienced. If they did, no one would fly anymore because of the loss of confidence in the entire industry.

But politicians are different. They think of nothing of venturing out on search-and-destroy missions against their opponents, and then are surprised when the public concludes that they’re all a bunch of bad apples. If all sides toss the mud – and the media lovingly report every luscious details – how can we be surprised when the public stops voting, or loses faith in the entire political process?”

I propose to you that one of the reasons why people aren’t engaged is that they say to themselves “If being engaged means being like that, then I don’t want to be engaged.”

Here’s how I came to this conclusion:

The #OGT14 Bike is a big blue motorcycle that has the words “Open Government Tour 2014” proudly displayed on its fairing. That kind of bike with that kind of language got quite a bit of attention at gas stations, parking lots, and tourist stops. Strangers would walk up to me and ask “what’s this all about?” To which I would proceed with my elevator pitch on Open Government:

“Open Government is kinda like Social Media. You know how ~10 to 15 years ago Social Media drastically changed the way we interact with people? Well, Open Government is gonna drastically change the way people interact with their government.” And to drive home the point, I would also explain the Vending Machine vs Platform analogy.

“People are tired of fighting, people are tired of playing the zero-sum game.”

The most frequent reaction to my explanation was always something along the lines of “ya, we gonna do something about those politicians,” (stronger language was sometimes used).  That’s when I would tell them “Actually, Open Government isn’t necessarily about Politics or Politicians…it’s about Governance.”

At this point I could tell by the look in their eyes that I had hit on something. That difference between politics and governance had not truly been expressed before and it seemed as though they finally understood.

This might sound silly, but I think people aren’t engaged because they’re under the impression that it means they also need to be part of the rancid environment that we know as “politics.” And I don’t blame them.

I like to refer to myself as a “recovering politicians” because I represented the Green Party on three occasions (2006 Federal, 2007 Provincial, 2008 Federal). I wanted to make a difference by trying something different. I used to say “We tried the left, we tried the middle, and we’ve tried the right. We know what we’re gonna get with those options, so why not try something different and see what happens?”

The reason why I chose to leave politics is that – for me – I found the environment to be counter-intuitive to the goals of what politicians are supposed to be: They are elected representatives for their constituency and are supposed to represent their entire riding. Not just those who voted for them.

That kind of environment, one where someone wins and someone loses (aka the Zero-Sum Game) may have once been relevant, but not anymore. It no longer connects with how people view the World.

NOTE: In the next few weeks I will be releasing a post that offers an alternative job description for elected representatives:  Politicians as Facilitators.

People need to know that Civic Engagement isn’t just about being a politician. They need to know that options like Open Government do exist and that those options relate more to their sensibilities.

People are tired of fighting, people are tired of playing the zero-sum game…which is no surprise to me that things like the “Sharing Economy” or entities like Bcorp (who assess whether or not businesses are Triple Bottom Line compliant) are becoming more popular.

That’s why I always use Social Media as an example to frame what Open Government is all about. Social Media is NOT a political issue like climate change is an issue. Social Media is a tool that creates relationships.

Similarly, Open Government can be viewed as a tool that creates collaborative relationship between people and their government.

 


Richard PietroRichard Pietro considers himself as an Open Government Fanboy in an attempt to create Civic Engagement as Art. Richard’s Twitter handle is @richardpietro and you can learn more about his work at MyEinsteinJob.blogspot.ca.

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