Councilmember Bruce Harrell
COUNCILMEMBER BRUCE HARRELL CALLS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT
OF A CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT PORTAL
Citizen Website and technology strategy will solicit feedback from public to help shape and enhance public policy
SEATTLE — Councilmember Bruce Harrell has evaluated the process and method in which the citizens of Seattle communicate their opinions to the Seattle City Council and how citizens receive legislative information regarding key issues. Earlier this year, he announced as part of his work plan a key initiative to improve Citizen Engagement through Technology. After communicating with constituents on major issues through e-mail, community meetings, public hearings and telephone, Councilmember Harrell has concluded that the City has not prioritized a communication strategy or policy that captures and quantifies the majority of citizens who do not historically participate in public process. They are the “silent” majority.
Approximately 83% of Seattle residents use the Internet and have a computer at home and Seattle is one of the most wired cities in the United States. Costly advisory ballots are not the answer and our continued reliance on traditional polling strategies and archaic note taking are outdated and inexact. “Listening and leading are not mutually exclusive. We value public process in order to gain input. Most of the input usually comes from listening to a limited number of committed citizens, community activists, special interest groups and professional lobbyists. Listening is a science and the technology exists that can significantly broaden our city’s outreach capability and quantify the opinions of our citizenry. If we prioritize this policy, it will dramatically change how we serve our public.”
While direct or face-to-face communications are extremely useful, it does not provide the Council with a scientific, real-time quantification of its citizen’s opinions. Most citizens do not testify at public hearings or communicate directly with Council members. Councilmember Harrell is concerned about having their voice excluded from the process, particularly when laws, policies or decisions appear intrusive, unnecessary or unfair to its citizens. Smart policy decisions are based on the interests of the entire public weighed against special interest or advocacy groups. The goal is to understand the views of most citizens, which appear to be the missing link in this process. Citizen engagement through technology will make this data readily available.
With the available web technology, Councilmember Harrell will call for the implementation of an online gateway incorporated with the current Seattle.Gov website that allows every citizen the opportunity to provide their input in a structured, electronic polling format. Through a Citizen Engagement Portal, citizens will also have the option to receive legislative notices and information that may affect their neighborhood, job or interest. Ideally, the City’s customer service system will be maximized by providing a visual search engine with a tagging system that currently exists on most online community sites. This will assist the public in finding answers to non-emergency matters such as pedestrian safety information, bicycle/automobile road-sharing rules and development projects in their area.
A comprehensive report of Councilmember Harrell’s evaluation to maximize citizen communications should be available in the next few weeks. The report will also address the fact that a small percentage of citizens still do not use a computer or the Internet. “Given Seattle’s unique position in technology, software development and innovative thinking, we should continue to be at the forefront in how municipalities use technology to understand its citizens, disseminate information and form public policy. Our communication strategies and technology policies should reflect our commitment to listen to our citizens.”