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Pahlka's Vision for Accountable Citizenship

BY Nick Judd | Monday, June 7 2010

Trying to wrap my head around everything that happened at Personal Democracy Forum 2010 from Thursday through the unConference on Saturday, I encountered a transcription, in my notes, from a conversation I had with Jen Pahlka of Code for America, Bryan Sivak, the chief technology officer of Washington, D.C., and Tim O'Reilly, the Gov 2.0 booster and founder of technology knowledge powerhouse O'Reilly Media.

In it, Pahlka describes what a data-driven, collaborative city looks like. In that city, data doesn't just hold government accountable.

In that city, she said, open data holds "citizens accountable to a definition of citizenship."


Let's say you're in a city and you see a broken streetlight and you want to report that ... Nowhere yet do you report that and then see where your request sits in the queue of other streetlights potholes graffiti etc. that need to be fixed. What if, when you went online, you saw the full transparency: You saw your request go into the queue of everything that needed to be fixed what and saw the algorithm that actually prioritized that ... and you saw, suddenly, that the streetlight that you want to have fixed is part of a huge number of things that your city needs to deal with, and there's a limited number of resources, and you saw that they're fixing 10 streetlights a day and they're not going to get to yours for another couple of weeks? And maybe you also saw in that system that the streetlight that is broken five blocks away has also been the site of 20 muggings? You might then say, 'I'd actually prefer to have that streetlight fixed first because there is crime happening there.' And at that moment, I think, you have the citizenship thing which says, 'I have a need, but others have needs too, there's limited resources, I need to be a part of solving the problem of limited resources and the greater need and not antagonistic with the government saying you didn't fix MY streetlight because I am part of a society.'"

I'll have more from that conversation in just a bit.