It’s often too easy to bemoan the state of government. It’s an easy target for being too slow, out-dated…and in extreme cases, corrupt or wasteful. That’s really a disservice to the countless men and women who go into work each day to make our communities better for us. Sure there are really issues to tackle. However, rather than just complaining, try doing something about it. What can ordinary citizens do, you ask? Alot…First, you’re not ordinary and you know it. You can do great things. Second, there are many examples (like these) that have been created by ordinary people just like you.
Sometimes local government can do something really brave and interesting. Yesterday, four mayors from around my area launched a regional open data portal. Honestly (hate to admit it), I wasn’t expecting this level of thoughtfulness and foresight. Not only have these mayors championed more openness for their cities, they also agreed to contribute data to a regional repository so that analysis and creativity can expand beyond artificial political boundaries. They did this without knowing what will be found, what will be done and any future implications…pretty brave stuff if you believe the stereotypes of politicians. This opens a big door for ordinary citizens to explore, create and help with our communities’ issues. Even “out of the box”, the portal starts with some basic visualization tools, the ability to download the data and has API’s to connect to. Immediately, citizens can start to work with the data in a very real and useful way.
So just being helpful and looking to solve problems is a great reason to be an engaged citizen. However, the biggest reason is that – frankly – city governments need to focus on the basics. The majority of resources in any city HAVE to be dedicated to public safety. Look at Indianapolis budget for 2015. Almost 60% of the entire budget is going for public safety and criminal justice. Additionally, well-meaning city employees continue to be expected to do more with the the same level of resources (you’ll see for the last several years, the total budget is relatively unchanged). Therefore, we have to re-think how to get more done without extra funding. While it may be a small contribution initially, citizen-driven collaboration can be a powerful tool for local governments. In conversations with some city employees, they welcome the collaboration and help (since they are really normal people, they hate the constraints too…go figure!).
So when I really stop to think about it, it’s amazing that much of anything gets done outside of the basics of keeping people safe and infrastructure working. Even then, they can’t stop all the horrible crimes like the one that recently happened in our area. So I say, keep city officials focused on safety and crime…and lets gets some citizens to help with some slightly lower priority – but nonetheless important items. Even in the 21st Century, citizens can help out their communities…and therefore, their neighbors. Let’s get out there and do something…and let’s be safe out there!