On Friday the Government of British Columbia announced that it was beginning the process to renew the province’s water act. This is, in of itself, important and good.
More interesting however, is that the government has chosen to launch a blog to discuss ideas, prospective changes and generally engage the public on water issues.
It is, of course, early days. I’m not one to jump up and proclaim instant success nor pick apart the effort and find its faults after a single post. What I will say is that this type of experimentation in public engagement and policy development is long overdue. It is exciting to see a major government in Canada tentatively begin to explore how online technology and social media might enhance policy development as more (hopefully) than just a communication exercise. Even if it does not radically alter the process – or even if it does not go well – at least this government is experimenting and beginning learn what will work and what won’t. I hope and suspect other jurisdictions will be watching closely.
If you are such a government-type and are wondering what it is about the site that gives me hope… let me briefly list three things:
- Site design: Unlike most government websites which OVERWHELM you with information, menus and links, this one is (relatively) simple.
- Social media: A sidebar with recent comments! A tag cloud! RSS feed! Things that most blogs and website have had for years and yet… seem to elude government websites.
- An effective platform (bonus points for being open source): This may be the first time I’ve seen an official government website in Canada use wordpress (which, by the by, is free to download). When running a blog wordpress is certainly my choice (quite literally) and has been a godsend. The choice of wordpress also explains a lot of why point #2 is possible.
So… promising start. Now, what would I like to see happen around the government’s blog?
Well, if you want to engage the public why not give them data that you are using internally? It would be great to get recent and historic flow rate data from major rivers in BC. And what about water consumption rates by industry/sector but also perhaps by region and by city and dare we ask… by neighborhood? It would also be interesting to share the assumptions about future growth so that professors, thinktanks and those who care deeply about water issues could challenge and test them. Of course the government could share all this data on its upcoming Apps For Climate Change data portal (more on that soon). If we were really lucky, some web superstar like this guy, would create some cool visualization to help the public understand what is happening to water around the province and what the future holds.
In short, having a blog is a fantastic first start, but lets use it to share information so that citizens can do their own analysis using their own assumptions with the same data sets the government is using. That would certainly elevate the quality of the discussion on the site.
All in all, the potential for a site like this is significant. I hope the water geeks show up in force and are able to engage in a helpful manner.