Internet tools aid economic planning
New Web-based tools are giving local governments more options for engaging residents, and cities are experimenting with them as they create economic development and strategic plans. While the latest use of e-governance may be an efficient means of getting information to large numbers of people, one expert says governments must ensure that the programs provide a two-way dialogue between officials and residents.
On Aug. 1, San Jose, Calif., began using its Wikiplanning Web site to gauge public opinion on the city’s Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan Update. Residents can log on to the site and discuss a variety of specific issues, as well as participate in message boards, surveys, photo sharing, mapping and more.
Since going live, more than 3,000 unique logins/sign-ups have been created, and the city aims to reach 10,000 within the next few months, according to San Jose Chief Strategist, Kim Walesh. “The response to the San Jose Wikiplanning project has been phenomenal. [The participants represent] a broad generational and ethnic swath of the people who live, work and care about San Jose,” Walesh says. “With this momentum, we are well on our way to achieving input from the goal of 1 percent of our 1 million resident population.”
The Internet also plays a key role in a new program under way in Roanoke, Va.. In March, the city implemented a Creative Communities Leadership Program (CCLP) following the Washington-based Creative Class Group’s (CCG) model, says Stuart Mease, the city’s special projects coordinator and CCLP site coordinator. As part of the program, 30 volunteers from the community were divided into groups for each of the “Four Ts” of economic development — technology, talent, tolerance and territory assets — that make up the CCLP model.
The groups use a Web site, www.thecreativeconnectors.com, to communicate and invite others to participate in projects. More than 1,000 people have responded to the site, Mease says. “That’s how [the groups] are updating their information between their own members and then trying to engage more people,” he says. “It’s very much a viral, grassroots effort.”
The 2008 presidential election started to normalize government use of electronic media in communication, says Pamela Imperato, director of the Center for Healthcare, Nonprofit and Public Administration at Bellevue University’s College of Professional Studies in Bellevue, Neb. “E-governance is allowing for more direct access, or perceived access, to elected officials,” Imperato says. “What’s important is that any kind of e-governance vector allow for deliberation among citizens, among stakeholders, to occur.”
To achieve that, residents need to be able to have give-and-take interaction with officials. “Unless you have that back and forth, you’re not having deliberation,” she says. “You’re not having people being able to alter their impressions, change their minds, gain more knowledge [and] gain more information.”