Digital democracy allows people to attend public meetings anytime and anywhere, and express opinions and share feedback and great ideas. Nothing should ever completely replace the in-person public meeting, but those meetings are not always conducive or convenient for all citizens. Digital democracy extends the range and opportunities for citizens to weigh in on important topics. The process promotes transparency by allowing citizens to be part of the decision making process, and promotes accountability by showing decision makers are responding to its citizenry.
The City of Rancho Cordova began a digital democracy pilot program in 2013 to provide another opportunity for citizens to voice feedback. The first topic discussed whether chickens should be allowed to be raised in residential neighborhoods. Forty-nine statements of feedback were received in response and the page was visited 1,898 times, with half in favor and half in opposition. City staff compiled a full report of responses and presented it to decision makers as they reviewed the ordinance and made a final decision. Since that time, the City has engaged citizens in decisions on how the City should be involved in water conservation (712 page visitors and 98 responses) and if regulations should change to encourage urban agriculture (100 visitors and 27 responses). Overall, the program allows the City to engage with hundreds more citizens than usual and provide more feedback to decision makers.
With success in the first pilot program, the City is now embarking on a second and expanded pilot program with MySidewalk. Click here to view the system, which is currently being set up for Rancho Cordova. One advantage of the new system is it not only allows the City to gather citizen feedback on topics, but it also allows citizens to present ideas for community feedback. This addition encourages citizen engagement by allowing neighbor-to-neighbor dialogue on proposed programs or ideas generated at the neighborhood level.
Additionally, other demographic data can be collected and overlaid onto citizen comments, in part because home address is required at registration. For example, a citizen may make an important comment on a critical item. Not only will digital democracy allow that person to make the comment at their convenience, but City staff can easily measure the quality of life issues that exist in that person’s environment (e.g., statistics for their neighborhood including education levels, employment/unemployment ratios, home ownership vs. rental ratios, etc.). Citizens will have more opportunity to give input and the City will have the added value of considering the input and the relationship to key quality of life factors.
If there is a strong presence of feedback in one area over others, the City can target the area for further outreach to ensure concerns or desires are fully vetted prior to presenting the information to decision makers. The same can ensue if there is a lack of feedback from one target audience the City is trying to reach for feedback.