Cary, NC – It’s happened at the Town already. It was just a matter of time. I’m the “techy” one, so I’m used to it. Yes, I’m now “technical support.”
I’ve now taught 3 folks (who shall remain nameless) how to use their smart phones. How to turn them on and off, silence them, and how to load apps. (C’mon Verizon and AT&T – show people the basics before you let them leave the store!) But I digress.
I should first say that I love doing that. It’s always been my passion to help people use technology to improve their lives – whether as a Product Manager or Homeland Security Advisor at Cisco, teaching internet safety classes or training teachers to use technology in the classroom as a way to excite and engage students.
Confessions and Solutions
And, I have a confession. I have an addiction to the toys. It’s true. I have 2 smart phones, 2 Macs, a desktop PC, an iPad, and other gadgets. I just love the stuff.
And, I don’t think I’m alone. Wherever you go in Cary, you can find people on their devices. Folks texting,tweeting, or updating their Facebook status. They’re “checking in” or using Foursquare, sharing tips and restaurant reviews, shopping and navigating.
So, we use these tools in our day-to-day lives – so why can’t we use them to improve our engagement with at the Town, and with our citizens? I think we can.
Scratch that, I know we can.
The Birth of Tech Town
Many years ago, a citizen (now Mayor Weinbrecht) joined and led the Information Services Advisory Board. It’s an advisory board to council on technology and communications used by the Town. That board, under his leadership, did some incredibly innovative (at that time) things.
They worked closely with staff and council to recommend website updates & communication ideas, with a goal of opening up more of our processes to the web (such as online permitting, and posting meetings over video.) Much of this work garnered awards for the town back in 2003.
But, in my opinion, we haven’t continued that progress. We once called ourselves the “Technology Town of NC” – but that isn’t where we are today.
But it COULD be again.
My vision is of a town that leverages our fantastic infrastructure to deliver “just in time” information to it’s citizens. Using social media (like the Town’s Twitter feeds and Facebook pages) to reach out to citizens – for example, posting park and field closings (no more calling the phone and waiting for the answering machine.)
Her are some other specific ideas:
- Enabling SeeClickFix – (here’s Raleigh’sversion) a mobile app that empowers citizens to assist the town in identifying non-emergency issues such as potholes, broken traffic lights or clogged sewers. Citizens will be able to help us locate and identify issues, and be part of the solution to help improve our community.
- Streaming Town Council and other meetings for those of us without access to CaryTV 11. A growing number of us have DirectTV, without access to our cable access channel. Let’s create channels of information, in small nuggets making it easy and quick to digest the content.
- Mashups of GoogleMaps with greenways, bike paths and other “citizen created” layers. (Take a look at one from New York City.)
- Teach Cyber Security and Cyber Safety to our citizens. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. and we should find ways to teach our citizens how to stay protected while they’re connected. (Full disclosure: I have a board seat on the National Cyber Security Alliance –www.staysafeonline.org. )
- Citizen outreach and reducing paper – using online surveys and portals/blogs to more quickly engage with citizens, use more online communications to reduce mail and postcard printing costs, and collaborate with citizens.
So many of these capabilities and applications are not only low or no cost – but some may save us money down the road, while also increasing citizen engagement and satisfaction. Plus, there’s always the cool factor.
Lori Bush, a technology executive, is an At-Large member of Cary Town Council. She is the new Council liaison to the Town’s Information Services Advisory Board.