Embracing web 2.0 technology (Rep. Mike Honda)

Americans will increasingly be empowered to participate in government if they see that their ideas are being considered. When the public believes that they are being heard, they increasingly will involve themselves in the democratic process. The advent of web 2.0 technologies, like Twitter and Facebook, has facilitated new ways to foster this involvement. The existence, however, of these new mediums is not enough to realize the goal of participatory government. It is necessary for elected officials to make use of this new form of citizen input so that it is heard and utilized.

Using a new technique, called Crowdsourcing, to redesign my website was an attempt to utilize these new mediums and give voice to people's ideas. Now more than ever, government websites serve as a critical interface between the public and policy-makers. The design of a Congressional website represents a major endeavor: A regularly updated website, with easily accessible information, plays a critical role in informing the public. So I thought, why not allow constituents to creatively show me exactly what they want?

This democratization of government information ushered in an unparalleled level of communication between my constituents and the design community. I was able to give power to the people like never before. Anyone with Internet access, a copy of Photoshop, and an imagination, was able to submit website design concepts. In a short time period, the project received close to a hundred designs submissions from a wide range of participants and renewed my belief that public empowerment can revolutionize government.

The excitement surrounding the project has been most surprising. On the design end, a diverse range of do-it-yourselfer - from mothers, to college students, to professional designers - were eager showcase their design concepts. On the constituent end, hundreds of voters from my CA-15th district wrote in with interest and input on their favorite design proposals. My constituents wanted to have a hand in government. They wanted to know that their ideas are important to us, they wanted to feel relevant.

This desire for relevance was highlighted appropriately by the designer who was eventually chosen in the Crowdsourcing project: A woman, in a mostly male-dominated industry, from an area of the nation that has been hardest hit by the current economic recession. Jane Madsen, an art director from Chicago, Illinois, submitted the website design concept that ultimately received the most support from my constituents, my
office, and the web vendor GovTrends.

The web 2.0 medium provided me with an opportunity to give democratic relevance to Jane's work, to include her in this process we call governance. I believe that if we as lawmakers continue to do this for
our constituents, we will truly reach the goal of participatory government. We have many important national debates before us and the public's voice must be made relevant throughout. The challenge will be to maintain a minimal filter, from the public's voice to the final product. If a young woman from Illinois can boldly undertake the design of the first-ever crowd-sourced government website, I am confident we can meet these challenges head-on.