Government agencies have gradually opened up to using concepts like crowdsourcing as a method for civic engagement, but according to former Manor, Texas, CIO Dustin Haisler, agencies have not yet met their full potential to effectively utilize such tools. During GTC West, a two-day executive event in Sacramento, Calif., hosted by e.Republic Inc., Government Technology’s parent company, Haisler spoke about the challenges of civic engagement in the public sector and suggested actions agencies should take to better connect processes.

Haisler may be considered a top thought leader in open innovation and civic engagement due to his prior experience in the public sector. In 2010, Haisler was a 23-year-old CIO helping shift the way Manor citizens connected with their government. During his tenure as CIO, he led efforts to roll out QR codes around the city and was instrumental in the launch of Manor Labs, a crowdsourcing platform. The site gave citizens the opportunity to submit and vote on ideas for improving the city coupled with incentives to win prizes.

After leaving the public sector a couple years later, Haisler went on to head up KlabLab, a startup based in La Jolla, Calif. Although now working in the private sector, he continues to explore new methods for helping governments stay innovative, particularly with civic engagement.

Future of Civic Engagement

While many open source, crowdsourcing platforms have proved successful in the private sector, government agencies are still facing challenges when trying to connect all the pieces to the puzzle, Haisler said. Ideas from one department may not be making their way over to another department. In addition, funding sources from one government project could possibly be used for another, but are not transitioned over properly.

Haisler said although civic engagement efforts are currently happening in government, processes like implementation, funding and validation for such projects are siloed, so there needs to be more integration to bring them together.

“One thing I’ve realized in government is we all have an incredible amount of knowledge, but it’s siloed,” Haisler said. “A lot of times it’s siloed in the departments. The interesting thing is when you connect it; when you open the data, you start to truly collaborate.”

By connecting the dots and bringing those business processes full circle, cities and agencies can start to make more connections when the data is open and the processes are transparent, something Haisler considers to be the future of civic engagement in government.

He said open data will allow cities and agencies to build systems that leverage information, therefore creating true collaboration. This idea will, for the first time, put all levels of government “on the same playing field.”

Where to Start?

Governments can utilize crowdsourcing and open innovation tools for projects like infrastructure grants, state strategic plans, community challenges and software development, Haisler said, but agencies may wonder how to best start a civic engagement project.

For this, Haisler recommended four basic steps:

1.    Identify a Starting Point

Don’t tackle everything at once. Start small, and see if current projects that utilize crowdsourcing are working.

2.    Start Inside Your Agency

Haisler said agencies should use their own employees first to test out a crowdsourcing platform.

3.    Gradually Expand

After testing among internal employees, expand to other departments and then from there go outside your agency and later to the public.

4.    Measure, Adapt and Share

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.