November 11, 2004 By Blake Harris
Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything
Publisher: Regan Books (An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2004
The Internet has long been heralded as a sweeping, bottom-up, empowering force, impossible to own or control the way earlier media were, and therefore, inherently promotive of greater democracy through citizen engagement. So at least in theory, the Internet could change the political topography. Yet this promise failed to materialize in any significant way in U.S. presidential elections -- that is until Vermont Gov. Howard Dean made his bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and Joe Trippi came on board as his campaign manager.
The Dean for America campaign was something new and different in American politics -- or at least certainly had not been seen for many decades in the federal arena. It was as much a grassroots crusade as it was a political campaign, and it took on a vigorous life of its own, much to the surprise of hardened political professionals -- and even Howard Dean himself. It was not the usual presidential campaign run from the top down with a $200 million TV ad budget raised from the wealthiest Americans and corporate donors in exchange for influence over national policy-making. Nor did it simply use instant polling, focus groups and message testing to marshal the party loyal and refine the contest to a few swing voters in a few key districts. In fact, it was not so much a campaign directed at ordinary citizens as it was a movement created by ordinary citizens.
Eventually more than half a million active supporters -- people who did things like sell their bikes so they could give $50 to the campaign -- harnessed the Internet's power and moved Dean into a position where, for a time, it looked like he could win the nomination.
This is the story The Revolution Will Not Be Televised tells -- of not just the rise and sudden fall of a long-shot presidential candidate in yet another tell-all campaign memoir, but rather of a daring leap of faith fueled by Trippi's conviction that the Internet was the last place democracy stood a chance. Trippi describes himself as a cynical, middle-aged campaign consultant who thought he'd seen and known it all in what he calls "a corrupt political system that had reduced politics to its basest elements."
Yet in spite of this background -- or perhaps because of it -- he engineered the spectacular success of a new kind of Internet-based politics by trusting in a legion of ordinary people to inspire, contribute, plan, organize, improve and even lead. It was perhaps the first truly decentralized, "open source" political campaign in history -- everywhere, people not only joined in, but also seemed to improve almost everything emanating from central headquarters.
Trippi believes what happened in the Dean campaign is just the beginning. Dean lost, but the people won, he said. And he predicts that the 2008 election will be waged and won primarily over the Internet. The Dean campaign, he believes, was simply the bellwether for more democratic political contests of the future -- contests no longer dominated by TV advertising and carefully packaged marketing campaigns, where issues and open debate among citizens play a real role in choosing and electing leaders. And with such change also comes real reform of government in general.
Of course Trippi might be wrong. But what separates his book from those of computer utopians in the early 1990s is that it documents not what is possible, but what actually happened in a cut-throat political campaign -- an arena where negative TV ads are used to twist public perceptions and old, time-tested rules of political engagement were, for a time, out-flanked by interactive technology.
Trippi ends the book with general observations about the Internet and its potential to fix many problems broadcast politics has created. However, the real reason to read the book, aside from the entertaining storytelling, is that Trippi might be right. The future of politics, and by extension, government, may be quite different from the world to which we have grown accustomed, despite all its faults.
Beyond service to the citizen (and what, in essence, amounts to marketing those services to citizens) lies active citizen involvement and engagement -- or the future the Internet is already fostering if the Dean campaign is any indication.
For anyone in government responsible for planning for the future, that is well worth understanding.
National Electronic Government: Comparing Governance Structures in Multi-Layer Administrations
Edited by Martin Eifert, Jan Ole Puschel
Publisher: Routledge, 2004
National governments the world over solved most technical problems with e-government. Now they face the crucial task of joining fragmented administrations and agencies to make the experience more user-friendly and effective. National Electronic Government is a two-volume comparative study that evaluates the success of implementing e-government in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Finland, Australia and Japan.
This volume examines national strategies and their institutional framework by focusing on relevant players, the interplay of administrative levels and types of control used. It focuses especially on the approaches to coordination and cooperation that enable cross-jurisdictional applications in federal and state government, and highlights emerging patterns by comparing national approaches.
Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector
Stephen Goldsmith and William D. Eggers
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press 2004
$44.95 hardcover; $18.95 paper
Top-down government is losing its predominance as the primary method to deliver public services and fulfill public-policy goals in America. Emerging in its place is a fundamentally different approach, in which government executives redefine core responsibilities away from managing government workers and programs and focus them on orchestrating both independent and public organizations to deliver services. Government agencies are becoming less important as direct service providers, and more vital as levers of the public good. This new model, which the authors call "governing by network," is characterized by the web of relationships and partnerships that increasingly constitute modern governance.
Governing by Network examines government's transformation from centralized control over public programs to facilitating services through networks of nongovernmental entities, as seen through the experience of dozens of public innovators. The book demonstrates how managing a portfolio of provider networks is a dramatically different endeavor from managing divisions of employees. Like any change of such magnitude, it poses major challenges for those in charge. Tackling them requires a form of public management different from what we've grown accustomed to over the past century.
Networked government represents a fundamental transformation in how governments fulfill policy goals and deliver services. This book presents the principles of governing by network derived from case studies and provides a roadmap for governing the networked state. Drawing from dozens of case studies, as well as established best practices, it aims to develop lessons to inform elected officials, business executives and the broader public.
Stephen Goldsmith is faculty director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and served as mayor of Indianapolis from 1992 to 1999. William D. Eggers is the global director at Deloitte Research, Public Sector, the research arm of Deloitte, and a frequent contributor to this magazine. For more information, visit the Web site.
Measuring Up: The Business Case for GIS
Christopher Thomas and Milton Ospina
Publisher: ESRI Press, 2004
Want to know how digital geography encapsulates knowledge and provides a foundation for improving efficiencies, decision-making, planning, accountability and communication? Measuring Up tries to do just that by presenting case studies of GIS in action across society. While the book includes segments from both the public and private sector, examples from government range from administration, economic development, finance and elections to health and human services, criminal justice, planning, and public works.
The case studies are grouped according to 13 benefits, including cutting costs, saving time, increasing efficiency, generating revenue, providing decision support, automating workflow, increasing collaboration, managing resources, improving access to government and so on. Each example is short, nicely illustrated and to the point, and contact information is included for follow-up.
GIS is an increasingly important part of government's infrastructure as more operations and services move online. This guide shows how some governments are turning GIS into an asset.
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