Can Twitter, Social Networking Lead to a Renaissance in Civic Engagement?

By Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon. Ted is the county chair for Multnomah County. He can be found on Twitter here.

Now that I’ve extricated most of the battle-flak out of my backside over Multnomah County’s recent effort to hire a Social Networking Coordinator, I want to answer the basic question posed by the Portland Tribune:

"Ted Wheeler, what were you thinking?"

Simply put, I was thinking that government should get with it and embrace the future.

Local governments, in particular, can capitalize on the amazing opportunity that web-based technologies, including social networking (SN), provide. These tools are quickly reshaping the way we communicate and interact, and government would be smart to adapt.

Recognizing that millions of potential customers are signing up for tools like Twitter and Facebook, forward-thinking companies like Intel, Apple, and Nike are already making significant investments to cultivate SN strategies. These companies are literally building communities around their brands. They improving customer service and getting input on product and service enhancements. (Here’s a recent story on KATU about Intel’s local SN Team.)

The opportunity for government is obvious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently used Twitter to inform local public health authorities of the spread of the Swine Flu and provided real-time data on local outbreaks. President Obama has effectively used SN for his grassroots organization.

The current use of SN tools in the public sector only hints at their full potential. At Multnomah County, we will use Twitter and Facebook to keep citizens informed and to get feedback on basic policy questions. Strategically aligned with now-traditional communication tools like the web and email, SN tools can spark a renaissance in civic engagement and government accountability.

Consider the status quo. Fewer people are reading newspapers. Television news lacks resources to cover local political issues in depth. Hectic personal schedules often don’t leave time for public meetings. If the public doesn’t know what elected leaders are doing, or why they make the decisions they do, how can they hold government accountable?

Another disturbing national trend is the failure of local government to engage young people. Despite strong efforts locally by grassroots organizations like the Bus Project or the Multnomah Youth Commission, young people often take a skeptical view of government decision-making processes and don’t feel included.

For many of these so-called “Digital Natives,” social networking isn’t just a tool – it’s a lifestyle. As one young Facebook fan recently told me, “It’s where we are. If you want to talk with us, you better be here.” The numbers tell the story: Facebook, founded in a college dorm room in 2004, now boasts over 200 million members. Twitter, just over two years old, now boasts over 17 million members. Government leaders need to reach out to people where they are. And increasingly, they are in SN communities.

Every time I “tweet,” (send a message on Twitter) I reach far more people than will attend all Multnomah County meetings over the course of an entire year. Although we are starting modestly, Multnomah County will use SN tools to help shape budget decisions, improve customer service, get real-time feedback on specific policy choices, and build specific interest groups to interact as decisions are being made. Multnomah County will also use SN tools to communicate performance measurements and be more accountable to our citizens. We will build more dynamic relationships with the public we serve.

While I am optimistic about SN helping to shape the future of the Town Hall, government must view SN as another tool in the box. New technologies are not equally available or desirable to our citizens and not a replacement for traditional outreach and community engagement efforts. Equity and access must remain top values for government.

If getting to this point has not been a comfortable process, it has opened up a timely and necessary dialog in our community. The future is here. I say let’s embrace it.

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    I am one generation too old to understand the current social networking craze and I suspect I am not alone. It occurs to me that as soon as they make it possible to exchange sperm and eggs via a social networking media, there will be no need for anyone to ever again leave the cozy comfort of their parent's basement to venture forth into the real world. It also appears that George Orwell underestimated the willingness of the human animal to be sucked in and be dominated.

    Go outside! Go to a meeting! Don't let "twittering" by Oprah or Kari (no offense) or the DNC become a substitute for living your life in the real world.

  • Christina (unverified)

    Greg D., I don't think Chairman Wheeler is suggesting that social media is a substitution form real-life interaction at all. But if local government can extend its reach exponentially without big budget outlays why wouldn't they? The beautiful thing about it is, once you catch someone's attention -- be it via tweet or via blog post -- it's possible to convince them why they should want to attend a meeting and other ways they can get involved. President Obama's campaign used social media masterfully, and his office continues to use it to keep constituents informed about the issues he's tackling.

    Why shouldn't local governments -- whose decisions have just as much impact, if not more, on our daily lives as those made by national governments -- be using the same tools?

  • TweetOn (unverified)

    Ted and Kari are right that this will ultimately be a great way for government to go right to the people. Good for the County! (Its not hard to see why the editorial boards hated the idea. They got killed by Craigslist on the advertising side, now they're going to lose control of content, too.)

    Somebody should find out how many reporters from the Oregonian and the Tribune applied for the position.

    While I guess I understand why Ted delayed hiring the new position, I think he's going to find it very difficult to realize his full vision without some outside help.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Could it be a good thing? Perhaps. Unfortunately I'm of the generation that views Ipods, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the like as excuses to avoid personal interaction. Look at what we are doing right now?

    DUring the thunderstorms last night in Medford, neighbors watched while others tried to keep storm sewers from backing up into streets and garages. I'm not going to be surprised if somebody has twittered or put a You Tube video up.

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    You know I'm on board. When utilized as part of a broader communications and outreach strategy, social media tools can be incredibly effective.

    Hope you'll keep my resume on file for when that position comes around again!

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    Having trouble posting my comment here, so I put it on my own blog instead:

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    greg d, are you also of the generation that has forgotten it's really fun to fuck? I think sperm and eggs will continue to meet in the old fashioned way in the future--even if only by accident. :)

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)

    I wonder if there can be any way for Mult Co or similar, large public buyers to put pressure on manufacturers of cell phones and computers to not utilize coltan that is gotten from Congo? I'm not aware that any such effort currently exists.

    I believe coltan is mined in at least half a dozen countries around the world, so an attempt to neutralize the Rwandan invasion of the Congo could be done without hindering supply.

    The Rwanda/Ugandan/U.S.-supported invasion/genocide in the Congo is the most important but most ignored international story. Sure, the Darfur region is a tragedy, and Congo is so but on a scale about 5x.

    I recommend a reporter named Keith Harmon Snow for information on central Africa. Find out why Paul Kigame of Rwanda has many public edifices in Rwanda named after the Clintons!

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    Ted, I am not opposed to government entities using any communications technologies per se. But I am skeptical of their being oversold and concerned that they could skew not just whose voices get heard (true now in different ways) but even what issues could get heard. And I wonder about the person-time commitment needed to maintain, and also about gatekeeping potential, and about how two-way & multi-directional it would be, and about public record aspects.

    Whatever CDC did must have been the internet equivalent of a walkie-talkie & must have involved distinctly narrowband twitter networks to keep the information relevant & exclude whitenoise chatter. And if they were communicating "data" it wasn't very much at 140 characters a shot. More likely it was updates on where new data could be found.

    But public health epidemiologists are a social network. Or potentially are one. A population, such as Multnomah County residents, is not a network, and cannot be one.

    I suppose you could set up interest networks for particular county activities (Sellwood Bridge network etc.). Do tweets from one "follower" turn up visible to others, i.e. could you use twitter like a confernce call? I suppose you could set up regular "tweet with Ted" hours, or if twitter doesn't accommodate virtual public meetings, scheduled issue constituent chat sessions with yourselves or relevant staffers on particular issue areas.

    But access is going to have to be controlled or your time won't be. A lot of it is going to be outgoing only -- not sure that's really how people who "live" in e-social network world usually do it that way. And what are you going to do with the cranks, the self-absorbed, the saboteurs & twitter-goblins (assuming trolls are too big for twitter)? Can a public official ban people from an official form of communication?

    But my biggest concern is equity. Bear with me a second with an analogy to transportation that actually involves you.

    Last week I sat in on the JPACT Retreat about Metro transportation policy looking to 2035. Let me thank you again for speaking up for social equity considerations (I was the guy who came up to you & a woman who may have been the mayor of Tigard(?) to thank you at the lunch break), as well as for the coordination of transportation and land-use (to which I would add health) in long range Metro planning.

    While you decision makers were talking amongst yourselves I had an interesting conversation with a fairly senior Tri-Met service planner. A bright, knowledgeable, pleasant guy from whom I learned a good deal & who made a good impression in a number of ways.

    One of our topics was High Traffic Corridors, which as you know figure strongly in the Metro Transportation Plan as it exists. What became clear to me as we talked was that the degree of that emphasis reflected two things: bodies moved per $, (actually moved, and / or capacity), and how to deal with projected growth of population, with new people, and to a degree current people moving.

    What it doesn't seem to do very well is deal with people who currently live in places not near the corridors, or how to connect them to the corridors, all means of which are much more expensive relative to ridership over time, according to this guy. There are HUGE equity issues here IMO.

    Same thing with the social networking communication technologies. 200 million people use Facebook, many in Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, or other continents. What about the 100 million at least in the U.S. who don't, many of whom may only have library access at best to the internet or not really be involved with computers at all for reasons of money or psychology? What about the millions of nominal Facebook users who have moribund or placeholder pages (I bet a lot of political staffers have them but don't show much on them ...).

    Will you have a deliberate policy to make sure that "old" forms of communication, and those who use them, won't be discriminated against because they aren't shiny and new? Will you focus on the problem of integrating the old and the new, not just assuming the new replaces the old quickly, which it doesn't?

    Will you do staff training so that 20-something staffers who "live" on Facebook and twitter can communicate by other means with older folks who may not know how to use them, politely and effectively?

    Political / civic disengagement by the young in the formal system is nothing new. Reducing it is a good thing, but should not trump communication with all other age groups.

    Today's young will get more engaged as they age as did their predecessors. Or some of them -- huge proportions on non-youth are disengaged too & I'd say that needs more attention, relatively speaking.

    Meanwhile in 10 or 15 years we'll be talking about the retreads who haven't moved on from the twitter of their youth to whatever the new thing is.

  • Siobhan (unverified)

    Greg D.

    You have to use it, to get it. You get out of it what you put into it, and one of the most amazing things about social media is that it opens up a new world for you to actually get off your tush and meet people. For a lot of people it breaks down a barrier of anxiety in getting to know people/networking and that awkwardness of first-time meetings often present.

    People are inherently social, I think with the one-way street of tv and early website development people felt disconnected. Social Media is thriving because we as humans are doing what we love: Connecting, sharing, and engaging with our fellow humans. Whether face to face or comp-to-comp -what you will discover when you start using SM is that people are using it as a gateway to meet up and socialize outside of being in front of the computer. People don't want to know just a handle, they want to meet the person, share in REAL LIFE, they want to get off the couch and go hang with/ work with people of the same interests.

    Try it!


  • s (unverified)

    The majority of people I interact thought 'what were you thinking?' - in terms of how you promoted the position.

    The position is all well and good - SM should be a part of EVERY PR and HR practitioner's skill set.

    We were just laughing at how rudimentary and green you were in attempting to hire for it.

    It's as if you looked to hire for a top finance/accounting position but you put the call out for an 'Add-er'. Yes most people can add. What you are looking for is something much more intricate.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    I am enthusiastically in favor of our elected officials letting us know what they're up to. Websites are definitely appropriate tools. As far as "tweeting" and social networking goes, however, I guess I'm just to old to understand the attraction. Geez Louise, if I want to communicate with someone, I'll call them or write an e-mail.

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    Chris - thanks for raising the equity issue. I hoped to convey (probably didn't underscore it well) that SN is another tool in a larger box of communication tools and strategies, and that we cannot ignore more traditional means of discourse because of the equity issue. There is a clear digital divide among varying income levels, race and ethnicity, and age. Not everyone has access to these tools. (By the way, attending meetings also has its own divides - not everyone can take time away from second jobs to attend evening meetings...Not everyone has equal access to public transportaitons to get there...)

    S - not sure what you are talking about. The job posting required 5 years of senior level communications strategy and leadership, writing, web-video experience. The tough part is integrating these tools into a workable communications mix. I would like to see us move away from a information "push" strategy and use the tools that are now available to us to actually interact with the public we serve. You may be responding to how some in the media characterized the position as a "$70 thousand Twittering position." It was never that. I guess time will tell whether I was stupid or not.

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    Simply put, I was thinking that government should get with it and embrace the future.

    I strongly agree with your reasoning, Ted, although I do believe that the opportunities are much broader than just Twitter/Facebook/etc. So while I might argue over the specifics, I'm solidly in agreement on the general gist of the idea.

    One thing that I've suggested in the past to several of Senator Merkley's people is that I'd love to see them continue to make use of those nifty sidebar scripts with updated content to reach out more directly to constituents who have websites or blogs or something comparable.

    I would love for the readers of my blog to be able to find out about the Senator's next Town Hall or what piece of legislation he is currently pushing or whatever he feels is important to communicate to his constituents... without having to have it filtered through the media via press advisories.

    So, the opportunities are very broad and diverse. Both government as a whole and the individual elected officials thereof have a huge opportunity that we are really still just on the cusp of. An opportunity to communicate more directly with "we the people" than has ever been practical or possible since our country was founded.

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    Your comment is off-topic and I'd normally not respond. But my parents spent 12 years living in that part of Africa, both in Western Rwanda (during the genocide) and in the very NorthEastern corner of the Congo you are referring to. And I'm telling you that none of that over there is as simple or as straight-forward as you seem to believe. Least of all the whole Clinton conspiracy angle!

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    "You have to use it, to get it."

    There's a whole lot more to it than that -- generally under the umbrella of, "you DO NOT have to use it, to get enormous benefit from it."

    There are dozens of ways that social media improve communication and constituent service OVERALL, and in dramatic ways.

    THAT is the point -- not the limited audience that is reached directly with the use of any one platform.

  • David McDonald (unverified)

    Do poor people (who can't afford computers) benefit from these technologies or is it the same old same old?

  • chuck (unverified)

    David - A multitude of people (poor and otherwise) use the computers at the library for everything from Twitter and more. In addition, many people who are not able to access in person meetings due to physical disabilities, transportation issues and more ARE able to access computers. In the case of Twitter, access is not only available on your computer but through many people's phones.

    I'm wondering, the people who rail against SN as a potential path to increasing communication between government and the public, your arguments seem to be that because some people can't or won't access SN, it shouldn't be used at all.

    Would you say the same for television (not everyone owns one)? Telephones? Newspapers? If we eliminate one method (SN) of communication from consideration because some people can't or won't access it, shouldn't we do the same for ALL methods that some people can't or won't access?

    I don't understand why one method (SN) seems so offensive to people and yet others do not. I would think that any method of reaching out to the public would be positive. The idea is to increase access by ADDING A TOOL. No one is talking about eliminating one method of communication while bringing in another.

  • Kelly Feller @ Intel (unverified)

    I for one think congratulations are on order. Well done, Mr. Wheeler, on thinking outside the box and anticipating how instrumental these new tools will one day be, if they aren't already (and I can tell you--they are).

    For those above who claim they are "too old" to understand, I ask what was your reaction to email or websites in general when they first appeared? Those technologies too were once categorized as frivolous & irrelevant. Do you still think that?

    Let me point out that the use of this website to speak directly to Mr. Wheeler is in itself a demonstration of the benefits social tools like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc are bringing to countless constituencies across the world. You may not think you engage in social media when commenting on blogs...but you are. Welcome to the future, my friends.

    For the other folks who claim that connecting online is somehow not as important or relevant as connecting with folks in person, I must beg to differ. Recent research has concluded that we as a culture are, in fact, MORE connected than ever before because of these social tools. Prior to Facebook you had to wait for your nephew to get around to sending out an announcement about the birth of his twins. With Facebook, info like that is shared--and celebrated--nearly instantly. It's all about building community with like-minded people.

    Let me issue a challenge to those reluctant naysayers out there: just do it! Join Twitter & Facebook and see what it's all about. If you don't like it, you don't have to stay. But something tells me you'll get used to it like other things and might even enjoy connecting with others. And be sure to "follow" me when you get there.


  • Jerry Gaiser (unverified)

    Just turned 62. Been messing with personal computers since 1978. On both Twitter and Facebook. Follow Ted on Twitter. There is no reason my generation shouldn't be getting on board. If you're posting here, you have a computer.

    Of course you miss a group of people that can't or won't join in, but you are also reaching folks that are already listening and may not be really reachable in conventional ways.

    To hell with the naysayers.

    jerrygaiser on twitter

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)


    Okay, my comment is somewhat off-topic. But the conditions under which the coltan is procured ought to be considered.

    And you're right: the story is not simple, by any means. But I'd say the three Rwandan incursions into Congo in the years since 1994 have a lot to do with procuring resources (all the coltan mining in the region is under the control of Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels); as much as it has to do with the stated goal: to fight Hutu genocidaires (who have not threatened Rwanda recently).

    Also, how come the UN will go after the government of Sudan, for example, but all inquiries into Kagame/Rwanda's behavior in Congo are immediately quashed? (Look up the Carla Del Ponte story).

    And the Clinton/Kagame connections are legion. Just google: Bill Clinton Kagame.

    Does the U.S. back Kagame's regime in order to procure resources (coltan)?

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)

    As for twitter being a boon to participation: why not? Doesn't mean it has to replace traditional forms of involvement.

  • @PDXsays (unverified)

    I'm 54 years old, and well-acknowledged as an adopter of SN and social media... and while no longer in the market for the crassly-described "sperm and egg" scenario, I can tell you that I am over joyed you dead-before-your-time fogies have culled yourselves from my conversation stream.

    It's never too late, and it's still just as fun!

    I am involved far deeper and over a far greater spread of the folks in PDX, ORD, Tokio, Russia, you name it, about the local and national doings.. mostly around how to make this world a better place.. social entrepreneurism is in my vocab. I can find and contribute to, and ideas about, business, arts, social causes and communication that makes a difference, real time.

    I have been honored to share conversations with Nobel Peace Prize winners, social workers in India, editors for Businessweek, artists in Amsterdam... and this cross pollination comes home to my beloved PDX.

    So get off the couch, glued to the TV every night- my life is so full, I haven't sat in front of a TV in months - and just try it. I promise we got the idea nazis under control. And you'll make a ton of new friends that you see on the streets of PDX daily.

  • Steve (unverified)

    "Ted and Kari are right that this will ultimately be a great way for government to go right to the people."

    I don't see why this is any better way. It's another source alright, but most info is available on the Internet now.

    Why not just have politicians more open and available to answer peoples questions?

    The ony reason we see Earl is if he wants to sell us something or Randy/Sam unless they want us to buy a soccer stadium.

    In sum, I'd prefer qulaity of communication (ie addressing real issues) rather than quantity (delguing us with info on how great they are doing on pet projects.

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    I am not sure if you are including me among those "railing against," but if so it isn't a fair characterization -- it's even pretty marginal with regard to Greg D. and Kurt's comments.

    As someone who did raise the issue of equity, please note that my FIRST sentence was that I wasn't against use on any communication technology. My acknowledgment that current situations also pose access problems also is there though it could have been bigger; I agree with what Ted Wheeler says about it & what you do too with respect to mobility issues of different sorts.

    Anyway, if I wasn't clear, I think it's great for Ted W. to use new means of communication. But I don't think he should do so uncritically, because I don't think we should do anything uncritically. If digital culture turns raising critical questions for discussion into "railing against" something, that's a serious defect in the culture, IMO. Not the technologies per se, but attitudes toward them. (I note that Ted W. does not seem to have this particular problem.)

    Kelly Feller, I was doing what now is called blogging via listserv lists targeted to particular communities of interest (non-geographically contiguous social networks) no later than 1993 and concur that we are dealing with variations on themes to a significant extent (and indeed variations on networks of correspondence dating from no later than the Renaissance in European diaspora cultures).

    However, part of my wariness has to do with my self-criticisms of my own personality. The fact of the matter is that since the rise of this stuff I have spent more time communicating with people I've never met than with old friends. It's not the fault of the technology but it's an error not restricted to me I think. The prospect or risk of putting still more time into something with that kind of consequence troubles me and is a barrier.

    Also, I have looked at Facebook and Myspace and I don't actually quite understand how they work, and my personality is such that I don't like situations that are murky to me beyond a point.

    Actually I'm not very good at networking in the face-to-face world and probably my unease with SN modes is tied to that as much as anything else.

    Also I am quite uneasy about the tradeoffs of public and private. Again, nothing at all against those for whom that's not a concern, but I'd want to put a large amount of time into thinking carefully about what to include or not include on a profile & related site aspects and that time investment is another barrier.

    In none of these things do I think I am alone. If someone like me, who has become quite at ease in "putting myself out there" in bloggish kinds of ways, has such difficulties engaging how the SN stuff works, I think there probably is at least a substantial minority who find that even truer.

    None of which is remotely a reason not to use it. But it is a reason not to oversell it. And it is a reason to be sure to craft an overall strategy that deals with the fact that some people will have trouble and others actively dislike these modes or tools, and thus retains outreach in other modes.

    And it is a reason for people like you a bit, and @PDXsays more so, to dial it back a notch in how you look at, or look down on, people not as easy with it as you. It's one of the hazards of proselytism, but can get pretty obnoxious.

    You might consider that we or some of us may well feel quite bad about the fact that it isn't easy for us. To me it's like the apotheosizing of multi-tasking. It has its good points, it is indispensable in many current situations. And yet there are things that are lost with the loss of concentrated persistent focus, which, despite self-protective illusions, those who have grown up multi-tasking in multi-media environments and don't learn the other too do not in fact achieve in many instances. Since my strengths tend to lie in the persistent focus area, it is all rather discouraging. So too is the idea that I must endlessly multiply my media and further fragment my focus, or be cut out of lots of stuff. But yes, at the end of the day it's my choice & responsibility.

    So, to sum up, I'm quite happy to have Ted W. incorporate any and all communications technologies that improve transparency & help him communicate better with his constituents. He's also someone I would expect to do it in a good & smart way way & with awareness of the time and money resource trade-offs for him & his staff & budget and good capacity for choosing a path among the trade-offs.

    But I still think we should always look at this kind of stuff as "a next big thing," not "the next big thing." The digital culture's self-reflections, and lack of depth in those, has often been excessively self-congratulatory, ignorant, sometimes profoundly so, of historical media transitions and how not-new a lot of what's happening really is, along with what's claimed for it. As a result it often is inattentive to the problems of integration of new with old, missing opportunities to benefit both.

    And no, I don't think it will lead to a renaissance in civic engagement.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    Any technology that helps people communicate and connect is good....even if I personally opt not to use it. Tweeters, you go for it!

  • Rulial (unverified)

    Mr. Wheeler, I think you're on the right track. A lot of young people are on Facebook these days. For some of us, it's more common to communicate via Facebook than email. There are good reasons, enumerated by the costs of not paying attention to Twitter. Any organization that forgoes social networking, be it a company or a county, risks falling behind in their ability to communicate.

  • srdha (unverified)

    i gust want to say some thing "great job"

    Update your Twitter randomly according to your intrest Or, from Rss Feed Or, from your own tweet message list Or, Any combination of the above three

  • srdha (unverified)

    i gust want to say some thing "great job"

    Update your Twitter randomly according to your intrest Or, from Rss Feed Or, from your own tweet message list Or, Any combination of the above three

  • David McDonald (unverified)

    I'm always amazed that when someone asks a question about poor people on Blue Oregon, how people begin attacking. Why is that?

  • Mary Volm (unverified)

    Ted has suggested governments expand their communication toolbox, and after 33 years in the business, I believe social media allows just another way to connect and express ideas and opinions. I've held enough public meetings to know that the majority of our citizens do not have the time to invest in meetings during the day or after work.

    Social media reminds folks of the activities of government and how they can express their opinions by directing them to websites...where it is a part of the public record, just as a letter is, or to ask questions that help inform our community.

    Given the expense of publications(including distribution)or informing citizens by mail of a public meeting, social media is free. Why not use it.

    Over 85% of Portland's citizens are connected by internet, one of the highest in the country. Why not reach people when they have the time to listen and respond thoughfully. Go forth and prosper Ted - I'm glad you're connected with your constituents and your community.

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    Today, San Francisco announced that it will establish a city-wide 311 Twitter service. It will be 24/7 and will allow citizens to provide non-emergency information to city bureaus (like identifying potholes, etc.). This could be a good opportunity for the City of Portland.

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  • Matt Pettini (unverified)

    In a best case scenario, this could be the taxpayers' version of the power lunch. Money in politics is such an evil (ya hear, not mother's milk, but EVIL, EVIL, EVIL, EVIL, EVIL) because of the access it buys. This is access, based on curiosity and laziness. In other words, it just might work.

  • Kirstin Greene (unverified)

    Way to go Ted. What a great dialog. Might as well be having a fun, real-time dialog about civic engagement from our desks where we do a lot of our business these days - like it or not.

    You and Mary Volm said it well. Its a great tool. Others will emerge. It takes guts to use new technologies as they emerge and I am impressed.

    There is no substitute for human contact or "going where the people are" - students, seniors, and people who will never be typing away at their computers. They deserve a human touch as well. As you said, equity and access must remain top values - and I would add strategies - for government.

    I am tickled to have this ways (Twitter and Blue Oregon, etc.) to be able to hear directly from you.

    Thanks for being willing to put it out there!

  • Joanne Rigutto (unverified)

    Chris Lowe,

    CDC did indeed use Twitter to update the public on the swine flu, H1N1, pic your label dujour. They still are and I've been following their feed since the begining. Not only did they post regular updates on the progression of the disease's spread around the planet, but also notices of press conferences, conference calls for medical professionals, etc. I sat in on a conference call outlining guidance to health care professionals. It was very informative and helpful. CDC's twitter feed for this is and currently has 243,109 followers. Their last post was 8 hours ago.

    Veratect also has a feed for the swine flu outbreak, it is currently innactive as they stopped providing surveillance information as of May 15th. Veratect is a risk assesment contractor and providing info like this is how they make their money, so I can understand dropping the stoppage of information, however I did take advantage of the info while they were providing it to the public.

  • Nancy Robbins (unverified)

    Al Gore eight years ago commented how most of the traditional forms of media from which the public could get news and information, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, etc. were more and more being controlled by owners who had specific agendas. This makes it hard to get uncensored news and information without which "We the People", the voting public can not make informed decisions.

    The more recent stripping of investigative reporting capabilities from traditional media again leaves us without the means of public over site of our elected officials, political processes and conduct of business. Al Gore also hailed the internet with it's unrestrained and unrestrainable two way communication as the last hope for this countries legacy of Government of the people, for the people and by the people.

    He was referring to Howard Dean and the Democratic Parties forays onto the internet to campaign. Twitter was not even a gleam in Evan Williams eye yet. But he hit the nail on the head when he foreshadowed the paradigm shift to a world where I can hear and read what my government wants to say to me, but more importantly I and a thousand more like me can real time. We have become engaged again, taken back the process that rightly belongs to us and is our duty as citizens to tend.

    As for the bit about age and new technology...a friend of mine says about new technologies..."It's just yet another type of pencil". Go ahead Ted, pick it up and use it! It is not only my 19 year old son you will be talking to.

    I just turned 55 years young and have been a Geek since 1984 when the PC first came out. We used one to build the original MAX Light Rail. To put it all into perspective, I was born the year the first TV came out and I remember watching the first TV debate between Kennedy and Nixon. What a paradigm shift that was. My mother was born the year women won the right to vote. Imagine what the suffragettes could have done with Twitter!

    "@born2bfree Ladies meet me at the courthouse gate by 2 PM...bring hand cuffs and signs!"
    2:15 May 20th from Tweet Deck

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