Social media has long been an integral part of daily life. We have never been so easily connected as now, and the benefits span far beyond seeing your friends’ Christmas photos and not-so-funny memes. From marketing, to journalism, to fundraising, social media has revolutionized professional industries.
For local governments, it can hold even greater prizes. Social media is part of a foundation for a new type of democracy and community participation.
You’re an entrepreneur looking to open a food truck in your city. You vaguely recall where City Hall is, but haven’t interacted much with your local government. Your idea for a business spurs the first real introduction.
You go to the your city’s website in search of answers to these questions:
What do I need to do to legally operate my business?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when you start examining the cultural identity of your generation, and how it affects the world around you. As a Millennial, I’ve felt this question most acutely in discussions about the political and professional tendencies of my peers.
Volunteers who work full-time jobs often use their weekends and evenings to participate in community service. Now, some employers are providing employees with paid volunteer time off for mentoring at their local after school program or working at a nearby soup kitchen.
This growing movement to provide paid volunteering time off (PVTO), empowers more employees to engage in service, while acknowledging the ones already doing so. Though the private sector has garnered most of the attention around PVTO, many local governments across the country are starting to develop their own programs.
With the rise of AirBnB and other online rental platforms, AirBnB regulation has become an evolving and complex area for local governments. While some may think it’s only an issue in larger cities or tourist destinations, there are over 2,700 U.S. cities and counties with more than 50 short-term rental (STR) listings.*
Population: 160,000 (total); 26,761 (average) State: Ohio Municipalities Involved: Hudson, Upper Arlington, Wooster, Fairfield, Bexley Problems Addressed: Improving customer experience, integrating back and front end, moving to cloud-based software Project Highlights: Saving money on cloud-based software, improving process efficiency
Over a hundred years old and situated next to Ohio State University, the community of Upper Arlington, Ohio has seen recent rises in property values spurring new development, and in turn, permitting and licensing requests.
If you need a little inspiration for your day, take a scroll through these 5 TED speakers and see how they are changing government innovation—and the world—through technology. If you don’t have time to watch, here are the highlights:
Myth: The private sector innovates while the public sector gets in the way. The reality is that government has often been at the head of research and funding for important technological advances. The growing industry of government technology is continuing to push envelopes, challenge long-held stereotypes, and change the culture in and around government. Public-private partnerships will continue to be crucial in advancing society.
Deploying new solutions and services to better support constituent needs remains a difficult task in government today, but strategic project management and communications can make all the difference. With the help of modern GovTech partners, leading local governments are tackling these challenges because they recognize the operational and fiscal benefits to both employees and community members.
In the 1980s, the Internet began radically changing the world. However, it took time to grasp the magnitude of this revolution—first technologists, then businesses, then the public, and then governments.
In 2008, two months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and widespread disintegration of trust in centralized financial institutions, blockchain was born.
Many describe blockchain as the biggest technological innovation since the Internet, and the revolution is already unfolding.
The question for the public sector now is, how are they going to learn from the advent of the Internet and e-commerce, and apply these lessons to revolutionary technologies like blockchain?
The first step is to look up and pay attention.
What is blockchain?
Before we understand blockchain, we must first understand its relation to digital ledgers.
A ledger is a record of transactions. Like any simple accounting ledger, it records what comes in and what goes out. In the hundreds of years that we’ve relied on ledgers, the underlying idea has changed very little, except that they are now digitized.
Yet ledgers—in essence, digital records—remain at the heart of governance, commerce, and any widespread, collaborative effort. With the rise of globalization and big data, ledgers have only become increasingly important—and problematic.
The biggest problem with standard ledgers is trust. How do can you verify the accuracy of the ledger? Of the people or organization responsible for maintaining it?
Blockchain is revolutionary, because it addresses this problem of trust.
Blockchain allows for a public, secure, authenticated ledger of any digital asset. It decentralizes data from the few to the many, removing the need for an intermediary, like a bank, to maintain the ledger.
Traditional ledgers are centralized, meaning one entity controls the data. Blockchain ledgers can be either completely decentralized (public can add data) or distributed (groups can add data).
At the heart of the technology is cryptology—using math to store and transmit data securely. Transmitting data cryptographically ensures that:
1) only the intended parties can view the data
2) the data cannot be altered without detection
3) relevant parties cannot deny their intention in sending or receiving the data
4) relevant parties can confirm each other’s identities and the origin and destination of the data
Blockchain itself is literally a ‘block’ of records uploaded to a digital database that uses cryptography to “chain” the data to the next block, and therefore the rest of the ledger.
Through this cryptographic process, blocks of data are authenticated by group consensus among whoever has been given access to the ledger.
The result is a virtually tamper-proof database being synchronized in almost real-time.
Blockchain is most famously known as the technology underlying the global digital currency bitcoin. Bitcoin is an application that uses blockchain, like email uses the Internet.
PayPal is a centralized payment network that unilaterally controls its ledger. We trust the ledger because of the brand and history established by the company.
Bitcoin is a decentralized payment network that we trust because of blockchain. Anyone can access the database, and at any one time there are over 6,000 computers updating the bitcoin ledger. All of these computers are simultaneously trying to solve a math problem, and once one computer solves the problem, it shares the answer across the network. If more than 50 percent of computers agree, the ‘block’ of transactions is added to the chain.
The algorithms undergirding blockchain make it a virtually hack-proof, permanent record. No one can change the ledger without a majority consensus of all computers on the network.
There are many different ways to set up these ledgers—the two most important factors being who can see the information and who can update it.
The bitcoin database is an “unpermissioned ledger”, which means it cannot be owned by any single person or organization. Anyone can potentially contribute to, access, or authenticate the database, and everyone has identical copies of the ledger.
Blockchain ledgers can also be “permissioned”, meaning they have one or more owners, and are not necessarily public. In this case, the blocks of data are authenticated by designated ‘trusted’ groups (e.g. banks or government departments), where everyone with access to the database can see the digital signatures of all other parties.
A “distributed ledger” is like an unpermissioned ledger in that anyone has access to the data, however only a designated group (usually widely dispersed to maintain trust) is entrusted with adding new records. One such example is Ripple, a global financial database public to anyone but only updated by selected financial institutions.
Proof of concept
In 2009, a Norwegian man bought the equivalent of $27 worth of bitcoin. He forgot about them only to find out four years later that they were worth $886,000.
At present, one bitcoin equals more than 13,000 USD, by far the most valuable currency in the world. This meteoric rise in value is a testament to the value of blockchain technology. Since its inception in 2009, the bitcoin ledger itself has never been hacked.
This level of security, scalability, and transparency is unparalleled.
And the uses of the technology are endless. Here are some of the ways it’s already being put to use:
Marketplaces.Ujo Music and Open Bazaar are online marketplaces that facilitate direct peer-to-peer transactions, removing the need for a middleman like Etsy or iTunes. Musicians using Ujo Music, for example, can sell music directly to their listeners. The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) plans to completely replace their legacy software with blockchain technology.
Chain of supply. Blockchain technology can help authenticate the supply chain for products in special danger of tampering, like diamonds and pharmaceuticals. Using a distributer ledger, buyers can see and authenticate each step of the product’s journey, significantly reducing risk of things like counterfeit drugs and blood diamonds.
Smart contracts. What’s truly novel about blockchain is that you can build the rules of the database directly into the transaction, to be automatically executed. Therefore, one of the most useful applications of blockchain is smart contracts, which automatically enforce contract conditions through software code. This will drastically lower the cost of enforcing contracts and allow virtual strangers to engage in contracts with a high level of trust.
In a 2016 speech addressing the potential of blockchain for government use, UK Minister of Cabinet Office Matt Hancock said this:
“Blockchains – distributed ledgers, shared ledgers – are digital tools for building trust in data…government cannot bury its head in the sand and ignore new technologies as they emerge…The problem in 2010 was that the internet had, in the preceding years, become part of the fabric of the nation, but it was not part of the fabric of government. [Blockchain is] about changing the business model. Not just about doing the old things in new ways, but changing how we deliver for our customers: the citizens of this country.”
Technology-aware governments like the UK are leading the charge on researching the potential benefits and concerns of integrating blockchain into the public sector. They have learned enough from the transition to the Internet age to proactively pursue this technology, and governments around the world will benefit from their research.
The potential uses of blockchain in the public sector are numerous and transformative.
• Reduced cost of operations, including reducing fraud and error in payments
• Greater transparency of transactions between government agencies and citizens
• Greater financial inclusion of people currently on the fringes of the financial system
• Reduced costs of protecting citizens’ data while creating the possibility to share data between different entities, allowing for the creation of information marketplaces
• Protection of critical infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels etc
• Reduced market friction, making it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to interact with local and national authorities
• Promotion of innovation and economic growth possibilities for SMEs
More specifically, the technology could be applied to service areas such as collecting taxes, issuing benefits, issuing passports, recording land registries, and ensuring integrity of government records and services.
Estonia, for example, has successfully employed blockchain through the use of Keyless Signature Identifiers (KSIs) for many years. This has allowed them to dramatically expand e-government services, while maintaining a high level of efficiency and security.
However, governments are still approaching blockchain cautiously, as the technology remains underdeveloped. Both software applications and regulatory bodies will have to address issues of privacy, security, identity, and trust before the technology can be widespread.
For now, governments should focus on understanding the technology and bringing it into the public discourse. Pooling resources among govtech leaders and private sector partners will mean faster development and application of the technology, as well as more open communication and information sharing.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep up to date in a world full of new technology, especially given the rapid advances in public sector applications. But technology is changing the way government works, from better customer-service to internet infrastructure to widespread collaboration on open source projects. That’s why we made this short guide for you (or someone you know) to brush up on IT concepts both old and new.
While cloud technology has existed for many decades, it has only become popular in the government sector in recent years. Overcoming initial fears, many leading governments are now embracing adoption of the cloud as a top priority. A 2017 Gartner survey of Government CIOs around the world reported that cloud services and solutions are the technology investments most crucial to achieving their organization’s mission. For those still unfamiliar with the ‘cloud’ and cloud-based solutions like Software as a Service (SaaS), let’s dive into what these things mean and why they are so important for the future of governments.
With rigid budgets and procurement processes, local governments sometimes have to wait years to upgrade their technology. Luckily, with a world of developers and creative ideas, there’s a whole market of free software tools at our fingertips. From designing more engaging social media posts to better intra-office communication, these easy-to-use tools can be integrated into your regular workflow without spending a dime. To help you do this, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 free tools your local government can use to start working more productively and creatively right now.
Renewing licenses can be a pain for applicants, but is often especially frustrating and tiring for department staff members. Listening to feedback from our customers, we heard common pain points like identifying licenses that are up for renewal, notifying applicants, and processing large influxes of renewals applications in a short time period.
Using what we learned, we designed ‘Campaign Renewals’, an all-new feature of our newest platform—ViewPoint Cloud3.