San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week, how he’ll be seeking help and ideas from citizens on how to cut $522 million deficit from the City’s budget. In his weekly YouTube address, he outlined how he’ll be hosting two town hall meetings in February – an online meeting and a more traditional, in-person, town hall, to solicit feedback on the City’s deficit.
Online town hall
Mayor Newsom explained how he would hold an Online Town Hall in which citizens could submit questions, and receive feedback on ideas to address the budget deficit. Last year, President Obama ran a similar online town hall to engage with citizens on a range of topics. 92,937 people submitted 103,978 questions and cast 1,782,650 votes during the few days available to participate.
Research has also found that approval ratings for those who participate in online town halls increased significantly. Along with this, it found that those people who engaged were more likely to vote than others, as well as more likely to persuade others to vote. On this note online town halls can be useful contributions towards electoral success.
The town halls will seek suggestions on how to do the budget differently, and will be broadcast live online:
We’ve got to make real our promises to deal with this budget deficit…We’ve got over $500 million shortfall moving forward…One way I want to do the budget differently…is I want to incorporate some new ideas.
On February 24th, we’re going to have an online town hall, hosted by KCBS. The Online town hall will be between 5-6pm on uStream – you can go to our Facebook site aswell – and I encourage people to submit questions in advance and participate in the first of its kind interactive town hall…I want to hear back from people.
Be your own budget director
In order for citizens of San Francisco to understand and evaluate the difficult decisions that may need to be taken to reduce the budget deficit, the Mayor will soon be launching sfbudget.org. This is intended to allow citizens to act as if they were the budget director. They can increase or decrease spending on different areas, and see how this effects the shortfall. It will, however, be more nuanced as the city has many fixed costs which cannot easily or quickly be reduced. As such, it should be an interesting experiment in helping the public to quantify and appreciate the difficulties of balancing the budget and reducing the deficit.
We’ve also created a website – and this is really exciting,…where you can submit to sfbudget.org…your ideas on how to address this budget shortfall…You could be your own budget director.
Open Source and Open Data
The Mayor spoke passionately about the potential of Open Source and Open Data as a means of improving transparency in government, lowering costs and creating jobs. The recently released Open Source Software policy will “require departments to consider open source alternatives, when available, on an equal basis to commercial software, as these may reduce cost and speed the time needed to bring software applications to production”.
Upon the release of the policy Newsom explained:
Our new Open Source policy has the potential to save the City millions in software costs while fundamentally changing the way government operates.
The Mayor expects both the Open Data Executive Directive and Open Source policy to improve access to government data, lower software costs and create new jobs:
San Francisco just this last week became the first city in the United States of America to adopt and open source software policy. First city in America … We’re leading the way with our datasf efforts to create applications and send out machine readable information so people can mashup that information and create applications…This is a big deal. San Francisio is taking the lead in terms of transparency and open government. More reliable from my perspective, we can get the technology moving much quicker from the typical procurement processes and we can deliver it…at lesser cost to the taxpayer…
I think this is a big deal for taxpayers in the city, and for those that believe in Open Source, Open Data and more transparency of government.
The Mayor has previously written about he wants ‘to turn government into a platform for innovation’. The city is rising to meet this challenge through its embrace of Social media, Open Data, Citizen Innovation and Open Source. It appears to have learned from federal initiatives e.g. Online town halls, Data.gov, SaveAward (ideas on saving money), but has gone a step further in terms of releasing an Open Source policy. The policy, and the fruits of its implementation, are certainly areas in which the federal government could hopefully learn from San Francisco’s example.
For more check:
- Govfresh’s Gov 2.0 guide to San Francisco.
- Gavin Newsom on Twitter
- SF Open Source (WordPress) sites: sfmayor.org, recoverysf.org, datasf.org