Book Review: ‘Citizenville – Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government’

Go Lean Commentary

Cit- Photo 1“Government is functioning on the cutting edge of … 1973”.

These words jump off the page in the new book by the California Lieutenant Governor (former Mayor of San Francisco) Gavin Newsom, Citizenville – How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government. He asserts that government is not making optimal use of modern technology, and so he proposes some creative and engaging solutions.

These proposals are also valid in a consideration of Caribbean governance.

This subject matter aligns with the publication Go Lean … Caribbean, which serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU) to elevate Caribbean society and culture. The CU has 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion and create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

The same as the Citizenville book catalogs a list of private-sector technology platforms that could improve how the public sector works, the Go Lean roadmap lists a series of community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster a technocracy for Caribbean administration. This technocracy is the super-national entity, the Caribbean Union Trade Federation. This federal government is described as a “lean” modus operandi.

The same as Citizenville assesses the US federal-state-county-city governmental structures as being deficient for the challenge of the newly connected American society, the Go Lean roadmap assesses that the Caribbean is deficient for its mandates under the assumed social contract (between government and citizens). This contract calls for the governments to be a proxy for public safety and economic opportunities. The Caribbean failings are so acute that many citizens have abandoned their homeland and migrated to North America and European locales. The loss of these citizens’ contributions (their time, talents and treasuries) make administering to the remainder of the population difficult – as many times the emigrated ones represent the professional classes – a brain drain. The Go Lean roadmap calls for a total reboot of Caribbean systems of commerce and governance. The book provides 380 pages as details for this roadmap.

Book Review: By Beth Simone Noveck

Subject: ‘Citizenville – How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government’ By Gavin Newsom with Lisa Dickey (The Penguin Press; 249 pages)

When I started work in the White House in 2009, I had been brought in to help implement the Obama administration’s commitment to making government more transparent, participatory and collaborative. At the time, the federal government, like governments worldwide, was anything but open. The White House didn’t have a blog, Twitter accounts or a social media site. To make matters worse, we were running Windows 2000.

As a colleague described the situation: “We have a nearly obsolete infrastructure, so a lot of things have to be done ‘by hand.’ Don’t think Google server farm. Think gerbil on a wheel.”

Things have gotten better since those early days, but they’re not yet good enough. Approval rates for government are at an all-time low. We need more open, innovative government to connect with citizens and win their trust. But it can be hard to know how to talk about government innovation in a way that is exciting and inspiring. Through lively stories and engaging quotes from famous digerati and less-famous policy entrepreneurs, Gavin Newsom’s new book, “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government,” does just that.

Co-authored by Lisa Dickey, “Citizenville” focuses on the fact that government is not making optimal use of modern technology, and proposes some creative, engaging solutions. Dickey and California’s lieutenant governor declare that “government right now is functioning on the cutting edge – of 1973.”

Upgrading the operating system of our democracy and making town hall as easy to navigate as Twitter has real potential for improving people’s everyday lives. “Citizenville” offers both an impassioned plea for more tech-enabled government and a tour d’horizon of the ways some governments have begun using technology to good effect. Newsom and Dickey catalog an impressive list of private-sector tech platforms that could improve how we work in the public sector. The overall effect is breathless and dizzying (and often disconnected), but ultimately powerful.

First, there’s YouTube. We can use social media to broadcast and democratize town hall meetings and make government more interactive in how it communicates with citizens, changing the relationship between government and the governed.

Next come Google and other information-based platforms. When we open up the information government holds and make it available to the public, innovators of all kinds can create empowering applications. When the federal government released data on hospitals, big [data] companies like Google and Microsoft upgraded their search engines to provide potentially lifesaving information on patient satisfaction and infection rates through user search. And a small entrepreneur, Stamen Design, used local crime data to build the Crimespotting map that enables Oakland residents to understand (and hopefully reduce) crime in their neighborhoods.

Newsom and Dickey celebrate Salesforce, the cloud-computing giant that helped San Francisco track the impact of its homelessness programs and deliver better and cheaper services. Using up-to-the-minute data, San Francisco was able to find housing and shelter for many of its homeless. “The democratizing influence of the cloud,” the authors posit, “leads to a stronger, more stable commonwealth.”

Inspired by the Apple App Store, Newsom and Dickey suggest that government could reduce corrupt procurement practices, bring down costs and foster entrepreneurship by inviting those outside of government to develop tools and solutions instead of relying only on bureaucracy to procure goods and services.

For example, they write about Donors Choose, an organization that pairs classrooms and teachers with those willing to purchase much-needed school supplies. Much more than a for education, this kind of partnership website also gets people engaged in their communities.

The company at the center of the book is Zynga, creator of “FarmVille.” In the game, players work with their friends to tend farms and animals to advance to the next level. It’s addictive – much more engaging, Newsom and Dickey suggest, than participating in the dull life of our democracy. If more of government involved play and prizes, Citizenville would be just as engaging as “FarmVille.”

“We could combine the fun of a game with the social good of solving real problems,” write Newsom and Dickey. If people are willing to spend real money on virtual tractors, then why wouldn’t they clean up the local park if their efforts were recognized and rewarded using new technology?

But the authors of “Citizenville” don’t acknowledge that getting to this kind of decentralized, participatory, tech-enabled democracy is a long and uncertain path. In “FarmVille,” residents are motivated because they can decide how to spend their virtual dollars. But after you finish cleaning up the local park in Citizenville, what can you really do? Other than a brief aside on citizen-budgeting experiments, “Citizenville” does not explain how technology can empower people to make consequential decisions about how to solve our collective problems. It doesn’t address who will participate and why, and who will be left out.

A classic bureaucratic model won’t drive the new participatory technology: If Zynga were to create a department of agriculture for the purpose of fostering virtual agricultural productivity, everyone would quit! Whether in “FarmVille” or Wikipedia, people collaborate online to tackle challenges and for peer approval. In our

real-world communities, people often pitch in where government is absent. (Think barn-raising.) But in a world where real people pay real taxes, we don’t yet know why most people, when invited to spend time and effort to solve public problems, won’t just say, “That’s the government’s job, not mine.”

There are two different challenges to achieving greater self-governance. First, we have to create incentives for people to engage more. Second, we have to create incentives for government to let them do it. Zynga wants players to create their own farms because the company gets rich if they do. Newsom and Dickey suggest that if we make self-government fun, people will sign up. Maybe. But we also need to make enabling self-government a positive for the majority of politicians and civil servants who currently lack the incentive.

Although “Citizenville” is a fast-paced and engaging read, it’s telling that the book includes almost no voices and views of real people. We never hear from San Franciscans about whether the city is a better place to live since the adoption of tech-enabled innovation. We are left wanting but not knowing how to make Citizenville work in reality.

“Citizenville” might not give us the evidence that its proposed solutions will work. But it surely gives us the faith that open government – namely, more participatory, decentralized and agile institutions, enabled and supported by advances in technology – could lead to better solutions for citizens and more legitimate democracy. And, thankfully, if we are looking for a politician who claims he knows how to get out of the way and catalyze bottom-up democracy, we know where to find him.

Beth Simone Noveck led the White House Open Government Initiative and served as the nation’s first U.S. deputy chief technology officer. She is a visiting professor at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the MIT Media Lab and a professor of law at New York Law School. E-mail:

Website Sister-Site of the San Francisco Chronicle – Book Review – Posted 4, 2013; Retrieved 05-13-2014 –

The Go Lean roadmap first accepts this mission to re-structure facets of Caribbean governance with these pronouncements at the outset of book, in the Declaration of Interdependence, as follows (Page 12):

xi. Whereas all men are entitled to the benefits of good governance in a free society, “new guards” must be enacted to dissuade the emergence of incompetence, corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the peril of the people’s best interest. The Federation must guarantee the executions of a social contract between government and the governed.

xiv. Whereas government services cannot be delivered without the appropriate funding mechanisms, “new guards” must be incorporated to assess, accrue, calculate and collect revenues, fees and other income sources for the Federation and member-states. The Federation can spur government revenues directly through cross-border services and indirectly by fostering industries and economic activities not possible without this Union.

Cit 2For the source book, the name Citizenville stems from the online game Farmville, from San Francisco-area based software giant Zynga. This technology company’s strategies and tactics are considered for re-architecting the delivery of government services, or self-government as described in Citizenville. Other California-based technology firms are also chronicled, studied and modeled in this book: YouTube, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and

Go Lean…Caribbean also trumpets a call to the world of technology to impact Caribbean life. This roadmap advocates the launch of a social media site – – for all Caribbean stakeholders (residents, Diaspora, students, business entities, and even visitors). This can create a universe of over 160 million unique profiles. The Go Lean roadmap is to deliver many government services via electronic modes, including public safety fulfillments. (Imagine Reverse 911 phone calls to alert all people in the path of an imminent hurricane).

The following lists other details from Go Lean…Caribbean that parallels the advocacies of the source book Citizenville:

Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Cooperatives Page 25
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Future Page 26
Community Ethos – Ways to Bridge the Digital Divide Page 31
Community Ethos – Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – CU Customers – Member-State Governments Page 51
Strategy – Agents of Change – Technology Page 57
Tactical – Fostering a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Executive Branch Page 72
Anecdote – Turning Around the CARICOM construct Page 92
Anecdote – “Lean” in Government Page 93
Implementation – Ways to Pay for Change Page 101
Implementation – Ways to Deliver Page 109
Implementation – Ways to Impact Social Media Page 111
Implementation – Reasons to Repatriate Page 118
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Governance Page 168
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage the Social Contract Page 170
Advocacy – Revenue Sources … for Administration Page 172
Advocacy – Ways to Manage Federal Civil Service Page 173
Advocacy – Ways to Foster Technology Page 197
Advocacy – Ways to Foster e-Commerce Page 198
Advocacy – Ways to Impact the Diaspora Page 217

Citizenville is a convincing argument that open government with participatory, agile institutions, enabled by advanced technology – can work. The Go Lean roadmap concurs!

Now is the time for all of the Caribbean, the people and governing institutions, to lean-in for the changes described in the book Go Lean … Caribbean. The benefits are too alluring to ignore: dawn of a new economy and new opportunities. Finally, a strong incentive for the Diaspora to consider repatriation, to preserve the Caribbean culture for the Caribbean youth … and future generations.

Download the book  Go Lean…Caribbean now!!!

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