How do elected officials attempt to ensure transparency these days (or, at least, the appearance of transparency)? By posting information online… we saw yet another example of this just in the last week with President Obama’s call to post all earmarks online.
Transparency is a laudable goal, no doubt, but, as I noted in an earlier post on federal blogs focused on environmental issues, social media tools allow government to go beyond transparency into engagement: constituents need to know not only what their representatives are doing, but also should be able to discuss and debate those actions. “Government 2.0” doesn’t just allow for broader dissemination of information; it embodies the concept of a “marketplace of ideas” to which all citizens can add their voices.
Just as the federal government has moved slowly, but steadily, in the world of Web 2.0, state governments are also experimenting with social media as a means to increase citizen engagement. As you might imagine, there’s a real mix of efforts: some states are doing nothing or next to it, some stick to third-party services like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, and a handful have jumped into the blogosphere. I’m encouraged by any efforts on this front, but I think there’s something to be said for blogging: it provides a centralized platform that citizens can find easily, and allows for incorporation of other media and services.
State Government 2.0: Five environmentally-focused state blogs
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of state-level blogs on environmental issues, and the quality varies pretty widely. I was able to find enough to justify that subheader. Given the prominence of environmental issues in our political dialogue, and the fact that “the environment” is as much a local and regional concern as a national one, I hope we’re seeing the beginning of a trend. A few of the states with blogs on green issues have created models that others could emulate with relative ease (and low costs… a critical concern for state governments these days).
Here are the blogs I found:
- Massachusetts’ “Commonwealth Conversations: The Great Outdoors“: As you’d expect from the title, you’ll find a lot of information on outdoors activities and opportunities on this blog. Food issues also come up frequently, from recipes to feeding the hungry with fresh, local food.
- Missouri Conservation Department’s Fresh Afield: I’m proud of the fact that my home state seems to get blogging… you may have seen the conversation about small farmer concerns that arose from a post at the state Department of Agriculture’s blog. Fresh Afield focuses on outdoors and wildlife issues, including hunting and fishing… there’s a real variety of material within these categories, though: invasive plant species, insects, and sustainable firewood harvesting all got recent attention.
- Washington Department of Ecology’s ECOconnect: While nominally broader in focus than the first two, ECOconnect focuses heavily on water and coastal issues (which isn’t surprising). Still, the most recent post discusses the state’s e-cycling program, and bloggers have covered topics like green chemistry and greener boating. This one’s hosted off-site at Blogspot.
- Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality blog: The previous blogs really get the concept; Louisiana’s is a bit more like a site for announcements and press releases as opposed to government officials trying to engage citizens in conversation. The blog doesn’t have commenting, but does allow for trackbacks… so conversations could occur across the state’s blogosphere.
- Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources News: This one doesn’t even call itself a blog, but I’ve included it because, unlike most states, Nevada allows for commenting on the news items it releases. The content is definitely more PR than conversation… which may account for the lack of comments from Nevadans.
This is all new territory for state governments, so it’s understandable that some haven’t gotten into blogging, while others are kinda, sorta dipping their toes in. Both Massachusetts and Missouri have set the standard here, and I’d love to see other states follow their leads. No doubt it’s a little scary to open up a 24/7 conversation… especially when you’ll have your detractors (and they may be loud). But democracy’s messy and noisy when it’s working right…
It’s very possible I missed some good blogs that deal with environmental issues: I did go through all 50 states web sites, as well as those of US territories. If you know of one I didn’t find, let me know…