I am Traffic: InDay Speaker Series with Gavin Newsom

March 8, 2013

As part of our InDay Speaker Series, we were fortunate to host Gavin Newsom to discuss his new book Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government. Gavin is on a mission to change the mindset of how people view government. The themes in his book are clearly striking a chord across partisan lines. The notion of individual responsibility and citizen empowerment are commonwealth ideals. They also provide some common ground for me to have a productive conversation with my libertarian father when home for the holidays!

I had the opportunity to interview Gavin, a master storyteller with examples that illustrate the themes in his book. I strongly recommend you read his book and watch the full interview below – both are well worth your time. Here are 3 of my favorite themes:

Estonia. I was keenly aware that the United States is due for some upgrades when it comes to technology and government. What I was startled to learn is just how far behind we are relative to many countries around the world. For example, Estonia (which has one of the highest mobile phone penetration in the world), allows their citizens to pay parking meters, parking tickets and property taxes from their cell phones. In the US, the primary area where technology has seemed to keep pace in government is the digital outreach related to campaigning for re-election.

Talent. There is no question that we need to find ways to inspire our smartest leaders to pursue careers in government but we also need to inspire the private sector to engage in social sector problem solving. One example Gavin talks about is the power of the X Prize and the potential to replicate the concept for other challenges. The original X Prize is credited for creating an opportunity for private civilian travel into space. What if we offered a prize for solving malaria or creating a digital voting platform? Or, perhaps my favorite idea in the book to inspire the private sector to get more directly involved in government is creating a DonorsChoose for government where government officials post projects they need funding for and citizens fund it. I think it would be pretty easy to crowdfund a major overhaul of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Traffic. The 405 Interstate in Los Angeles is notorious for being one of the most congested highways in the United States. Apparently, there is a billboard that states: “You are not stuck in traffic” in big bold letters. In small letters at the bottom it notes “You are traffic”. This mindset is at the heart of what is facing our relationship with government. In nearly every other aspect of life, Americans take individual responsibility, perhaps because there is monetary compensation attached. I believe we can inspire people to return to the mindset of our founding fathers and “Act like an owner” when it comes to solving some of the most intractable problems we are facing.

So go forth, find a transit data set near you, hack up a solution and let’s all get out of traffic!

Here are resources to check out if you are feeling inspired :