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UserVoice, a San Francisco-based customer feedback startup I've been working with for a while just came back from the O’Reilly Media and TechWeb Gov 2.0 Showcase in Washington, DC.
What was a tech company doing at a government conference? Well, by a series of friendships, karma and coincidence that characterize the Bay Area, UserVoice donated its application to the City of Santa Cruz, which was looking for a way to get public input to make budget cuts. The same old folks kept showing up at public meetings with their same old priorities, and the City was looking for new ideas.
It took six hours to get a UserVoice site up and running for Santa Cruz, and it was such a success that the city was chosen to present at the showcase, and UserVoice CEO Richard White decided he had better see what was happening.
White is a geek, and most geeks don't give much thought to government. He told me he was surprised by what he saw. Apparently, governments at all levels are trying to reach out — albeit with a lot of trepidation about what they might discover from their constituencies.
Naturally, politicans and campaigns show the most interest in customer feedback There's obvious upside to doing these sorts of initiatives in terms of positive PR and being "with it" if it helps them win. Some candidates already using the tool are Mike McGinn, a candidate for Mayor of Seattle, and IdeasforAustin.com, a site for civic engagement.
But the Showcase showed a lot of interest in using customer feedback inside big agencies. TSA did a whole presentation on how they built and launched an internal to gather ideas from front-line employees, and a White House speaker talked about how the Veterans Administration deployed the same sort of solution and was blown away with the response. Notice that neither agency has summoned the courage to do this externnaly (yet), but their seem to be bureaucrats inside the walls with good ideas that could promote change.
My guess is that this is just beginning in government. For the first time, I could enter my continuing education information credits into an electronic record, although I was not asked for feedback about the courses or the requirements.
O'Reilly plans to hold another Gov 2.0 Expo in New York Nov. 19-22 to continue this fledgling conversation. In the mean time, UserVoice picked up a potential client at the Expo in Washington — a large federal agency but again, just talking to its own employees. It's a beginning.