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Citizenville: Connecting People and Government in the Digital Age

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By integrating democratic government with cutting-edge American innovation, the lieutenant governor of California charts a bright future for open-source America

Citizenville is the story of how ordinary citizens can use new digital tools to dissolve political gridlock and transform American democracy. As social networking and smart phones have changed the way we communicate with one another, these technologies are also changing our relationship with government.

In a world where people can do anything at the touch of a button—shop, communicate, do research, publish a blog, transfer money—government cannot keep functioning in a twentieth-century mind-set. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom explores the many ways in which technology can transform government and empower citizens: Opening up vast troves of government data, then letting people create apps to use them wisely. Harnessing the popularity of online games to establish a kind of “Angry Birds for Democracy.” Inventing new feedback loops so people can take active part in every facet of governing.

Drawing on wide-ranging interviews with thinkers and politicians, Citizenville is the first book by Lieutenant Governor Newsom. He broke new ground as the mayor of San Francisco, one of the most high-tech, experimental, and progressive municipalities in the nation. But when Newsom’s tenure as mayor began, he found that San Francisco was behind the likes of Estonia and South Korea in terms of digital governance. Newsom’s quest to modernize one of America’s most modern cities—and the amazing results he achieves—form the backbone of this far-reaching book.

Lieutenant Governor Newsom explains how the problems of twenty-first-century America are too big and too expensive for the government simply to buy solutions. Instead, we must innovate our way out. Just as the post office and the highway system provide public infrastructure to channel both personal and private enterprise—a platform upon which citizens can grow—so too could a modern digital government house the needs, concerns, information, and collaboration of an enlightened digital citizenry.

Citizenville shows that the only way Americans can secure their future is by reinventing their relationship to government, just as they have countless times before.
(From Amazon)

256 pages, Hardcover

First published February 7, 2013

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About the author

Gavin Newsom

6 books11 followers
Gavin Christopher Newsom is an American politician. He currently serves as the 40th Governor of California, elected to office in 2019, after serving as the 49th Lieutenant Governor of California from 2011 to 2019 and as the 42nd Mayor of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011, the city's youngest mayor in 100 years. In addition to his political career, Newsom is an entrepreneur and the founder of the PlumpJack wine store, which grew into the PlumpJack Group, managing over 20 businesses, including wineries, restaurants, and hotels. Newsom was born and raised in and around San Francisco and attended Santa Clara University. He currently resides in Fair Oaks, California, with his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and their four children. Newsom was diagnosed as a child with dyslexia, which continues to affect him as an adult and was the driving force behind his debut children's picture book, Ben and Emma's Big Hit.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 90 reviews
Profile Image for David Sasaki.
244 reviews346 followers
March 26, 2013
There's not much I can add to the reviews of Citizenville by Beth Noveck, Evgeny Morozov, Sara Lai Stirland, and Lydia Depillis.

Yes, the book is disjointed, incessantly optimistic, shameless in its namedropping, and often reads like a politician's stump speech on repeat. Readers must endure bombastic, tired declarations like:

The revolution is happening now, and the world is changing too quickly for government to respond with tiny, incremental changes. It is time to radically rethink the relationship between citizens and government.


Because the future is about information— being able to access it, manipulate it, learn from it, improve our lives with it. And the cloud’s sole purpose is to give us information whenever, wherever we need it. The cloud is ubiquity, access, sharing, collaboration, connection. It works for you.


With the explosion of social networking, smartphones, and apps, we have the tools available right now, in our hands, to transform government. We just have to have the courage to use them.


They are the wave of the future—a future that’s about participation, empowerment, feedback loops, and organically created communities.


Technology has rendered our current system of government irrelevant, so now government must turn to technology to fix itself.


Our problems are so big and so expensive that we can’t afford to buy solutions. But replicating Apple’s model for the App Store is the antidote.


Got that? Our problems are so big that we need an app store.

However, if you're willing to wade through the predictable, tired applause lines of the past few years of TED talks, then Citizenville offers readers an interesting glimpse of some of the obstacles that stand in the way of bringing innovation to government. The most interesting revelations run counter to the book's main arguments. Newsom and Dickey claim, for example, that "transparency leads to trust." A few pages later we encounter a telling counter-argument. When Newsom took office as San Francisco's Mayor, he asked his team to publish his daily calendar online. His advisors raised their eyebrows. What about private meetings with potential donors? Wouldn't that dissuade wealthy donors from meeting with Newsom if they knew their names would be published on a public website? As Newsom and Dickey explain:

People don’t like the idea of their elected officials spending time soliciting funds, and the whole process, fairly or unfairly, feels unseemly. How would it look if, in a particularly busy fund-raising period, I had multiple private meetings with potential donors? Fund-raising may be a necessary part of politics in this country, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable.


In the end, concerned that transparency would lead to less trust, Newsom decided not to name the individuals he met with on his public calendar. (Lima's mayor, Susana Villarán, also promised to publish her calendar, though readers are left with the impression that only select appointments are made public.)

The title of the book is a play on Zynga's popular social network game, Farmville. Newsom and Dickey cite a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found that today's youth spend on average 53 hours per week with entertainment media. Much of that time is spent on gaming and social media platforms. Meanwhile, in 2011, a record low 12% of residents of Los Angeles bothered to show up to vote on ten ballot initiatives that each represent millions of dollars in campaign advertising. Earlier this month only one in five registered voters in Los Angeles bothered to vote in the mayoral primary election despite the lack of an incumbent candidate.

If civic engagement is at a record low, and if youth are spending more time than ever with social media and online games, then, Newsom sensibly proposes, governments must use those same platforms to reach the next generation of citizens. In the same way that Schoolhouse Rock! used television to teach civics to young viewers, government needs to use technology and social media to create stronger ties to its citizens. Specifically, he recommends four concrete actions that all government agencies can implement:


Make all data available in raw formats to the public so that developers can re-purpose the information.
Fund prize-based competitions similar to the X-Prize to encourage citizens to come up with solutions to problems facing their communities.
Host an app store (like San Francisco's own SF Data Showcase) that aggregates applications developed by the community that use open data.
Use social networks to build stronger ties to community groups and to exchange best practices with similar government agencies around the world.


They are sensible recommendations that would have been made more compelling had they been accompanied by more examples from cities and government. The greatest obstacle to their implementation, of course, isn't technical, or generational, or even cultural, but rather political. In any organization with an innovative employee who wants to share information, there is a manager who wants to maintain the status quo. Until the leaders of government institutions change, I don't expect a change in their practices.

It is for this very reasong that I was most intrigued by Newsom's reflections on the difference between moral and formal authority:

What one thing did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela have in common? The answer: jail time. These men were great leaders of their times, and yet none of them started out with even a shred of formal authority. None had been elected or appointed to a position of power or otherwise anointed, but what they lacked in formal authority, they more than made up for in moral authority.

I’ve always been fascinated by this distinction between moral and formal authority. Formal authority is a twentieth-century model, a relic of the age when power was vested in institutions rather than people. It is power as bestowed through titles rather than power earned through genuine leadership. Moral authority, on the other hand, is granted by the people. It is indifferent to titles, and yet it’s invariably more powerful in the end than formal authority.

As technology transforms every facet of our lives, it lays bare this division between moral and formal authority.


The optimist within me wants to agree with Newsom. I am attracted to the idea that capable, empathetic leaders can challenge the institutional status quo by building influence through online networks. This was the allure of the 2004 Howard Dean campaign in the US and the so-called "Green Wave" of support for Colombian underdog presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. But in the end, both Dean and Mockus lost, and institutions everywhere are still led by insiders who have been groomed for their positions.
October 28, 2014
Predictably disappointing. (So why did I read it? Because I wanted to contrast it with Evgeny Morozov's book.)

This book is chock-full of half-baked ideas, Newspeak, strawman arguments, and too many unexamined assumptions.

In the few instances he finally gets down to a real-world examples of how he has used new technologies in governance, he admits that some serious drawbacks and limitations. This is where the book should have gotten interesting. Instead he just moves on to the topic and assures the reader that the future can, should, and will be made better using the newest social-media web-enabled fizzbang.

Not all the ideas presented in this book are bad, but Newsom makes it clear that he has no framework for figuring out how to differentiate between constructive, destructive, and transformative technologies. In fact, he never clearly articulates his values at all. It's just Silicon Valley buzzword cheer-leading crap.
Profile Image for Michael .
283 reviews25 followers
March 11, 2013
This is not an entertaining read. It is dry and uninteresting, but still is pertinent. The book is filled with stories of how certain local governments have learned to use the social media and technology available to move toward a transparent government and society. The major issue I see is the loss of privacy. Not only is big brother watching your every move....a bit of drama here.....but all of your neighbors, family, friends, the IRS, and all law enforcement can also have access to information about you, me, and everyone. There is no privacy. That's the 1984 fright still building. The good news is that if everybody can watch, people may have second thoughts before they decide to do some crime. If you phuck up everybody can know it within hours or minutes...depending on who you are.

As communication technology continues to advance there may be no real need for members of congress to maintain an office in DC, or even be present to cast a vote or debate a bill. This won't happen all at once, because people aren't willing to accept change that they fear may have an undesirable effect on their own sack of money. But change is coming faster all the time. We can choose to embrace the changes or get passed by the fast moving train of progress......Michael
Profile Image for Kevin.
710 reviews6 followers
March 5, 2015
Gavin Newsome is an entrepreneur, former Mayor of San Francisco, Lieutenant Governor of California, and, apparently, one heckuva tech evangelist. In this book, he argues that our government needs to make more of an effort to get our apathetic citizenry involved in government. And the best way to do that is through more comprehensive use of technology.

Throughout the book, Newsom obtains insight from tech evangelists who have implemented programs and ideas, both successful and failed, that were used in business and municipal government that he feels can be applied at a grander scale -- say state or federal government.

While I love Newsom's enthusiasm, the barriers that exist in government regarding technology both ideologically and fiscally are what we should be focusing on eliminating. These are great ideas, but there is just too much bureaucracy and proverbial red tape in the way currently to think of this book in any terms other than that of a "pipe dream." But it's a wondrous pipe dream.
Profile Image for Carlien Roodink.
7 reviews5 followers
April 15, 2013
Gavin Newsom is lieutenant governor of California and a former mayor of San Francisco. And for me, as Newsom is probably running for governor of California, there is reason to be skeptical about his book Citizenville. Isn’t it just a way to get a stage for his campaign?

What pleads for him is that Newsom is very abundant in dropping names and is transparent about the fact that a greater part of the ideas described are not his own. Newsom’s book is inspired by the earlier work of authors like Government as a Platform by Tim O’Reilly.

According to Goodreads “Citizenville is the story of how ordinary citizens can use new digital tools to dissolve political gridlock and transform American democracy”. The name of the book is chosen after Farmville, the popular game where players work with their friends to tend farms and animals to advance to the next level. Newsom focuses on government that is not making optimal use of the fact that people are far more interested in engaging with social media than in engaging with democracy processes. He pleads for a more tech-enabled government that uses the principles of succesful tech platforms (like Yelp) and the principles of gamification in order to engage citizens and solve problems.

Citizenville is very accessible, easy readable and full of succes stories. It’s a procession of all the remarkable digital trends of the last decade: the iphone and the app store, apps built with all sorts of open data, twitter enabled revolutions, wikileaks, crowdfunding initiatives like KickStarter etcera.

Newsom shows a glimpse of failures, but the very dominant message is techno-optimism. Evgeny Morozov even describes the book as a lazy tome of techno-populism that consists of random entries. Beth Noveck is far more positive than Morozov but still emphasis in her book review that Newsom doesn’t acknowledge that getting to his kind of decentralized, participatory, tech-enabled democracy is a long and uncertain path. In the words of Lydia Depillis “Citizenville is a manifesto for why technological innovation matters. And, like many manifestos—especially techno-triumphalist ones—Newsom glosses over some major complications of the overall program that he espouses.”

They are all right in their critics. The questions about privacy issues for example are too easily ignored by Newsom and his statement that transparency will lead to more trust is not based on any fact based research. In my opinion the words ‘reinvent government’ in the subtitle are therefor too ambitious and should have been left out. The book is far from being a master plan or blue print of how to reinvent government.

The question is whether we should want a master plan or blue print to reinvent government? Who wrote the master plan or blue print for inventing internet or social media? Or to put it in the words of David Graeber in his blog Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse: “When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism”, figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality.”

As a techno-optimist myself I personally liked reading the book of Newsom. Like Newsom I see so many inspiring examples of how collaboration between people can take place in an effective way outside the borders of the hierarchal, formal institutions. There are many books that describe these forms of peer to peer production and their consequences in a far more profound way than Newsom does. Unfortunately, but not coincidental, those books are less readable than Citizenville. Being a politician I have learned that readability is very important. So credits for Newsom on that aspect.

My suggestion: read both Newsom and Graeber and start acting without worrying to much about master plans and blue prints. To paraphrase Graeber: we are left in the bizarre situation of watching the capitalist system crumbling before our very eyes, at just the moment everyone had finally concluded the capitalist system was the most effective blue print for our society.
Profile Image for Dr. Lloyd E. Campbell.
185 reviews9 followers
October 15, 2013
This book is written by the Lieutenant Governor of California, I say that because while I was reading it I kept telling myself, what the Hell is he doing now in relationship to the ideas in this book? I think Jerry Brown swallowed him. Are Lieutenant Governors like Vice Presidents? Does Jerry Brown have to die before we get to see what this guy can do?
His record as mayor of San Francisco is so strong, maybe he should go back to being mayor. One of the inferences I made from reading the book is that real change is much easier on a local level than a state level, and much easier on a state level than a national level.
Changing the paradigm of government from top down liberal/conservative, a few deciding for the passive many to total involvement from the bottom up is very appealing. His populism seems centered on participation vs. a throw the bums out mentality we have at present. My only criticism of this book is that I think he minimizes the anti-government passion of the tea party and he misconstrues ignorance for passion. Thoughtless fanatacism like even considering not raising the debt seiling or using it as a political football is anti-American and asserted by people with ignorance of basic economics.
I blush at the joy I felt thinking about playing the United States as a "Farmville" game, a wild and crazy idea that just might work. It's certainly more appealing than playing the United States as "Monopoly."
10 reviews
February 20, 2013
I, as my four star rating would suggest, really liked this book. Newsom presents a lot of interesting thoughts about the intersection of government and ubiquitous technology, and what that could mean for the future of our country. The ideas and examples discussed throughout the book are empowering and point toward a possible future defined by increased civic engagement, strong sense of community, and a new definition for and appreciation of our commonwealth.

The book is not without its problems. Newsom glosses over privacy issues quickly by dismissing privacy as a relatively recent social construction. The implications of using people's personal data for commercial purposes are illustrated through the rosiest possible lenses. That said, the world that Newsom foresees is an empowering one that puts power in people's hands and views the relationship between government and its constituents as a two-way street instead of the top-down system of government we currently have. At a time when seemingly everyone, myself included, is disenchanted by how they see government operating, Newsom makes a compelling case that it doesn't have to be that way and points to others who have already started to change the system for the better.
Profile Image for Keith Swenson.
Author 15 books50 followers
July 15, 2015
Very interesting and well written book. I work, professionally, in the collaboration software space. What Gavin Newsome has proposed is very good, straightforward, common-sense advice. This book coming from a technologist in the space might be considered boring, but coming from a politician makes it more important. The book impressed me -- he knows what he is doing.

I gave it three stars because it is a good book, but (for me) not particularly groundbreaking. I don't want anyone to be turned off by that. If you would like to see a clear, cogent vision of how government could better leverage information technology, to make a better democracy, you will find one in this book. It is clearly written, and well supported by experience. We will have this everywhere one day -- the millennials will bring it about if us older folks fail to -- so read about it now, and learn how better to fit in with the future.
8 reviews2 followers
February 16, 2013
Basically reads like a, I'm a high-tech populist, vote for me! piece of propaganda, but interesting nonetheless. I'm skeptical about a few of his arguments, but it's a page turner and a light and interesting read. The people he interviews offer great ideas and anecdotes, so I liked it more for the subjects than necessarily for him. I'm seeing him talk about it on Thursday so we'll see how that complements the book
Profile Image for Julie.
143 reviews1 follower
November 7, 2013
Not sure exactly how I'll rejuvenate the agency I work for, but this book motivates me to look at my role as a Federal Employee a bit differently. EPA is certainly taking steps to enter the modern age, but also struggles with a management-heavy structure, a regulatory framework for its mission, outdated systems, and a long-entrenched workforce. Hopefully more government employees will read this book and get inspired!
Profile Image for David Luna.
25 reviews2 followers
February 23, 2013
Arguably the best and most important book I will read all year. As someone who loves technology and change this book is perfect for me. I am starting a project and this is exactly what I needed to motivate me. I will now take the next steps forward in creating something that will give people a voice.
Profile Image for Gregory Williams.
Author 7 books91 followers
September 4, 2019
I generally don’t read political books because I find they often feel inauthentic, like curated sales pitches designed for generalized, idealized ways of solving problems that are far too complex to be solved in the manner described by the seller. Most government work, like with any organization, lies in doing exactly that: Work. Problem-solving. Working with people who have a stake in an issue to resolve issues to the best satisfaction of the most needs. Being attentive to rights, responsibilities and accountabilities that each party holds.

As a leader, I have to use a scalpel to peel away processes, get the right people to communicate with and connect to others and get the most good done with the least amount of cost and mess. Good leadership is about driving results, and there are plenty in government focused on that. Yes, there are also plenty of sycophants and n’er do wells, just as there are in any organization. And when it’s justified and supported, we deal with disciplinary issues and flush those people out of the system so we can continue to provide the best value for the customer - the taxpayer.

So for all of those reasons I look at easy fixes with a little bit of a dubious eye. The analogy of the title here is the game Farmville where people do tasks for the inherent sense of accomplishment in doing those tasks and applying that same principle to governance. Certainly an interesting, whimsical approach that I can understand and emulate. It’s just a bit simplistic. And by simplistic, that makes it suspect.

That said, I sense that Newsom wants to do the right thing (though another simplistic notion, doing the right thing is a principle I can get behind.). I found the story of him meeting with a San Francisco employee/hacker who was arrested for refusing to reveal the passcode to a database needed for payroll, among other things, compelling in that the man must have found Newsom authentic and real enough to release the passcode that he held as ransom. That speaks volumes in terms of trustworthiness.

There are plenty of inspirational prompts in the book to point to a need to reinvent government to be more responsive - absolutely we need to empower people who have a need to be able to solve those problems. The premise is good. The issue I have is that the solution really isn't spelled out in any logical manner that you can sink your teeth into.

I've found the books of Ken Miller more useful in this regard, in that he promotes a series of steps and approaches to making solutions work that are actually doable - Miller recognizes the complexities and proposes methodologies that acknowledge those. It just concerns me a bit that it's easy to identify problems and propose general idealized solutions - I'll be very interested in how this translates to governance of the fifth largest economy in the world. Time will tell.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,789 reviews61 followers
April 30, 2018
Government right now is functioning on the cutting edge - of 1973.

Part of the point of this book is making government more participatory. To truly have a government for, by, and of the people. It’s going to take some work, because as my girlfriend wrote in the margin of this book, “[the government would] rather not know what we want so they can keep voting however they want.” They don’t really want our participation.

Well, too bad. They’re going to get it, if 2017-2018 is any indication.

This isn’t going to be easy. There are so many ways we are behind technologically - and they all connect to money and power. Politicians don’t want to give up their power, so they don’t want to change. Companies don’t want to give up their monopolies, so it’s harder to introduce things like city-wide free wifi or solar panels.

Oooh! How do we fix this:

Because the government doesn’t have an official PR department to help burnish its image, people go about their daily lives oblivious to how enriched they are by it.

This way:

Overcoming bureaucracy, updating the museum pieces of governance, revealing the real people who make up our government, restoring trust: technology can help us do all of these crucial things, if we allow ourselves to embrace it.

Some fantastic thinking about bringing our country into the digital age. Into the 21st Century. It seems like it’s about time.

We need to engage people in the democratic process. We need to reinvent government.

And this book offers quite a variety of solutions. From using apps to X Prizes, the author gives some excellent ideas to really make this a government of the people.

We need to work together and start implementing them.
Profile Image for Sean McBride.
Author 10 books4 followers
May 9, 2018
I picked this one up, because I like Newsom, and I'm interested to see what he could do as a Governor. I lived in SF when he was the mayor there, and he was far better than any Mayor who did the job before him or after. He was the most progressive, and made the city more liveable and cleaner.
The premise of the book, however is about how governance needs to move into the 20th century and embrace technology. This in and of itself is a great theory, the issue is that 1. you have to get the government behind it, and 2. you have to get the people to embrace it.
Ultimately the book was too long just to talk about this thesis. If there was a little more biography (other than snippets about businesses he's owned, and snippets of his time as Mayor), infused the book wouldn't feel so redundant.
If he does get into office, I would like to see some of this happening. I do think he's a great candidate. Lets just hope he hasn't transitioned into the career politician land of corruption.
Profile Image for Tyler Walter.
5 reviews
December 23, 2022
Citizenville is definitely dated reading it in 2022 as it has a tone of the rise of social media in the late 2000s. Of course Gavin Newsom couldn’t have predicted how much of a toxic echo chamber it became especially when it came to public participation. Ironically if anything is indirectly taught from this book it’s that in many government making decisions a lot of decision making should be left to bureaucrats that are qualified to make impartial decisions and not through reactionaries that will act in their own selfish interest.

Frustratingly with the book, it’s written heavily in the idea that any government agency can function like a tech startup private sector business which is not only time deaf but impractical.
2 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2020
The book introduces a lot of new and interesting details on how governments at all levels can use technology and private sector practices to make citizens more engaged and have a more favorable view of government. The book supports public-private partnerships that utilize government data and civic duties to keep citizens involved in today fast and convenient world. However, it does not explore the limits and potential shortcomings of how technology can persist, if not worsen, our issues.

Very thought provoking and interesting read, but doesn’t follow through with fully conceding and analyzing the would-be effects of its various arguments.

Also, I think it’s important to mention that this book was written in 2013, during Obama’s second term, before Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The danger of Big Data were not entirely visibly yet.
Profile Image for Jay Sellers.
32 reviews
May 25, 2019
Working as a public information officer in a government agency, I was looking forward to learning tips and tricks to increase transparency. I expected the information to be dated but the content was surprisingly general enough to continue to be useful, more conceptual than definite.
38 reviews
August 4, 2019
Interesting perspective, good to know Newsom's views. While the stories of the power of the people and the importance of making data accessible were compelling, I'm disappointed he dismissed the ability of government employees so quickly. I think the real answer takes both.
1 review1 follower
April 20, 2020
Citizenville is an awesome book that provides insight on how technology can be used streamline outdated processes in government. As a non profit worker who has worked in government, we can use these insights to progress any organization in a more forward direction.
Profile Image for Ross.
4 reviews
September 30, 2021
If you can get over the outdated technology references and misguided predictions (e.g. more social media use will result in LESS partisanship), the underlying principles are good but not profound. Solid mix of experts quoted.
Profile Image for Janet Ritter.
1 review1 follower
March 24, 2017
By Gavin Newsom. Read in 2013? 2014? Great book. Such a progressive mayor willing to try new ideas to see their effectiveness on the city's citizenry.
4 reviews
August 11, 2017
Great new perspectives on how to incorporate tech into government.
4 reviews
March 25, 2020
Read it for an essay. Seems to be a lot of people talking about a lot of good things but repeating themselves and kinda lacking a direction.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
54 reviews6 followers
May 30, 2013
I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. I was seriously floored by it. It's been a long time since I've been so completely engrossed by and unable to put down a nonfiction book the way I was with this one. For anyone who is frustrated with the way our government is currently operating and feels as if government representatives are drifting farther and farther away from the people they are supposed to represent (so... for anyone), this book is just what the doctor ordered. Reading this book filled me with a new confidence about the way our government can and, I think, eventually will operate in a way that is way more inclusive of the vast resource that is the people in this country who don't work in a political sphere- and specifically how the boom of social media and connective technology actually makes this shift a pretty easy one. One thing I especially loved about this book is that, while it is a book about government reform, Newsom doesn't spend the whole time ragging on the government in a way that makes you feel even more discouraged about the current state of our country and more hopeless that it will ever actually change. Coming from the perspective of someone who works in politics (Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco and is currently the Lieutenant Governor of California), he does a great job of showing frustrated readers what the government is actually doing well at this point, as well as giving concrete examples of individuals and departments within the government that are currently taking steps towards connecting with their constituents in a more positive way. Rather than just complaining about and rallying against the government, he points out specific, fixable areas where our current system is struggling, and also explains (in a non-condescending way) to folks who have never looked at these things from a politician's perspective the reasons why it's taking our officials so long to move forward in these areas. You will come away from this book, or at least I did, actually believing that our elected officials (for the most part) do want to do good for this country, and are on the right track to someday getting there. I will say, the transition to getting there would be much quicker and easier if every elected official read this book when entering office!!

**Bonus: Reading this from the perspective of a teacher, I also took away A LOT of great ideas about education from this book. Newsom specifically talks about education for a little bit, but even his general ideas about running the country have a lot of great implications for running a classroom: the basic idea, that government should be a two-way exchange of ideas rather than a monolithic institution, translates incredibly well to an educational perspective. He has some great things to say about failure that I am definitely going to carry with me into my classroom. Plus, he talks about Salman Kahn, so that gets big brownie points from me!
Profile Image for Tony.
154 reviews44 followers
May 23, 2015
The book opens with Newsom, then mayor of San Francisco, meeting with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, president of Estonia. Newsom is attempting to impress Ilves with details of some of the recent technology initiatives they've instituted, and is surprised to discover that Estonia has already had these things (and many more besides) for a long time. “Americans tend to think of San Francisco as Tomorrowland, on the cutting edge of technology in government, but in fact, we were years behind”, he realises.

What makes this book so frustrating is that Newsom seems to have completely failed to understand the value of this lesson. Rather than using it as a prompt to explore how other cities and countries around the world have already discovered creative and innovative approaches to many of their issues, so as to copy or even improve on them, he remains trapped in his California bubble, preferring instead of seek advice from the usual roll-call of tech pundits as to how best to model his city (or state, or country) on Farmville instead. Other than a couple of token nods to internationally led approaches in internet voting and participatory budgeting, Newsom's entire field of vision seems restricted to Silicon Valley startups, "Code for America"-style hackathons, and a few ideas being tried in a couple of other US cities (the leaders of whom he'd be happy to regularly learn from, as long it's through some sort of MayorBook social network).

Hidden amongst the shallow treatment of most of the key issues surrounding citizen participation (e.g. reducing the privacy debate to Guy Kawasaki's laughable claim that there could be no problem with Facebook knowing every other website you visit unless you're a paedophile), there are some interesting tales of the problems Newsom faced when trying to actually implement some of his ideas in San Francisco — whether from entrenched bureaucracy, a hostile press, or even just their own self-doubt and lack of research (an initial idea to make public transport free to use is abandoned after "realising" that this would simply lead to residents abusing the system as they would no longer value it — an argument that has turned out be entirely untrue in Tallinn.)

Had this been a more reflective book, wrestling more deeply with how to adjust all the superficially neat theories to better cope with exposure to day-to-day political reality, it could have been a very useful view from the inside. But instead these are largely shrugged off with a "Do as I say, not as I do" approach, and that opportunity is lost.


Profile Image for Paul Signorelli.
Author 3 books13 followers
August 30, 2013
One of the sweetest moments in what is a wonderful paean to community, collaboration, and the technology that can help foster those two critically important elements of civilization comes when Gavin Newsom, in the acknowledgment section at the end of the book he has written with Lisa Dickey ("Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government"), offers "thanks to all government workers whose work directly and indirectly impacts all our lives each and every day...." Citizenville effectively and convincingly promotes the idea of individual community members collaborating with each other and their colleagues in government to produce positive change. More importantly, it pushes us toward an approach that already fosters levels of engagement in playful ways: transferring our love of game-playing for virtual results (as exemplified by FarmVille) into a form of game with more rewarding real-world results. Newsom is explicit about the challenges we face in attempting to use technology to increase citizen-government collaborations: "The sad truth is that the history of government is a history of technophobia" (p. 6); government workers often collect magnificent amounts of useful data without working to make it accessible (p. 22); government agencies are much better at attracting constituents to one-time events than to encouraging long-term involvement (p. 115); and "...government isn't interested in solving problems so much as managing them" (p. 220). That's not a situation, he suggests, that is sustainable: "No one foresaw that sea change for newspapers, but in hindsight it had to happen. The same is true for government. It's hard to predict exactly how this will unfold, but it's absolutely inevitable that the relationship between people and government will change. If nothing else, the changing expectations of new generations, weaned on smartphones and the Internet, guarantee that we can’t just continue with business as usual" (pp. 174-175). The playfulness inherent in Newsom's "Citizenville" model has certainly found its way into many local efforts, and if implemented by others, will help us continue to produce positive results rather than falling into the destructively nonproductive trap of complaining about government.
Profile Image for Kim Olson.
161 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2013
This book is a clarion call for anyone who wants to make change in their community but is frustrated by government sluggishness. Essentially, Newsom believes that social media and other digital tools can be used to transform government, just as they've transformed nearly every other part of our lives.

I love that this book was written not by some Silicon Valley wunderkind, but by someone who's actually been in the trenches. Newsom has worked in government at the local and state level, and he knows only too well how antiquated government can be. He shares his frustrations and some important insights about the challenges. At the same time, he's tech-savvy and is refreshingly optimistic about how everyday citizens can harness technology to take charge and make a real impact.

And it isn't just pie-in-the-sky blathering. He shares some pretty cool ideas, including many that have already been implemented by people in cities and towns across the country. If you've ever used the Crimespotting site, you'll love the story about how one motivated Oaklander brought it into being. And I love the story about Manor, Texas, where an innovative twentysomething used game mechanics to get the whole town excited about making their community better, one idea at a time. What's more, government (including at the federal level) is embracing and even rewarding such efforts.

I got this book at a talk, and the author suggested starting with Chapter 7. I have an ailment that forces me to read a book from cover to cover, but if you're a scanner, it's a great place to get the gist.

A hopeful book with lots of real-world examples that show how people are already diving in and leapfrogging over the bureaucracy.

Profile Image for Kevin Valliere.
21 reviews16 followers
May 18, 2014
I really enjoyed this book, mostly because it provided a different perspective on so-called "disruption," especially as it pertains to technology and government. Gavin Newsom was able to bring in legitimized experiences and thoughts to the discussion and they were more useful than the rampant speculation I feel I'm used to.

It's funny, too, how this book seemed slightly outdated in just a few spots (there were whole discussions on the implications of games like FarmVille and Angry Birds) even though it was published in 2013. A testament to how closely we need to watch the shifting landscape of technology, if there ever was one.

Newsom was also able to sum up my thoughts on technology and higher ed and/or government in one of the last chapters: we will fail, and that's okay. We shouldn't be scared to be wrong about technology up front, because it will only help us further in the end.

If you're interested in the applications of technology for higher ed or civic education, this is a definite read. Newsom has an engaging writing style and provides illuminating illustrations of the realities of governing with a mind towards technology. If you're a technological pessimist, you probably won't like it: Newsom sounds a lot more like the Silicon Valley advocates he used to work with than a traditional politician. If, however, you're more optimistic about the uses of technology, I think you'll enjoy this book just fine.
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