Customer Review

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Premise, March 9, 2013
This review is from: Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government (Hardcover)
It's difficult to rate this book. The premise is 5-star but the development and case for it is 3-star. Newsom's premise is that technology is making people more socially active and through new tools to create and share ideas, we will see a bottoms-up driven change in political thinking and systems. Hierarchical structures of political organization should cede to more organic, inclusive and directly representative structures. This book deserves a read, and a top rating if the rating is based solely on the premise. Newsome has some provocative ideas: "If we're going to bring government into the twenty-first century, we have to start by completely rethinking what government really is." and, quoting futurist Peter Schwartz: "[The cloud] enables the enterprise to organize itself in a distributed fashion, without central power,..." (pg. xv) and "We have to accept the fact that top-down hierarchy is no longer working and it won't ever work again." (pg. xxii).

This is an ideas book - not a prescriptive or "how-to" for government. Newsom states, "There's such a wealth of data out there that we're going to need people who can sort the wheat from the chaff." (pg. 32). He writes data must be 1) findable, 2) standardized, 3) trustworthy, and 4) has "a narrative to it - a way for people to relate to and use it." (pg. 40). He doesn't thoroughly address the problems of both information consumers and producers on influencing government. Data needs to be assembled into useful information, as he says, but having a greater number of people on social media doesn't necessarily mean their ideas and activities are channeled to influence government processes. Newsom is generally advocating a direct democracy, but he glosses over the Constitutional barriers that the U.S. is a representative democracy. He uses some jargon from software in coining the phrase "government open APIs" (application program interfaces) and the phrase "positive and negative feedback loops" (pg. 117) but I think his context is one-way positive or negative communication and he doesn't describe the "systems feedback loop" sense. Maybe I've misunderstood his meaning here, and this is a minor point. More importantly, he misses other useful analogies that could have augmented his ideas for improving government, such as 1) SOA - "service oriented architecture", 2) "agile processes" , 3) business process re-engineering, 4) systems thinking, 5) organizational behavior, and 6) systems management; all of these, and I'm sure there are many more that could have been mentioned, are topical concepts that he might have used to build his premise and extend his supporting ideas. A minor fault I have with this book is that I expected a reference list of weblinks, and this book doesn't directly provide any.

Again, this is an "ideas" book with a strong premise and many insights. For example, Newsom writes: "I truly believe that governing is easier than we like to think it is; it's usually the politicians who over-complicate everything and that's why people get so disconnected." and "We've got to simplify, pull back all these layers of supposed complexity, and get down to the essentials." and "Everyone knows you can't run a business on the same plan year after year." and "There's no flexibility, no ability to adapt." (all from pg. 101) These quotes are all the more credible coming from a politician and businessman. I hope he's right in his assertion that we are moving into a "post-partisan age", where ideas trump political party ideologies and platforms. I think Newsom has got it right that social media is influencing what people think about government, but I don't think he completes the case here that social media can change the systems and structure of government. For sure this first step is necessary for the next.
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Location: Colorado Springs, CO

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