No matter where you live, from Los Angeles to Boston, you can walk into a public meeting, sign your name on a piece of paper, and be given the opportunity to stand at a podium in front of your elected officials or civil servants and speak your mind for two or three minutes. This is called a public comment, and it’s allowed at pretty much any public meeting in any city in America. It’s the kind of open government that the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. It’s also totally old school.
Today if you want to voice your concerns to local officials, you can often do so remotely, from your laptop or cell phone. Websites, social media, call centers, and services that receive and respond to mobile text messages are becoming common means of communicating with the powers that be. With so many new avenues to reach municipal governments, the podium is increasingly irrelevant. In fact, the digitization and dispersion of the public-participation process is in such demand that some cities have created positions for technology chiefs to oversee the systems that connect the government to its people.